Erik Wenzel

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 In September of 2013 I sat down with the legendary Stephen Kaltenbach on the occasion of his exhibition at Bert Green Fine Art in Chicago to talk about his role in the history of conceptual art, his drastic 25-year recess from the art world, and his ideas about the nature of art. Kaltenbach’s work ranges from discrete objects, anonymous magazine ads, and mysterious time capsules to figurative sculpture, regionalist art, and shaping life narratives through various personae. Stephen... [more]
It’s a cold rainy day in what has been an unusually cold and rainy summer in Switzerland. My face is melting in the most pleasant way as I lean my head against the windowpane. I’m feeling the air pressure rise and fall as the train zips in and out of tunnels through open fields. The landscape is beyond real. Electric green grass, rolling hills that lead to deep navy blue mountains capped in snow, and clouds that look exactly the way Plato would imagine clouds. I’m making a daytrip to Basel to... [more]
I first met Tania Bruguera when I was a graduate student at the University of Chicago six years ago. We have remained in touch since, most recently crossing paths at the Salzburg Summer Academy of Fine Art last August in Austria. Over the last few months I conducted an interview with Bruguera via email asking her about the role teaching plays in her work, her ideas about formalism, and the awkward demographic known as “artist”. Her responses reveal a thoughtful and holistic approach to art,... [more]
Doubts   Pick-button-f22fa879042524f5c7b8d2278b2983b8
Posted 12/13/12
I’ve been having some doubts lately. I feel like I’m always missing out. Every time I stop to look at an artwork I can’t concentrate for more than a minute or two. The urge to keep moving is overwhelming. “What am I not seeing? Where’s the thing that I am actually here for?” It’s the same impulse that keeps me constantly scrolling down the social media newsfeeds, obsessively checking email and visiting the same websites all day. I am searching for something, waiting for something, looking for... [more]
Continuously Habitable   Pick-button-f22fa879042524f5c7b8d2278b2983b8
Philippe Parreno at Fondation Beyeler June 10th, 2012 - September 30th, 2012
Posted 9/13/12
Philippe Parreno’s exhibition at the Fondation Beyeler in Basel, Switzerland, occupies the site like an invasive species. The artist presents his work so that each piece is discrete but also plays its part to form a comprehensive whole. What I like most about Parreno’s choreography of the viewing experience is that it doesn’t pick apart the mechanics of exhibition design and stop there. Instead the exhibition is used as a medium to further explore and express the content of the work. It is not... [more]
Ten years ago, I came across the image of a room, devoid of furniture, containing nothing but a computer, a couple of laptops, a scanner and two globe-like lamps. Everything was scattered across the dark carpeted floor. A stark shaft of sunlight cut across the space revealing the carpet to be the sexiest deep purple. A soft, smooth, and self-contained egg, the computer, the first iMac, was propped up on two short stacks of books. It was so low to the ground that the only way you could work at... [more]
100% Berlin   Pick-button-f22fa879042524f5c7b8d2278b2983b8
Posted 4/22/12
Recently lots of rumors have surrounded the inner workings of the Berlin art world. Articles have been written about the rumored “art cartel” that holds a chokehold on which galleries make it into Art Basel. Ousted gallerists have made public accusations. The best anecdote so far came in Kai Müller’s piece in last September about a dealer speaking under the condition of anonymity drawing a diagram mapping out the major players in the city and then promptly tearing it up into little pieces and... [more]
Gott im Himmel   Pick-button-f22fa879042524f5c7b8d2278b2983b8
at Neue Nationalgalerie November 11th, 2011 - September 8th, 2013
Posted 2/27/12
(Divided Heaven) at the Neue Nationalgalerie is the second in a tripartite series of exhibitions, the first of which, titled after the Charlie Chaplin film “Modern Times”, surveyed work in the collection from 1900 up to World War II. Divided Heaven, which references a novel by Christa Wolf about two conflicted lovers from the East and West, is probably the most challenging of the three historical periods the 20th century has been divvied up into.  Der Geteilte Himmel begins at World War II’s... [more]
Ai Weiwei Was Here   Pick-button-f22fa879042524f5c7b8d2278b2983b8
Ai Weiwei at Martin-Gropius-Bau October 15th, 2011 - March 18th, 2012
Posted 1/23/12
“Do you ever think of yourself as a documentarian? No, because that would be working within a system. I’m much more casual, it’s wandering here and there, like my cats.”   Lining the ornate Neo-Renaissance halls of the Martin Groupius Bau is a continuous frieze of more than 200 black and white photographs by Ai Weiwei. Taken as a whole, the exhibition is a beautiful almost sculptural object; each glossy black and white image is contained in the same regular large blonde wood square frame,... [more]
Two Gelatin Silver Prints and a Typewritten Page   Pick-button-f22fa879042524f5c7b8d2278b2983b8
Eleanor Antin, John Baldessari, Mel Bochner, Tony Conrad, Michael Heizer, Gordon Matta-Clark, Bruce Nauman, Sigmar Polke, Emilio Prini, Ed Ruscha at The Art Institute of Chicago December 13th, 2011 - March 11th, 2012
Posted 1/16/12
When you are cremated, you aren’t actually reduced to ash. After the body has been incinerated dry bone fragments remain, which are ground up into dust. Sandwiched between two lens-shaped pieces of glass on a small pedestal is a group of what appears to be shards of coral, almost like a decoration you’d see on someone’s coffee table. These are actually human remains presented as a sculpture. In addition to this is another incarnation of the piece. Human Dust (1969), by Agnes Denes consists of... [more]
Tomorrow: Thunderstorms.   Pick-button-f22fa879042524f5c7b8d2278b2983b8
Ray Johnson at Aurel Scheibler November 12th, 2011 - March 31st, 2012
Posted 1/16/12
The problem with eccentric artists whose personas are as much a part of their work as the physical artworks they make is what to do with what’s left after they die? Are the surviving pieces of art actually just artifacts? Ray Johnson definitely presents this conundrum. Johnson is an artist's artist, he knew everyone in the New York art world and has attained the status of cult hero. What do you do with a person who committed suicide at age sixty-seven on Friday the 13th having checked into room... [more]
I Guess This is Pleasure   Pick-button-f22fa879042524f5c7b8d2278b2983b8
Pierre Bismuth, Shannon Bool, Jennifer Bornstein, Marco Bruzzone, Agnieszka Brzezanska, James Lee Byars, Cheryl Donegan, Piotr Nathan, Oksana Pasaiko, Martha Rosler, Steven Shearer, Mina Totino at VW (VeneKlasen/Werner) October 29th, 2011 - January 7th, 2012
Posted 1/8/12
A few years ago I came across a zine that was called something like “365 Orgasms” or “A Year of Orgasms.” Basically it was a single guy’s masturbation diary with “how to get the most out of self love” tips. One entry described how you could use a rubber band as a cock ring, and if you twisted it like the infinity sign you could also wrap it around your balls. Trust me, I am going somewhere with this. The other entry I remember was that if you masturbate on the toilet, and time it just right so... [more]
Art and Language   Pick-button-f22fa879042524f5c7b8d2278b2983b8
Birgir Andrésson, Unnar Örn Audarson, Karlotta Blöndal, Margrét Blöndal, Knut Eckstein, Hreinn Fridfinnsson, Kristján Gudmundsson, Sigurdur Gudmundsson, Jóna Hlíf Halldórsdóttir, Jón Laxdal Halldórsson, Hlynur Hallsson, Roni Horn, Gudny Rósa Ingimarsdóttir, Haraldur Jónsson, Libia Castro / Ólafur Ólafsson, Dieter Roth, Karin Sander, Lawrence Weiner at KUCKEI + KUCKEI October 15th, 2011 - December 17th, 2011
Posted 12/12/11
TEXT at Kuckei + Kuckei, curated by Hlynur Hallsson, features nineteen artists, most of Icelandic background. And while Iceland’s heritage of literature dating back to the medieval epics such as the Edda and the Sagas is Hallsson’s starting point, the show embraces a broad array of approaches to mingling the visual with the linguistic. I love the work of Lawrence Weiner, the de facto king of text art, but a lot of times I have no idea what the hell he is talking about. As you enter the... [more]
Pop is Terror   Pick-button-f22fa879042524f5c7b8d2278b2983b8
Michel Majerus at neugerriemschneider October 12th, 2011 - December 3rd, 2011
Posted 11/28/11
Why is it that the potential of painting always seems to be something that has just passed? Looking at the massive frieze of 60 x 60 cm canvases on view at neugerriemschneider I felt excited but also saddened. It has been nearly a decade since the untimely death of Berlin artist Michel Majerus at age thirty-five. The exhibition consists of a single grid of paintings that starts in the main gallery, goes through a wall into the smaller adjacent gallery, turns a corner and stretches through the... [more]
Like all well-intentioned plans, it ended in disaster. I was going to be home by eight, but as things tend to go here, a late night in Berlin ends mid-morning the next day. The bar was closing and a girl I had met said she wanted to stay out and go to a club. I have trouble calling it a night and always want to keep going. So I went along. The white light of morning blinded us as we emerged from the basement exit of the bar. We took a cab to a desolate plot of land. A stretch of gravel and... [more]
The Workers and the Walking Dead   Pick-button-f22fa879042524f5c7b8d2278b2983b8
Paweł Althamer at KunstHall - Deutsche Bank October 28th, 2011 - January 16th, 2012
Posted 11/12/11
The exterior of the Deutsche Guggenheim, which occupies a corner of the Deutsche Bank building on Berlin’s epic boulevard Unter den Linden, sports a green sign which says “ALMECH” in an italicized cartoony font. Inside the single large exhibition hall that makes up the Deutsche Guggenheim is a glass box opposite the admissions desk. At the far end of the space in a diagonally opposite corner is another glass enclosure. To the left is a growing army of figurative sculptures. To the right, rebar... [more]
Konzept Kunst   Pick-button-f22fa879042524f5c7b8d2278b2983b8
Shusaku Arakawa, Robert Barry, Martin Boyce, Daniel Buren, Ian Burn, André Cadere, Ceal Floyer, Poul Gernes, Madeline Gins, Dan Graham, Lasse Schmidt Hansen, Isabell Heimerdinger, Joseph Kosuth, Sol LeWitt, Albert Mertz, Jonathan Monk, Francois Morellet, Olivier Mosset, Andreas Reiter Raabe, Santiago Sierra, Michel Verjux at Daimler Chrysler Collection: Daimler Contemporary October 7th, 2011 - March 18th, 2012
Posted 10/24/11
The collection of the Daimler Corporation focuses on “abstract and geometrical pictorial concepts, from which it derives its distinctive character,” which is an excellent starting point for conceptual approaches to art marking. It seems like Sol LeWitt is becoming lionized as the unchallenged father of the conceptual art, his practice bridges the pictorial and the sculptural and provides a through-road from Minimalism to hardcore “conceptual art” as it were. And while luminaries of the... [more]
Boros Bunker   Pick-button-f22fa879042524f5c7b8d2278b2983b8
Posted 10/24/11
On a quiet street in Berlin Mitte, between unassuming apartment buildings, cafes and shops stands a monolith that looks like a prison or a fortress. Its presence is imposing and although based on Renaissance stylings and symmetry, it is brutal. Just looking at it brutalizes you; as your eyes move across the building’s surface they feel like they are being scraped by the architecture’s harsh edges and angles. At the entrance are two metal doorways nestled deep inside two archways. A giant... [more]
Drain You   Pick-button-f22fa879042524f5c7b8d2278b2983b8
Cosima von Bonin at Galerie Buchholz September 28th, 2011 - November 26th, 2011
Posted 10/3/11
Color plays an important role in work by Cosima von Bonin. Her unique and recognizable color palette tends toward dark grays, along with black highlighted with bright whites. Purple, blue, brown, green—almost every color appears in her work but always as shades or tones. So “Grandville and the Decision at Grandville” on view at Galerie Buchholz is an aberration. Everything is white or off-white. There is one red-orange hermit-crab stuffed animal slumped over a table but that is about it, The... [more]
Situation Rooms   Pick-button-f22fa879042524f5c7b8d2278b2983b8
Pierre Huyghe at Esther Schipper September 9th, 2011 - October 22nd, 2011
Posted 10/3/11
We had to ring the buzzer to get in. I hate ringing a buzzer to get into galleries. I prefer to walk in unannounced to spaces, free to slip out without saying a word. But most of the galleries in Berlin are in buildings you need to be buzzed into. A studious young man sat at the landing at the top of the first flight of stairs. He closed the small book he was reading, got up from his chair and stood in front of the door to the gallery. He asked us something in German. “Is this Esther Schipper... [more]
Leave of Absence   Pick-button-f22fa879042524f5c7b8d2278b2983b8
Posted 8/15/11
Ten years ago, during my freshman year at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, I saw a flyer posted in a school stairwell seeking a band member. “Drummer Wanted,” it said and then continued on to list a careful selection of “influences and bands we like.” It was a schizophrenic list that I imagined was the product of all the band members lobbying for their interests. It included Fugazi, Iggy Pop, Joy Division and, inexplicably, Fleetwood Mac. The flyer was urgent; the new member was... [more]
Human Nature   Pick-button-f22fa879042524f5c7b8d2278b2983b8
Marius Aleksa, Theresa Ganz, Sara Garth, David Giordano, Jacqueline Hendrickson, Samantha Jones, Stacee Kalmanovsky, Melanie Kassel, Jessie Mott, Jasmine Neal, Elle Opitz, Hannah Pae, Valentina Solano, Cassandra Troyan, Jan Verwoert, Erik Wenzel, May Yeung at DOVA Temporary June 29th, 2011 - July 23rd, 2011
Posted 7/25/11
“Animality” is one of the rare occasions where academia meets the road, so to speak, as the theoretical map is put to use. In the spring of 2011, Zach Cahill, a lecturer with the Department of Visual Arts at the University of Chicago and coordinator of the Open Practice Committee, taught a course entitled “Animality” as a survey of the issues surrounding the complicated and often problematic relationships between humans and animals. This exhibition is the culmination of that survey... [more]
Recently I sat down with Laura Letinsky in her Hyde Park Chicago home to discuss her work and thoughts on art. A survey of her work, Laura Letinsky: What Matters is on view at the North Dakota Museum of art until September and will travel to the Winnipeg Art Gallery in 2012. Letinsky is also Professor in the Department of Visual Arts at the University of Chicago where I studied with her from 2007 – 2009. Laura Letinsky, Untitled #5,To Say it Isn't So, 1996; Courtesy of the artist Erik... [more]
The Curtains of Perception   Pick-button-f22fa879042524f5c7b8d2278b2983b8
Uta Barth at The Art Institute of Chicago May 14th, 2011 - August 14th, 2011
Posted 7/11/11
For her eponymous exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago, photographer Uta Barth created a new body of work entitled …and to draw a bright white line with light (2011). The photographs depict a wavy line made as light passes through the curtains in the artist’s home. Barth noticed this by chance and realized that by moving the gossamer fabric she could in effect “draw with light,” literalizing the Latin origin of the word photograph. The …and to draw series consists of individual works... [more]
PRODUCT(YELLOW)   Pick-button-f22fa879042524f5c7b8d2278b2983b8
Kay Rosen at Pop-Up Art Loop May 24th, 2011 - December 31st, 2011
Posted 6/20/11
If you thought it couldn’t get worse than Tony Tasset’s giant fiberglass eyeball and cardinal banners last summer, then you were unpleasantly surprised by the unveiling of the latest public work of art commissioned by Chicago Loop Alliance. At least Tasset’s EYE was ridiculous and fun; it was a discrete work of art and was specifically commissioned as such. Kay Rosen’s project GO DO GOOD is an “inspirational” six-story mural tucked away above and behind the Old Navy at the corner of State and... [more]
Dark Wave Disco   Pick-button-f22fa879042524f5c7b8d2278b2983b8
Andy Warhol at The Arts Club of Chicago April 21st, 2011 - July 29th, 2011
Posted 5/16/11
Filling the usually sunny and open main gallery of the Arts Club of Chicago is a continuous frieze of paintings. Hung edge-to-edge, and rising from the floor to above the heads of most viewers, this endless line of paintings results in the space becoming quite claustrophobic and imposing. Walls have been built to seamlessly cover the windows and close one of the entrances. This combined with the subdued artificial lighting, results in a tomblike atmosphere. In each painting, a repeated... [more]
If It Be Your Will   Pick-button-f22fa879042524f5c7b8d2278b2983b8
Susan Philipsz at Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) February 26th, 2011 - June 12th, 2011
Posted 4/18/11
Tucked away in a corner of the Museum of Contemporary Art’s fourth floor is We Shall Be All (2011), a commissioned installation by the Turner Prize-winning artist Susan Philipsz. While Philipsz is widely billed as a “sound artist” the medium listed as you enter the gallery is 35mm film transferred to DVD.  This multi-step process seems a bit excessive because for the majority of the piece’s eight-minute duration the projector projects nothing.  What we see rather than the blackness of the... [more]
Physically, Artists’ Sessions at Studio 35 is just the kind of handsome, little pocket-sized tome that signals that the fate of the book will be much different than that of the newspaper or magazine. There is something very satisfying about holding the slim volume with its black and white matte cover, or pulling it out on the train to read a few of the quick exchanges between artists at a roundtable. The book is a series of transcripts from a three-day, top-secret meeting held in New York in... [more]
Alliances and Oppositions   Pick-button-f22fa879042524f5c7b8d2278b2983b8
Andreas Fischer, Melissa Pokorny at Devening Projects + Editions January 30th, 2011 - March 19th, 2011
Posted 3/14/11
The announcement introducing devening projects + editions’ “Kabinett” project (of which this is the fifth installment of seven) explains, “Each of the seven projects in this series will feature a select group of artists whose individual positions vary greatly, sometimes to the point of opposition.” Opposition is the case here, with the paintings of Andreas Fischer paired with the sculptural works of Melissa Pokorny. At the same time, these two bodies of work almost completely merge... [more]
Drummer Wanted   Pick-button-f22fa879042524f5c7b8d2278b2983b8
Mike Schuh at Andrew Rafacz Gallery February 5th, 2011 - March 19th, 2011
Posted 2/28/11
A patchwork of navy blue carpet scraps covers the floor, shedding bits of fluff and attracting dirt. Strips of the wood flooring beneath peek through the pieces of carpet that have shifted from people walking on them. To your left is a quickly scrawled drawing of a drum kit with the message “drummer wanted”. It’s floating in a pristine little white frame hung precariously low and close to the entranceway of the rear gallery. The drawing has been mounted backwards, so what you are seeing is the... [more]