LaKela Brown

Lars Friedrich
Kantstrasse 154a
January 11–February 17

LaKela Brown, Round Bamboo Earrings with Gold Lines Relief, 2018, plaster, acrylic, 40 1/2 x 33".

The jewelry and body parts that make up LaKela Brown’s exhibition resemble, on first glance, the kind of historical artifacts that one might find in a prestigious museum. However, upon closer inspection, these plaster reliefs present a meditation on how such objects are historicized, represented, and abstracted in a museological context. Embedded in the eleven individual works are different casts of objects commonly associated with hip-hop culture in the 1990s, when the artist was growing up, including bamboo earrings, gold-capped teeth, rope necklace chains, and chicken heads taken from a Brooklyn restaurant that the artist worked in. Such decapitated remnants are also the namesake of a slang term quoted in several songs and popularized in a Redman skit, a visual punning reminiscent of David Hammons’s work.

The works’ titles are plainly descriptive or otherwise straightforward, as in Heart Bamboo Earrings Arrangement Relief and Twelve, while others resemble more critical statements: Some of the Things We Wanted and Didn’t Want (all works 2018). The latter features a set of the cast-plaster chicken heads crowded in a circle, where they appear to be on the verge of being consumed by several sets of teeth, in a tableau surrounded by jewelry. Additions of gold acrylic paint adorn random teeth, as if to point out what they could be: valuable, and a symbol of social standing. Round Bamboo Earrings with Gold Lines Relief even feature painted gold lines, recalling the gridded abstractions of Agnes Martin.

Balancing cool Conceptualism and an amused sensibility, the show asks how, and whose, history becomes solidified by representation. Similar to how Martin was designated a Minimalist yet considered herself to be an Abstract Expressionist, whose point of view is invited into the canon?

Steven Warwick

Stefan Thater

Gotzkowskystr. 16
December 16–January 29

Stefan Thater, Dark Embryo, 2017, pen on paper, silver garland, dimensions variable.

From the gray Berlin street, one can peer into Stefan Thater’s exhibition like the Little Match Girl into a warm living room. A mix of tusche and oil on paper, Poster Éclair (all works 2017) fills the glass entrance to the gallery with a pock-marked pattern of pale pink, resembling a slide from microbiology or backlit marble. It’s a fantasy of heat that contains all the ambivalence of fire: a nurturing as well as a destructive force.

The man with the round face alluded to in the show’s title is, we learn, a chimney sweeper—a bearer of luck in German folklore, but also the only person entitled by law to access your home without a warrant. For Thater, this figure triggered a preoccupation with intrusion and, more specifically, the infrastructures that connect domestic spaces with society at large. Anruf der goldenen Wand (Call of the Golden Wall), a vitrine flanking the gallery’s gold mosaic wall, contains, among other things, a polystyrene telephone with a length of silver garland. The seasonally appropriate material reoccurs in the installation Dark Embryo as the festive umbilical cord of an uncanny upside-down drawing of the artist’s antihero at work with his brush. Installed in a gloomy backroom, the mystical character has here reached a private sphere with devilish inevitability.

The equal measures of anxiety and fascination with which the artist has introduced this strange man culminate in a series of intense objects titled “Purgatory.” These scorched orange abstractions on dark painted, extruded polystyrene blocks appear to be the frail survivors of an epically mundane trauma: the glowing ember of an idiosyncratic and humorous mind.

Kristian Vistrup Madsen

Gwenn Thomas

Kurfürstenstrasse 19
December 8–January 27

Gwenn Thomas, Moments of Place III, 2013–14, C-print, aluminum frame, 19 1/2 x 25".

To walk the city after sundown is to experience vicarious warmth; glowing windows signify—rightly or not—warm interiors, full tables, and hospitable families. Threading a line between sentimentality and analytic detachment, Gwenn Thomas’s exhibition reckons with the window’s status as an interchange of conviviality and loneliness, fantasy and veiled reality. On the walls of this two-room gallery, she has hung eleven simulated panes, made from wood and metal frames, over photographs of exterior windows and translucent plastic laminate or Plexiglas.

The most uncanny pieces tend to recall picture frames. In Moments of Place IX, 2016–17, a small reddish horizontal piece puts a faintly comic spin on Thomas’s simulacra game. Other pieces likewise warp the window’s signification, as in Moments of Place III, 2013–14, where an angled C-print occupies a custom angled frame, morphing the rectangle into a graphic trapezoid; all over, vibrant hues evoke some unearthly atmosphere.

Interspersed with these photo-based works are pieces that mimic glowing windows, using framed sections of the transparent acrylic glass. Each is hung over a patch of vividly painted wall, infusing the faux panes with soft color. Like “Moments of Place,” 2013–, this series renders its motif using shifting forms and techniques. While a 2017 work from “Standard Candles,” 2016–, takes a basic quadrant shape, constructed from blond wood, the standalone Antonioni’s Window, 2017, is triangular, but with one curved corner. Displaying the degree of care that earnest homages demand, the latter is deftly crafted, with delicate hinges accenting its cream paint job. Though often associated with the driest of aesthetic ventures, architecture and seriality here energize a gallery full of awkward and protean forms.

Mitch Speed

Alice Neel

Aurel Scheibler
Schöneberger Ufer 71
October 13–February 3

Alice Neel, Synthesis of New York. The Great Depression, 1933, oil on canvas, 4 x 3'.

In Alice Neel’s paintings there are people and then there are the People. Longshoremen Returning from Work, 1936, shows a streetscape as stage set: figures populating the thoroughfare as the setting sun cuts a cone of light across the pavement. Meanwhile, The Great Society, 1965, from which the exhibition takes its title, shows a bar scene in pale colors, carving the very grain of life into the harrowed faces of a party of drinkers. Much more than representing figures, in this picture Neel has captured spirits.

Spanning the decades between these two pieces, the other paintings in the show provide succinct insight into the artist’s political commitment as it developed over time. The sinister Synthesis of New York. The Great Depression, 1933, encountered in a gallery a stone’s throw from Germany’s Alte Nationalgalerie, is easily comparable to the urban scenes of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (several of Neel’s characters even have skulls for faces). But this use of symbolism is quickly eclipsed by a much more objective method, which the artist went as far as to call historiography. Like a witness in a trial, these works would seem to testify to this protest, or that funeral, as if simply to say: This took place. 

What is most striking about these paintings, however, is how Neel’s brush seems to defy those earnest intentions, instead tinting the canvases with light discomfort and private thoughts. When she painted, the distinct anxieties intrinsic to looking and being looked at blended into a single surface. In the eyes of Grimaldi, 1955, we see history’s unraveling into the present.


Kristian Vistrup Madsen

Harun Farocki

Neuer Berliner Kunstverein (n.b.k.)
Chausseestrasse 128-129
September 14–January 28

Harun Farocki, On Construction of Griffith’s Films, 2006, two-channel video installation, color, silent, 9 minutes.

Make no mistake—Harun Farocki’s exhibition here is not the “retrospective” that its tagline would lead viewers to expect. It is only one part of an homage that several Berlin institutions are paying to the great German filmmaker and video artist, who died in 2014. This is the most recent installment in the series of shows that began in 2015––all involving direction or curation by Antje Ehmann (Farocki’s second wife and collaborator) and Carles Guerra––which illuminate specific aspects of the late artist’s vast body of work. This chapter focuses specifically on video installations that analyze the mechanisms of traditional cinema, along with featuring archival materials that shed light on other facets of Farocki’s activities as an actor, political activist, and writer for radio.

That said, the exhibition is far from a routine affair; in fact, the very specificity of its approach produces worthwhile results. The audience that knows Farocki, above all, for his social and political critique of moving images at large, including the modern developments of video games and CCTV, here has an opportunity to see works like Dubbing, 2006, which compares the most famous scene from the 1976 film Taxi Driver (“Are you talking to me?”) to the multiple versions of it dubbed in other languages. On Construction of Griffith’s Films, 2006, scrutinizes, with didactic precision, the presence of thresholds and doors in D. W. Griffith’s films in relation to his editing style. The two multichannel installations, Feasting or Flying, 2008, and War Tropes, 2011, tackle the theme of male suicide in film and the topoi of war films, respectively. As the exhibition title, “By Other Means,” implies, this is meta-cinema created with a foundation of preexisting footage, which Farocki reworked using such techniques as the counterpoint of image and text and the seriality of Conceptual art.

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.

Simone Menegoi

Michel Majerus

Michel Majerus Estate
Knaackstraße 12
April 28–March 3

Michel Majerus, 10 bears masturbating in 10 boxes, 1992, acrylic on cotton, 9 1/2 x 18'.

The title of this exhibition, “Laboratory for appraising the apparent”—the first of a three-part show at the artist’s former studio space—is appropriated from a quote Michel Majerus once wrote down in a notebook. The phrase simultaneously mirrors the credo of his early work from 1990 through 1995, presented here, and his estate’s mission of an archival reappraisal for the public. An arrangement of books taken from Majerus’s library is installed next to the entrance, appearing like an overview of the artist’s favored sources, including Vogue and Nintendo magazines, a publication on architect Kisho Kurokawa, and textbooks on typography. A distillation of these materials can be traced in the reproductions of thirteen of his small notebooks, neatly labeled with year and month, each containing a cryptic selection of his own aphorisms.

On a wall hangs a giant painting with cartoonish, baffled-looking bears sitting in Chio Chips or Kellogg’s boxes for 10 bears masturbating in 10 boxes, 1992. They are partly covered and outlined with tumultuous curvy strokes in red or blackened turquoise color fields. Slipshod, comic-style lettering underneath displays the title. Referencing Andy Warhol’s commercial phantoms and cribbing the gestural force of a Willem de Kooning not only epitomizes Majerus’s blunt jockeying for a position next to canonical figures and works, but furthermore evinces his obsession with the transformative potential of blending high and low images: an in-your-face remix of signs caught in constant flux.

Bringing to mind Wittgenstein’s reading of the duck-rabbit illusion in Philosophical Investigations (1953), the artist’s fragile surfaces conceal and reveal more than what is initially apparent, or as he scribbled in one of his notebooks: “As soon as someone has sussed out my logic + my system, it’s up to me to point this logic in a direction that contradicts itself so that it can’t become doctrine.”

Elisa R. Linn

Moyra Davey

Alte Brücke 2 / Maininsel
December 9–January 28

View of “Moyra Davey: Hell Notes,” 2017.

In a sublime yet humble installation, almost five hundred images from Moyra Davey’s “Copperheads” series from 1990 to 2017 are tacked up in vast, tightly arranged grids. These microphotographic prints showing Abraham Lincoln’s profile on US pennies—fascinatingly worn, scratched, gouged, abraded, rusted, calcified—themselves show wear. Folded into quarters, sealed with fluorescent tape, addressed, stamped, and sent through the mail, the prints are irrevocably marked. The photo paper, whose gloss repels the impressions of postmarks, suppresses official indications of time and circulation in favor of the purely material. Davey, it seems, is interested in the look of things as the world eats them up.

For those familiar with Davey’s “Copperheads,” an addition to that body of work here is actually quite old. The Super-8 film Hell Notes, 1990, made just as the aforementioned series was launched and screened only once before, in 1991, is a crucial companionate work. A carefully structured non-narrative essay in the vein of Hollis Frampton, Hell Notes as a meditation on the relations between money, food, and excrement compellingly, yet sadly, still resonates. We move between different New York sites, including Central Park, a gold vault, a public toilet, a tourist ferry, and the artist’s apartment, where she recounts stories gathered from family members that reveal how financial anxieties evolve into neuroses around eating and shitting. In a section titled “Meatball Hero Lecture,” Davey explains to a friend, who gradually loses interest in his sandwich, Sigmund Freud’s and Martin Luther’s theories about the unrealized potential value of shit. “If money were shit, which then became food,” she says, “then it would fully gratify the infantile desire.” Later, we gaze at a sauté pan in which a bunch of pennies sizzle in a foaming bed of lard—indeed, looking quite like shit, and you certainly wouldn’t want to eat it.

Natilee Harren