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Lucian Freud

Niederkirchnerstraße 7
July 22, 2017–October 22, 2017

Lucian Freud, Head and Shoulders of a Girl, 1990, etching on paper, 31 x 25".

Throughout his long career, the painter Lucian Freud rarely experimented with other media. Among the chosen few was printmaking, but even that was limited to etchings. The current exhibition is devoted to this side of Freud, presenting fifty-one prints, plus three paintings, produced over a span of twenty-seven years.

Even in this seemingly incompatible medium—his etchings, after all, are composed wholly of lines, whereas oil painting allows one to work with viscous areas of color—the figurative essence of Freud’s style is conveyed. Some of the prints are quite demented—A Couple, 1982, depicts a middle-aged pair with their faces stuck together in smiles so wide they verge on the wicked. Little details, such as the curly scribbles conveying the texture on the woman’s blouse, serve as the identifying features of the painterly hand animating these linear compositions. Head and Shoulders, 1982, is maybe the clearest example of the artist’s playful way with line and patterns.

Of course there’s no reason to focus solely on these formal elements. The vast majority flock to Freud for his rawness of humanity, of which there is plenty in the compulsory section dedicated to nudes, where we find renderings of many of the artist’s favored models, such as Sue Tilley. Then there are the profound character studies, including A Conversation, 1998, depicting a daughter elevating a half-smoked cigarette above her shoulder while her mother grips a cup of tea, leaning over as if she were digesting the words that have just pierced the smoke. Keyed in to all the nuances of life, Freud could bring it out of whatever he puts his hands to.

Travis Jeppesen

Holly Hendry

Arratia Beer
Potsdamer Str. 87
September 16, 2017–October 28, 2017

Holly Hendry, Reflux, 2017, plaster, jesmonite, oak, cement, aluminum, marble, steel, tumeric, grit, poppy seeds, ash, paint, 41 x 24 x 22".

The body has long been a subject of artistic investigation, from Leonardo da Vinci’s anatomical studies or Rembrandt’s paintings of autopsies to Alina Szapocznikow’s sensually corporeal sculptures of limbs and lips and Sarah Lucas’s 2009–2010 “NUDS” series, to name a few. The lineage leads to Holly Hendry, a young artist whose unique sculptural language abstracts the body into layers of organs and dermis, akin to the sedimentary buildup of soil.

Following her graduation from the Royal College of Art last year, this is the artist’s first solo show in Berlin. Combining floor-based and wall-mounted sculpture, each work is made up of complex layers of materials including oak, Jesmonite, cement, aluminum, rose marble, rock salt, Lycra, poppy seeds, and cloves, all smoothly finished with external edges that are sleekly planed. Reflux, 2017, sits as a top-heavy block reminiscent of Tetris, its internal matter layered in shades of mustard yellow, slate, and pale pink. A bony spine connects its L-shaped form, doubling as the U-bend of a kitchen sink, while a large black screw penetrates each level. Hendry embeds foreign forms in each of her works, partly as an homage to the collection of objects recovered from corpses’ digestive tracts at Philadelphia’s Mütter Museum—an institution of medical history and oddities.

People are soft and permeable, and though the artist’s sculptures feel scientific in their dissections if not industrial in their hard materials, they carry a sense of the squishy in their undulating tiers. Flesh is objectified, becoming a jigsaw of matter; inside becomes outside, and negative space shifts into solid mass. We are medical marvels on which Hendry is operating.

Louisa Elderton

Michael E. Smith

Brunnenstrasse 9
September 16, 2017–November 5, 2017

View of “Michael E. Smith,” 2017. From left: Untitled, 2017; Untitled, 2017.

Michael E. Smith’s third solo exhibition at this gallery features a stuffed Macaw parrot hanging upside down (Untitled, 2017) in a dimly lit space with a green laser pointer mercilessly beaming onto the creature’s left eye every second. The artist’s unsettling sculptures are often made of unlikely alliances between fragility and weight, organic and synthetic, or the ordinary and the remarkable. They lure the eye and fill the space around them with their repulsive energy, creating environments where material, language, and image converse with and contradict one another.

Another work (also Untitled, 2017) features a dehumidifier that shows signs of wear. This machine, usually used for domestic comfort or to support the appropriate conditions for sustaining an artwork’s lifespan in an exhibition space, is here brought to balance on the paralyzed corpse of an Emperor angelfish that sports a gawking eye. Like a parasite, the machine appears to be sucking the lifeblood out of its nearly squashed host. In Smith’s show, sublime moments in the omnipresence of decay are debauched by a profane play that at times results in a quiet, disillusioned humor. Though physically absent, what lies at the center of all these objects is eventually the human body: its vulnerability, willfully repressed, and need for physical and psychological shelter in a society that is, at its core, molding.

Elisa R. Linn

Rodrigo Hernández

Ritterstrasse 2A
September 15, 2017–November 11, 2017

Rodrigo Hernández, Eva, 2017, oil, acrylic, wood, papier-mâché, 12 x 14 x 7".

Where is this beloved Eva, whose name is incorporated into the title for Rodrigo Hernández’s current exhibition and serves as the namesake for each work within it? She is in the past: a onetime lover of Picasso, who inscribed her name on a piece of gingerbread in his 1912 collaged painting Guitar: “J’aime Eva.” There’s something cruelly comedic, of course, in etching one’s love into a cheap edible, destined to go stale. Hernández’s show converts this spirit of perverse amour into a series of relief paintings—done in oil, acrylic, wood, and papier-mâché—that radiate Cubism’s influence without disappearing into it.

In Evá, 2017, a green parrot sits in profile, its body broken into curvy chunks by a slender brick chimney. Both bird and object are grounded by blue within a sharp ellipse, red-edged and reminiscent of a distended Lucio Fontana slit or, for those with a Freudian penchant, certain anatomical features. Outside this circumference, it’s all midnight blue, except for some white lines suggesting a grand cosmic schema. But loftiness is drained from the picture by the parrot’s silliness—one dotted eye stares blankly—and the work’s shoebox dimensions, which suggest an extremely well-crafted children’s project.

Another piece called Eva, 2017, finds a square support broken into a few angular planes. A single black spot could be an eye, and yellow and brown sections could be sandy hair. But it’s hard to know; the work is comically myopic, like a mashed cartoon. Dotingly executed, such works evidence Hernández’s ability to circumvent the smothering power of his own modernist references. Throughout, his cubist paraphrases are rendered in a storybook aesthetic, heightened by a band of blue painted across the gallery wall, like rising water. The exhibition expresses a strange desire not just to play in the theater of artistic inheritance, but to sally forth with the prescribed artistic roles provided therein.

Mitch Speed

Irma Blank

Galerija Gregor Podnar
Lindenstrasse 35
September 9, 2017–November 18, 2017

Irma Blank, Global Writings, Splitter AE-1, 2009, ink and pencil on transparent paper, 14 x 11''. From the series “Global Writings, Splitter,” 2009.

As seen in her famous large-scale works rendered in ballpoint pen, writing, in its occasionally unvarnished instrumentality, is Irma Blank’s greatest subject. Here, in an exhibition devoted to what she calls her “Global Writings,” the artist attempts to excavate the seismic universality of grammatographical expression from its semantic commitment. In the five pages of Global Writings, Lineare, 2005, for instance, the handwritten textual markings recall Bengali or Sanskrit. Step away to compare the arrangement of paragraph clusters on each page, and the sculptural dimensions of the project become richly apparent. Language is a vehicle and a soundscape, of course, but also a sculpture.

Blank is at her best when she’s at her rawest: applying pen or pencil directly to paper. The clear highlight is three works in the series called “Global Writings, Splitter,” 2009, wherein the performance of a gesture leaves impressions all over the transparent paper: mostly variants of an S shape, but executed from all different angles––from a distance, they resemble schools of insects swarming across the palest of surfaces.

Less potent is the effect that results when the artist tries to transfer her approach to more expensive materials, as in Global Writings C, 2000–2008, a digital font sample screen-printed on steel. A few other instances of what Blank or her gallery calls “digital writing” betray a confusion that calls for clarification: typography, while a distinct art form, is not writing.


Travis Jeppesen

Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet

Akademie der Künste | Hanseatenweg
Hanseatenweg 10
September 14, 2017–November 19, 2017

Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, Trop tôt, trop tard (Too Early, Too Late), 1981, 16-mm film, color, sound, 100 minutes.

The name Straub-Huillet is practical in that it designates not only two individuals who worked together but also emphasizes that they did not regard the distinction of authorship as important. Nevertheless, Jean-Marie Straub, who has survived Danièle Huillet, has often stood in the foreground as a filmmaker; this exhibition examines Huillet’s role and finds her to have been a valuable partner, correspondent, and facilitator. The multilayered show is structured around Kommunisten (Communists), 2014; one of Straub’s recent films, it serves as a compilation of the duo’s creative concerns as a whole, shown here along with various archival materials such as letters, sketches, and other fragments.

Also included are works from other artists that affirm the contemporary relevance of Straub-Huillet’s practice. For example, Oraib Toukan uses photographs of the landscape in Jordan in his video Palace of the Slave, 2017. Detached from their context, Toukan’s images imitate the distanced gaze cast on artifacts and ruins. This piece itself would seem to be a takeoff from Straub-Huillet’s Trop tôt, trop tard (Too Early, Too Late, 1981), a film partly based on Mahmoud Hussein’s book Class Conflict in Egypt, 1945–1970 (1968). This documentary—part of the tradition of ethnographic cinema and complementary with the work of contemporaries such as Harun Farocki and Chantal Akerman—similarly focuses on how, as an outsider, it’s possible to construct meaning using foreign cultures and landscapes as material. Over the course of the exhibition one can watch around fifty films in chronological order in different theaters, but these pieces resist casual consumption, making it clear that watching them in their native setting—the cinema—remains best to grasp their sensuous and political dimensions.

Translated from German by Diana Reese.

Melissa Canbaz

Wiebke Siem

Esther Schipper
Potsdamer Strasse 81E
November 4, 2017–December 16, 2017

View of “Wiebke Siem: Damenskulptur” (Lady Sculpture), 2017.

Celery sticks, green beans, vibrant lemons, rotund tomatoes: All come to mind when one thinks through Wiebke Siem’s exhibition “Damenskulptur (Lady Sculpture).” Neither fruits nor vegetables actually appear in the German artist’s seven sculptures (all works untitled, 2017), in which cartoonish, languid, humanoid shapes made from wool felt hang from the gallery’s darkened ceiling, but the show is a deft exercise in material transmogrification, wherein basic shapes and materials exceed their common reputations.

Siem’s singular achievement here is in letting both the stick figure—one of the first images inscribed by toddlers—and a material freighted with stereotypes of some essentialist, folksy femininity, become strange once more. Siem’s soft objects hold their ground as fascinating entities in and of themselves. But in so doing, they operate less as tropes than as conduits for a raft of bizarre associations. Owing to their dark, theatrical setting, the sculptures could be less existentially weighted cousins to the colorful wanderers in Samuel Beckett’s 1981 television play, Quad.

One of the aforementioned string beans, arms hanging downward like drooping sprouts, sports a noodley bow-tie: a standout of the few accoutrements afforded to this group, along with the red winter cap, mittens, and shoes on another corpus. Nearby, multiple pencil and colored-pencil drawings suggest how the vibrant, limpid sculptures might be used as scarves. Owing to their size, though, you get the impression that a wearer’s neck would be left with a permanent kink. Like the artist’s show in general, this suggestion of utility is pleasantly absurd.

Mitch Speed

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Perception Is Reality”

Frankfurter Kunstverein
Steinernes Haus am Römerberg, Markt 44
October 7, 2017–January 7, 2018

Manuel Rossner, Wetware, 2017, VR installation, color, silent.

This brilliant and at times frightening exhibition offers multifaceted insight into virtual reality as praxis. On the ground floor, Manuel Rossner’s Wetware, 2017, reproduces the institution’s interior exactly, allowing reality trippers the uncanny experience of walking through the space when, suddenly, it is flooded with a sea of blue sludge. In the basement, gamers will find solace in David OReilly’s Everything, 2016, inspired by the writings of philosopher Alan Watts, which allows visitors to constantly change perspective by becoming different animals or inanimate objects, with no final goal in sight—an existential infinity in which one never loses or wins, but keeps on morphing.

The virtual-reality game Plank Experience, 2016, by Toast provides the most memorable and, depending on one’s degree of acrophobia, possibly terrifying experience. Visitors enter a virtual elevator, which they take to the top floor, and then walk out onto a narrow wooden plank at the height of a skyscraper. With a wooden board on the actual gallery floor and a fan eliciting the sense of wind on the face, the brain and body quiver with fear, even though it’s an illusion.

The Bavarian State Police is among the few law enforcement bodies to have already adopted VR as a forensic tool to re-create crime scenes. Here, they have lent four examples from actual cases, including the burnt-out remains of a sawmill that investigators were unable to enter, owing to the dangers of chemical fumes and potential building collapse, as well as the bloodied kitchen where a woman was murdered and the corpse of a man who was beaten and kicked to death. These are but a few of the works that explore both the utopian and dystopian qualities of a technology that will increasingly call into question the very nature of what constitutes reality. Art has always been, among other things, about challenging and revising modes of perception, but never before has that process become so literalized.

Travis Jeppesen

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


Kunstmuseen Krefeld | Haus Lange
Wilhelmshofallee 91-97
October 1, 2017–January 14, 2018

Ivan Picelj, Zvonimir Radic, Vjenceslav Richter, Aleksandar Srnec, Designs for the “Highway” exhibition set-up in Belgrade, 1950, ink, tempera, black-and-white photograph, cardboard, felt, 19 3/4 x 27 1/2".

As the Yugoslavian political regime liberalized in the aftermath of World War II, breaking from the Eastern Bloc, so too did the region’s artists. The group EXAT 51 (Experimental Studio 51) is a product of those years, when abstraction replaced Soviet socialist realism as the country’s official artistic style. A brain-scrambling number of the group’s art and design projects are presented here, highlighting EXAT 51’s fervent efforts to provide its society with new modes of self-representation.

Because the exhibit, even with its thematic headings, largely seems to organize EXAT 51’s projects according to medium—animation, architecture, models, and living spaces—it is easy to overlook how audaciously its members experimented across boundaries. Their collaborative ethos is conveyed especially well in a section on designs for international trade fairs. In Vjenceslav Richter and Emil Weber’s Yugoslavian pavilion design for Expo ’58 in Brussels, glass volumes feature interiors checkered with television monitors, offsetting the stereotype that communism could not produce modern technology.

Elsewhere, it is smaller-scale works that speak most confidently of Yugoslavia’s newfound internationalism. Aleksandar Srnec’s travel brochures from 1963 transform the country’s landscape into blocks of primary colors, beckoning European visitors to arrive by land and sea. And in a 1956–57 drawing by Richter and Zdravko Bregovac proposing a modern national museum for Aleppo, geopolitical realignment becomes creative opportunity.

Appearing in a Mies van der Rohe building, at a venue that often commissions artists to engage the Bauhaus’s legacy, this show risked framing EXAT 51 as yet another tardy echo of European modernism. Careful historical contextualization, however, acknowledges the group’s precedents without diminishing its unique potency.

Christianna Bonin