China’s rapid urbanization over the last few decades has been a constant source of inspiration for acclaimed Chinese artist Cao Fei. Employing film, video, and virtual reality (among other mediums), she explores the intersection between humanity and the digital age, often using the backdrop of her Beijing neighborhood as a setting. The artist’s newest feature-length film, Nova (2019), focuses on a computer scientist attempting to turn human beings into digital mediums; in this quest, the scientist experiments on his own son and accidentally transforms him into a virtual being trapped in cyberspace. Saturated in hues of purple, pink and blue, the film investigates sacrifice for progress’ sake and how narrative can be created in a world beyond time. As with all her video work, Cao Fei created an accompanying series of photographs for the film; here, Nova 11 (2019) depicts the scientist in his lab, pointing toward a future he so desperately wishes to create.
A pioneer of the international revival of figurative painting since the early 1980s, George Condo has developed a unique and celebrated pictorial language that brings together references to Western art history—synthesized elements from Old Master painting, Cubism, Surrealism, Pop art and Abstract Expressionism—with aspects of mass media, such as comic books and music. The artist’s eclectic use of color and gesture, his keen portrayal of psychic dissonance and his blend of artistic and pop-cultural influences comes to the fore in his drawing Panic in Central Park (2020). Three main figures occupy the picture plane, but glimpses of other eyes, profiles and facial features proliferate in an interlocking array of characters that evokes a multiplicity of thoughts, moods and emotions—an approach that Condo terms “psychological cubism.” The ominous title brings to mind newspaper headlines sensationalizing urban crime and the human tendency to perceive danger in the unknown, and the work’s palette of black, electric blue, bright red, magenta and yellow-green highlight this anxious, albeit virtuosic, portrayal.
Thomas Demand’s ongoing Model Studies series has been a departure in his own practice, portraying models produced by architects rather than his own. For Demand, the architectural model is a sculptural object used to convey a series of ideas, often fragmented or for projects never to be realized. In the latest iteration of the series, he worked in the atelier of the late fashion designer Azzedine Alaïa, documenting the patterns prepared for his garments. In kinglet (2020), the pieces of fabric and paper, hanging and categorized by color, offer potential for components or items of clothing that may or may not have ever entered full production. Depicted well over life-size but somewhat abstracted from their full form, they become a study in line, shade and color. Considered in light of his earlier Model Studies, photographed from the work of John Lautner, SANAA, Hans Hollein and Gio Ponti, Demand draws parallels between the rigidity of these primarily cardboard models, somewhat like his own, and the fluidity of those made for the body.
kinglet is included in the exhibition Thomas Demand: House of Card, on view at Museum Leuven beginning October 9, 2020.
Lucy Dodd deals in the symbolic, focusing her painting practice on the possibilities of abstraction as a vessel for spiritual language. Dodd often uses unorthodox materials and unconventionally shaped canvases, creating an ecosystem of organic, oozing shapes and layered colors that belong to another world entirely. Dodd allows biological processes to occur naturally on the canvas itself, watching the organic chemical reactions between materials cause the surface to truly come to life. With WWW. he he he (2015), Tetley’s tea, graphite, hematite, terra, charcoal, and mixed pigment were applied to the canvas in order to create the work's fungal shapes and earth-tone hues. This medley was smeared, rubbed, sprayed, stained, or left intact, allowing for the ghostly veils of color that contrast with the darker cloud that descends from above into frame. The trapezoidal canvas neatly contains this free-flowing, dynamic world, allowing viewers an entry point into an alternate universe that embraces the mystical possibility of transformation.
Under cover of their deceptively straightforward visual language, the famed artistic duo Gilbert & George have for over fifty years tackled critical, provocative subjects that tap into the deepest drives of contemporary society. Their works also reference disparate eras of cultural history, from nineteenth-century Romanticism to the pop milieu of science fiction and comic books. DARWIN DAY (2019) comes from their recent body of work THE PARADISICAL PICTURES, in which Gilbert & George appear amid a vivid array of psychedelically colored natural forms, including flowers, leaves, petals, fruits, tree limbs and branches. Individually, each picture presents a mesmeric world unto itself, replete with lush surfaces and vibrant hues, but likewise filled with references to aging and exhaustion. In DARWIN DAY, the artists are engulfed by giant mauve and brown petals, suggesting perhaps that plant life might be overtaking humanity in the course of evolution. Frequently the butt of their own jokes, the artists negate the myth of artistic genius and present themselves as fallible seekers of knowledge.
DARWIN DAY will be featured in a major solo exhibition of Gilbert & George’s work at Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt in 2021.
From Paris, Montparnasse (1993) to his most recent work, Andreas Gursky has long been casting his eye on architecture across the world, making it a core subject in his “Encyclopedia of Life.” The first time he photographed the Hong Kong Bank, Sir Norman Foster’s iconic high-rise, was in 1994, and in 2020 he made three more pictures of the building, still an important landmark in the Hong Kong skyline. While his first photograph of the subject, Hong Kong Shanghai Bank (1994), expressed the bullish optimism of capitalism of the 1980s, as well as the aspirations for transparency in modernist architecture, the three new photographs portray the building in a more complicated light. In Hong Kong, Shanghai Bank I (2020) a red-orange diode curtain obscures the windows. The screen has a decorative function, creating a warm, vibrant pattern, and thus adding texture to the building’s futuristic façade. At the same time, the screen creates a screen against prying eyes, invoking an age of increased privacy since the era in which Gursky first photographed the building, almost 30 years ago.
Since the late 1970s, Astrid Klein’s paintings, collages, photo works and installations have questioned, deconstructed and reinforced the relationship between image and text. A lifelong preoccupation with literary, scientific and philosophical writings manifests itself in a body of work in which text oftentimes plays as important a role as visual content, sometimes becoming the visual content itself. Untitled (2010) is a continuation of Klein’s investigation into text as a tool for visual repetition—taking its place within her body of Schriftbilder, or “text pictures.” Painted on silver tape that is then collaged onto a silver canvas, the phrase “language reduced to dust” is dissected into its individual word fragments, floating in and out of focus on the monochrome surface. Removed from any larger context, and oriented vertically so that one needs to work to read the words, the text begins to lose its meaning and becomes more purely visual. The phrase therefore literally describes the action being done unto it through isolation and repetition: Klein reduces meaning to dust, and by doing so, explores the power of language, perception and our own subconscious.
Astrid Klein’s solo exhibition at Pinakothek der Moderne, which presents a comprehensive group of works from their collection, is on view through January 17, 2021.
Jean-Luc Mylayne’s meticulously choreographed mises-en-scène of birds in their natural habitats are part of an ongoing pictorial archive. As a writer, poet and philosopher, Mylayne uses birds as a metaphor to address broader themes, considering the relationship between humans and animals and how time is perceived. Utilizing special lenses, lighting and a large format camera, he imagines and creates certain scenarios and lies in wait for the birds to visit—typically small, unremarkable songbirds. N°269, Février Mars 2004 (2004) takes place in New Mexico, notable for its arid plains and resounding blue sky, where the artist and his wife and collaborator, Mylène, lived for several years. The composition is carefully controlled with focus and depth of field calibrated across the image, lending it a certain painterly quality. The resulting image does not conform to the perspectives of ornithological studies or classic nature photography, which center on the distinctive features of the birds or the unusual flora, but instead produce a dynamic, filmic quality. Like the moment at which he presses the shutter, the photograph is a unique perception of time: A staged instant that Mylayne imagined long before his avian protagonist came into view.
Jean-Luc Mylayne’s works are currently on view in the exhibitions Jean-Luc Mylayne: The Autumn of Paradise at Huis Marseille, Van Gogh Inspires Jean-Luc Mylayne at Van Gogh Museum and Among the Trees at Hayward Gallery.
N°269, Février Mars 2004 is located in London. Please contact us if you would like to arrange a viewing.
The Cologne-based painter David Ostrowski has produced a prolific body of work that revolves around the idea of the zero point—a place of nothingness beyond cultural and painterly codes. His minimalist canvases, which often contain just a trace of spray paint or a lacquered-on collage element, contend with emptiness and the void and in so doing grapple with and comment upon the history of painting. F (Wenn ich mich langweilen will, fahre ich in einen Stau) (“When I get bored, I drive in a traffic jam”), created in 2016, holds a special place within Ostrowski’s ongoing F series, which has prefixed the title of nearly every work he has produced since 2009. Atop a raw canvas, whose supporting stretcher bars show through its linen surface, a large piece of torn paper features a blurred figure with his arm outstretched, spray painting a black line. No actual paint appears in this work, and yet the act of spraying and artistic mark-making is foregrounded through this striking depiction. The painting thus contains all of Ostrowski’s core mediums—painting (via the canvas), drawing (via the paper), and spray (via the figure)—which literally cross over and atop each other in the final work.
Thomas Scheibitz explores the artistic possibilities of abstraction and figuration, working across media to create his own pictorial language that dissolves the conflicting chasm between the two. Scheibitz takes visual patterns and objects from our daily life and transforms them into an iconography all his own, often employing visual ambiguity, varied mark-making, and stark color contrasts to break our associations with what we think we are seeing. In Still life (2019), large grey brushstrokes streak vertically down the canvas, sporadically coming into contact with bold shapes in varying shades of yellow, black and brown. A glimpse of blue sky hovers above, losing grip on its place in the composition. Barely familiar forms float on the canvas—a house, an envelope, stairs or window frames, a weathervane—and come to rest together to create a scene that exudes a jumbled, fading domesticity. These forms, colors and textures migrate between the familiar and the truly abstract, pushing viewers to refer back to their own experience and perception of the world.
Cindy Sherman’s iconic Untitled Film Stills, a suite of 70 black-and-white photographs completed between 1977 and 1980, see the artist pose in the guise of various generic and fictionalized female film characters—from working girl to repressed housewife, bombshell to vamp, rebel to ingénue. Untitled Film Still #64 employs cinematic compositional tools from various genres of the 1950s and 1960s with consummate finesse. Elegantly yet simply dressed, the woman at the center of the scene stands paralleled by the architectural elements that surround her, with something of a clandestine nature to the scene, highlighted by the play between contrasts of light and shadow. The character intrigues the viewer, but the air of mystery of the figure and setting simultaneously contributes to a feeling of voyeurism that Sherman is purposefully exposing and conveying. The deliberate snapshot staging suggests the presence of a wider narrative of which the viewer is as yet unaware, and thus denied the fulfillment of knowing; they are left to contemplate their own participation in this moment, the nature of their gaze and the construction of the scene they are observing.
Cindy Sherman’s solo exhibition at Fondation Louis Vuitton, which brings together some 170 works by the artists, is on view through January 3, 2021.
Kaari Upson has created a groundbreaking body of work that delves into the deep-seeded motivations and urges that inform the human experience. In obsessively composed drawings, haunting paintings, engaging videos and sculptures that range from intimate objects to room-sized installations, the artist explores the nature of our relationships with ourselves and others. Trashole (2014) is a key example of Upson's sculptures cast from domestic objects—including mattresses, doors, sofas and chairs—which she transforms into uncanny, often grotesque forms via the casting and mold-making process. This large black work with a hole at its center sinks into a corner, filling the space not just physically through its puffy, billowing form, but also metaphorically: Is this orifice a portal to somewhere, perhaps an alternate universe or the dark recesses of someone's psyche? A recurring image in Upson's work, including in Trashole, is that of the threshold, which she deploys symbolically as a passageway to other emotional and psychological states.
Film has long played a crucial role in Kara Walker’s groundbreaking artistic practice, and her work with moving images incorporates her signature use of silhouettes and her insightful handling of pictorial space. In 2009, Walker produced two works that further deepened her examination into history and narrative, inspired by her research into the United States National Archives on the War Department’s Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands. Established in 1865 following the Civil War to assist former slaves as they transitioned to freedom, the Freedmen’s Bureau kept records of the brutality inflicted on African Americans during this chaotic era. Working with musicians Jason and Alicia Moran, who created the textured soundtrack, Walker composes a visual world that is equally dissonant and melodic, and which continues her investigation into both the American family and what the spiritually orphaned black figure looks like in a landscape defined by loss and violence.
Andro Wekua’s wide-ranging body of work explores the gaps and overlaps between memory, fantasy and cultural histories. The Georgian artist’s tenuous relationship to his country manifests itself in his media and methods, creating mysterious and unsettling images in which figures are hidden away, surfaces are scratched or effaced and colors are opaquely layered. B.Portrait, two II (2020) is a painting based on collage elements: Using a painterly silkscreening process, Wekua transfers collages onto aluminum-composite panels, which he then covers with layers of oil paint. A rich, streaky blue permeates this work, creating a fog through which a seated ghostly figure peeks out, arms crossed. A burst of color comes from the figure’s single visible hand, which claws through the blue and provides a moment of clarity with its defined digits and bright pinks and oranges. Recalling Wekua’s seaside hometown of Sukhumi, now derelict and war-torn, this work is perhaps the product of a fading memory—that of Sukhumi or the artist himself living there, feeling reality slip through his fingers.