Contemporary Art in Rome Summer 2015

Every self-respecting hipster needs a smattering of culture, so we spent some time in Rome staying near the piazza of Testaccio. Between lovely meals, walked off in the (relatively) cool shade of the Tiber banks, and a daily siesta during the hours of the sun’s anvil, we tried to catch a few galleries. Rome, probably owing to the many of young foreign artists on residencies at the British School, the American Academy, the Swiss Institute, etc., and the not-inconsiderable amount of, probably ill-gotten, money there, has a decent whack of good galleries, and has had so for many years. While Milan, Trentino, and the Veneto may have the lion’s share of wealthy patrons, foundations, and galleries, there are quite a few interesting spaces in Rome, Naples, and increasingly, Sicily.

Fuel for the galleries: pasta with the intestines of a newly-weaned calf ('pajata')
Fuel for the galleries: pasta with the intestines of a newly-weaned calf (‘pajata’)

Anyway, to start with we dropped by Fondazione Giuliani: a lovely space improbably housed in the basement of a large, reasonably attractive early twentieth-century apartment block in Testaccio. It shows specially commissioned projects and collaborations, but also presents the collection of Giovanni and Valeria Giuliani. It was a group show of high-calibre international artists, amongst the standouts of which were Daniel Steegmann Mangrane’s theatrical screens made of coloured metal chain-links. Alexandre Singh’s evocative sculptures alluded to his play The Humans, a riff on Aristophanes. Haris Epaminonda’s floor and wall pieces were placed around the show, and Fischli/Weiss’ seminal film The Way Things Go was riveting. The exhibition was beautifully curated by Adrienne Drake and produced in conjunction with Kunsthallelissabon in Lisbon.

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Fondazione Giuliani: Daniel Steegmann Mangrane, Alexandre Singh, Amalia Pica, Haris Epaminonda
Fondazione Giuliani: Daniel Steegmann Mangrane, Alexandre Singh, Amalia Pica, Haris Epaminonda

The highlight of the trip was identifying a rather unremarkable deconsecrated church in which NY gallerist Gavin Brown has opened a non-traditional exhibition space, roughly at the same time as his much-better-publicised valedictory show in the West Village, with its re-staging of Jannis Kounellis’ Untitled (12 Horses). Located, un-numbered, on one of the smaller streets in Trastevere, we had to ask a few crones whether they remembered a church in the area, and as we got warmer, we enquired at the neighbourhood stalwart Trattoria Da Enzo. We guessed, correctly, that this would be the place where the gallerist used to lunch, back in 2005 when he first spotted the church, when he ran a gallery in Rome with 2 other gallerists, Franco Noero and Toby Webster. We finally found it, but unfortunately lost the photographs of the inside – but it is very far from the typical ‘white cube’. Essentially it is an austere church, stripped of any baroque decorations it had, and just in front of the altar were a number of pots on portable burners, with what looked like black (marble apparently) sheep skulls and bones in them. On one of the two marble slabs was a well-dressed lady, to all intents and purposes, passed out with a couple bottles of beer next to her. The space was open to visitors, but it wasn’t so comfortable: we seemed to have stepped into an performace and installation of Rirkrit Tiravanija, an Argentine-Thai artist and professor at Columbia. I had one more reason to find his space – I remembered a bar called Passerby that Brown founded. It had a disco-lit floor that I and a coterie of Sicilian artists, in the much more affordable Chelsea of the 1990s, used to colonise.


Gavin Brown's new space in Trastevere. Interior shot courtesy
Gavin Brown’s new space in Trastevere. Interior shot courtesy

Galeria Indipendenza had a joint show of Charlotte Posenenske and Tauba Auerbach. Auerbach had some rather lovely textured and woven paintings inspired by the architecture and decoration of Rome, which worked beautifully in the the gallery’s elegant rooms. The late Posenenske was represented by gorgeous non-functional ducting: galvanised steel or cardboard sculptures, which were either originals or replicated by Auerbach (Posenenske in her life rejected notions of unique works in an apparently political statement). The sculptures remain highly contemporary, reminiscent as they are of restaurant ducting, high-volume air conditioning (HVAC) ducts, or the cooling equipment found in, say, a server farm.

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Charlotte Posenenske & Tauba Auerbach at Galeria Indipendenza
Charlotte Posenenske & Tauba Auerbach at Galeria Indipendenza

A Few Exhibitions in Chelsea – December 2014

I did my annual pre-Christmas peregrination around Chelsea’s commercial galleries: it would appear that Manhattan’s nexus of money and art is alive and well.  NYC’s tendency towards big, colourful, expensive, object-centred art is perhaps the subject of anguished navel-gazing and hand-wringing amongst certain corners of the art world.  Yet, the Chelsea galleries still are able to deliver exhibitions of a size, scope and brashness that other cities rarely match.  In contrast, London, for instance, conveys a distinctly provincial but charming feel, and intimate scale, in the quaint Georgian precincts of Mayfair (admittedly this is changing as the likes of Marian Goodman and Sadie Coles increase their footprints).

Navid Nuur
Navid Nuur
Group show at Andrew Kreps (Dianna Molzan on the far wall)
Group show at Andrew Kreps (Dianna Molzan on the far wall)

First off, after a failed attempt to find a decent espresso bar in Chelsea, I hit a group show at Andrew Kreps, the most interesting work at which was Navid Nuur’s light sculpture.  There were some rather unexciting deconstructed paintings by Diana Molzan (think wrapped stretchers, nets, grids, referencing Modernist tropes).

Martin Puryear


Martin Puryear
Martin Puryear

Then onto the Martin Puryear show at Mathew Marks, which was built around the shape of the Phrygian cap, that of the French Revolution and similar also to a Venetian Doge’s hat.  He explored the shape in an exhaustive range of materials, most of which were exquisitely fashioned in wood, tar, bronze, wire, paint.  His thing is the use of traditional craft techniques, like joinery, to produce unashamedly beautiful sculptures.  While the physical manifestation of Puryear’s skill was very impressive, the show as a whole didn’t really rise above a demonstration of virtuosity with materials.  There wasn’t enough of an overall narrative, although the PR made references to colonialism, ethnicity, etc., to make it work for me, particularly in comparison to some of the other shows (see below).

High-end condo complex going up on 22nd (?) street
Yet another high-end condo complex going up on 22nd (?) street

Gagosian ran a large show of Picasso photographs, drawings, films, objects, and paintings.  As expected, it was museum-quality, and staffed by burly, yet perfectly civil, security guards. About 30 of them.  The show itself was mesmerizing, drew on John Richardson’s scholarship, and was yet another step in Gagosian’s contribution (after the London show in 2010), or exploitation depending on your view, of the Picasso art-industrial-complex.

RH Quaytman Fibonacci installation
RH Quaytman

One of the best exhibitions was R.H. Quaytman at Gladstone.  She considered, effectively and eloquently, the vexed question of ‘how to take painting forward’?  Her works sat squarely on the border of painting and sculpture, via the path of installation and architecture.  They were system-based, linked back to the Fibonacci sequence, so had enough for the mind, while being firmly aesthetic, manual, and physical in their presence.  Their was an obligatory social-critical aspect, the show having originally being made for an installation in Inhotim Museum, Brazil.

RH Quaytman

While on the topic of painting I should mention the MoMA survey of the future of painting, which includes a number of recent acquisitions of younger painters, such as Oscar Murillo. Unfortunately, it hadn’t opened yet to the public, but the review in The New York Times was not a full-throated endorsement. 

George Condo
George Condo
George Condo


George Condo’s exhibition at Skarstedt was of all-new work, and notable for the increased emphasis of erasure and deletion of the image, than in much of his earlier oeuvre.

Hans Haacke piece relating to Koch fountains at the Met


Hans Haacke
Hans Haacke maquette/plans for Trafalgar Square

Hans Haacke at Paula Cooper was mostly of older work, however, in a side room, there was a deep-dive display, with drawings, resin casts, text, and photographs, into his commission for the Fourth Plinth of Trafalgar Square in London.  Nothing drastically new here, but a mute yet visible reminder that money and art are, and have always been, more-or-less two sides of the same coin.

Thomas Scheibitz
Thomas Scheibitz
Thomas Scheibitz
Thomas Scheibitz


Thomas Scheibitz at Tanya Bonakdar was another strong show that considered the borders of painting.  Unlike the Quaytman show, his references seemed more internal to art history, specifically the artist’s studio, rather than to the world-outside-art, and if I had only seen the ground floor large, neon-coloured abstract paintings, I might have walked out disappointed.  However, on the second floor, he extended his painterly idiom into reliefs, sculptures, installations, and a large wall-mounted mural on plastic.  His materials were diverse: wood, plastic, fabric, canvas, metal, resin.  Both this and the Quaytman were superior to the Puryear, IMHO, because of their more effective connection of material and form with concept and narrative.

Franz West sculptures for Documenta 9
Franz West sofa
Franz West bar
Franz West


But David Zwirner carried the day with Franz West, Richard Serra, Neo Rauch, and Christopher Williams, which I guess explained why he was walking about beaming and expansively welcoming well-heeled European collectors. The Franz West works were mental, and this was as much a retrospective of Zwirner’s relationship with West, as of West’s oeuvre itself.  The original, massive white heads from Documenta 9 (1992) were there, and a roomful of brilliant coloured sculptures, 2 couches to be sat on, and 2 Passstucke to be handled.  There were examples of West’s incorporation of other artists’ drawings and paintings, and even a small bar with materials for a Negroni (the guard didn’t let me make one sadly).

Franz West
Franz West
Christopher Williams
Christopher Williams
Christopher Williams, note removed wall section
Christopher Williams, note removed wall section

Christopher Williams’ show followed on the MoMA retrospective, and continued with Williams’ threefold concerns: an exploration of photography via photography; the institutional structure of art display; and the book as art-form.  Various walls in the gallery had been re-sited, and in the MoMA show some of the walls from his previous exhibitions had been transported into the MoMA space.  The photographs continued his, to paraphrase Peter Schjedahl in The New Yorker, nerdy interest in the process and, increasingly archaic, relics of photography, of Agfa, Fuji, Ciba and Leitz.  Lastly, his new picture book was completely devoid of any text, a counterpoint of the MoMA catalogue, which had almost no pictures.  It was hugely covetable, albeit dear at $120, before tax.

Zwirner’s Serra show was distinctly disappointing, the drawings being small (about 150x60cm), and giving an impression of moderately-priced objects sold to discerning collectors who can’t afford, or house, one of the larger drawings, not to mention the sculptures.

Neo Rauch
Neo Rauch at David Zwirner

Lastly, Francesco Clemente at the Rubin was a homage to India. It didn’t particularly touch me, and certainly paled in comparison to the Himalayan art, and the Marc Riboud photographic exposition. I was reminded of the Rauschenberg Jammers show at Gagosian in 2013, which, with its vastly reduced formal vocabulary, gave much more of a sense of India than Clemente’s figurative and naif paintings.

Francesco Clemente
Francesco Clemente
Marc Riboud’s Leica M6 at Rubin Museum


Marc Riboud at Rubin Museum
Marc Riboud: workers in China
Marc Riboud: Le Corbusier buildings in Chandigarh, India
Marc Riboud: armourer in Peshawar, Pakistan



To Rage Against the Fading of the Light

This Frieze season brings together two seminal, if inevitably controversial, artists, the ridicule of whom is currently fashionable (for examples see Abstract Critical on Twitter @abstractcrit): Anselm Kiefer and Richard Serra.  The latter, at Gagosian’s Brittania St and Davies St locations, opened 10 October 2014.  I walked into the Brittania space past a phalanx of black limos, and two somewhat aromatic gentlemen sitting outside, discussing where they’d stashed their heroin paraphernalia.

Serra from Gagosian exhibition, 2014.

The overall impression, of both shows, was of artists past maturity, if not quite ancient, perhaps seeking to find that last blast of (re-)invention, that would cement their place in the history books.  Serra’s show was carried by waves of Chanel No 5 in the gallery’s emphatically ‘neutral’ space.  There were quite a few suits, but the semiotics didn’t suggest these guys schlepped into Canary Wharf everyday on the Jubilee Line: this was definitely ‘real money’ (in the parlance of the City), that had flown in for the occasion.  Larry Gagosian presided regally over the affair in an emerald pocket square and well-matched tie.

This international crowd contrasted with younger, London-centric and uber-trendy set at Herald Street Gallery’s new space in Soho, where we went afterwards.

Serra’s works themselves showed sufficient formal innovation, but little that took one’s breath away.  There was a ‘propped’ piece, a forged-and-stacked piece, a type of the ‘torqued’ or ‘torus’ work, and a variation on Equal-Parallel: Guernica-Bengasi (at Reina Sofia Museum, Madrid).  The works highlight his preoccupations: the phenomenological push-pull experience of the viewer against something of almost-comparable size but alien, yet familiar, form; the nature of curvatures and the industrial processes required to produce curves in large size and weight; the relationship of architecture to art.

Serra from Gagosian exhibition, 2014.

The prop-piece was notable for the impression, or illusion, it gave that the whole room of the gallery had to be re-built around the piece, since it couldn’t have been brought in through the visible doorways, while the piece itself was tightly wedged in the diagonals of the room.  It recalled Serra’s continuing dialogue, occasionally antagonistic, with architects, and also echoed Kiefer’s comment in a Tate interview about how he thinks about housing his over-size sculptures – he simply builds buildings around them.

Serra from Gagosian exhibition, 2014.

The torus piece, while less formally impressive than the Dia Beacon Torqued Ellipses (c. 2001), continued to explore engineering themes present in the older work.  Both sections had at least two axes, possibly three, of curvature combined with a modest inward lean, again with no visible reinforcement, relying on vectors of force and weight to hold both up.  The resulting inner cavity formed a tunnel.  The outer- facing surface of the torus was the loveliest, as it was one of Serra’s ‘tightest’ (highest curvature) shapes, set against he brilliantly white volume of Gagosian’s chambers.  To me it most recalled the nose of a tanker hull, and of course, Serra’s chosen instrument for fabricating such works are the massive rollers and benders of a naval steel mill in Maryland.

Photograph from Gagosian website.

Kiefer’s retrospective at the RA, on the other hand, gave a sense of abashed politeness.  Largely omitted were his most befuddling, or plain hideous, works: the gown-sculptures, Zweistromland , or Jericho. The reasons could be various, including the fact that Jericho, for instance, had been shown in the RA courtyard in 2006, or the difficulty in arranging loans.  But I suspect there was a very British element of maintaining ‘good-taste’, leaving the most over-the-top works out, not overshadowing with the elegance of the RA buildings, perhaps even not offending the biddies that are the visiting, if not funding, bread-and-butter of a venerable establishment like the RA.  I also say this, having seen his interview with Tim Marlow in April 2014, when he mentioned, in a tone of mildly aggrieved complaint, the critical perception that he only makes big, bombastic paintings, and that, in fact, he makes a lot of modest-sized non-paintings, such as books.

Kiefer installation outside RA, 2014.

There were a lot of books, many of them recent, and filled with watercolours.  I found them broadly bloodless.

His diamond-studded paintings, while open to criticism of being a bit bling, continue his long concern with alchemy, as well as fluency in a range of natural materials: straw, lead, copper, gold, earth, informed by the ideas of the British philosopher Robert Fludd (d. 1637).  In fact, I’m rather surprised he didn’t use diamonds before.  He continued another theme by building an installation or quasi-labyrinth of wood-blocked panels, that (perhaps) tried to, unsuccessfully in my opinion, re-introduce the physical awe that the viewer might have once felt in front of a massive Kiefer.  Yet I just saw exposed stretcher frames, wood-block on canvas, and the vague suggestion of an English garden maze.  In fact, the whole exhibition somehow looked worse, and cramped, in the fustily ornate halls of the RA, than one imagines it would look in the vast  white spaces of White Cube Bermondsey or Thaddeus Ropac Paris.

Kiefer installation (‘Jericho’) outside RA, 2006.


Lastly, there was a 3-4 metre high stack of canvases, lead-covered sunflowers, and general detritus.  On one hand, the reference, presumably the number of failed paintings that lead to one successful one, was somewhat trite or obvious.  More positively, I interpreted the sculpture as an evolution of Kiefer’s obsession with himself as an artist (visible in the palettes embedded in many of the earlier works).  I could also see a, probably unintended, conceptual comment on the fashion in some contemporary painting to slightly obsessively highlight the materials, stretchers and canvas.

Kiefer at White Cube Hong Kong exhibition.
Kiefer from White Cube website, 2006.

Overall, as a retrospective it works well, but I’d say, and this goes somewhat for the Serra show, that I’d love to see something surprising and fresh, a la  late Titian or Matisse,  come out of either, or both, artists in the years ahead.


Note – for a longer essay on Kiefer vs Serra, see:

NYC Gallery Review December 2013

It’s always fun to see what’s doing in the New York City gallery scene, particularly the great big Chelsea barns on 19-24th street off 10th Avenue.  I’m personallyless keen on either the stuffiness of the Upper East Side galleries, grand as they are, or the acheingly hip but still pretty grim scene in Bushwick.  In any case, there are too many to see, so this is a sampling.

First, Richard Serra at Gagosian – Larry uses his space well: three massive rooms filled with massive structures, that however don’t have the  precarious balance, and associated frisson, of the sculptures at (for instance) Hauser in London.

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Franz Erhard Walther, in his first showing of new work in NYC in 22 years, at Peter Freeman.

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Isa Genzken’s retrospective at MoMA: while I personally preferred her early work to the more recent pieces, one has to admire her ability to successfully juxtapose and assimilate such radically different source material, often taken from that bugbear of our time, popular culture. Her amazing creative bandwidth transmutes what is ostensibly a rag-bag of cultural detritus,  into something potentially great, though it still may be an acquired taste for at least one viewer.

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Ad Reinhardt’s lovely, surprising, transcendent black paintings atDavid Zwirner.  It would be easy to walk in and out and dismiss them as monochromes, but these rewarded careful looking as browns, purples, greys, blues, reds all pulsed in and out of the perceptual field.  I didn’t love the cartoons and drawings, in comparison, but there you are…

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The star for me was Thomas Demand’s Dailies at Matthew Marks.  Similarly to his earlier practice of re-constructing interiors from photographs in news magazines which are then photographed, here he fabricates out of paper scenes based on his own cheap cell-phone photos: theatrical sets of banal scenes.  These are then photographed, and then printed using the dye-transfer process, and obscure and difficult art mastered by, amongst others, William Eggleston.  The result are richly coloured, yet somehow flattened and unreal or surreal; and it doesn’t really matter if one knows the scenes are entirely fabricated.  The effect is almost painterly, in its geometric emphasis, flatness, and abstraction (almost complete evidence of anything personal, dusty, dirty, etc.)  The scenes are still vaguely familiar, any of us could have taken them with our iPhones, but of course they wouldn’t look anything like these.

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Cyprien Gaillard fills Gladstone with digger buckets.  The buckets are separated from their context, and it would take more of a specialist in diggers to work out whether these are actually all real buckets (note the funny shaped ones on the right).  The surfaces of the buckets, the teeth, and so forth, are re-worked, cleaned, oiled, soldered, and again it’s hard to establish what is original and what is an artistic intervention.  The pins that would have attached the buckets to the diggers have been replaced by onyx rods.  A presumably expensive production, but mesmerising, at least if you like heavy metal.

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Alexandre Singh at Metro Pictures.  These are bronzes of the heads and masks, drawing from Attic theatre and the comedies of Aristophanes, that the chorus of his play The Humans wear.

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Reinhard Mucha’s show at Luhring Augustine was pretty crazy, with his trademark vitrines that look like cross-sections of insulated windows.  Here he also had an elaborate train-set based sculpture.

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Jacob Kassay’s show at 303 Gallery was okay, if you want to see slightly tired conceptual discussions about deconstructed paintings played out on a gallery wall.  Lots of broken up stretchers, covered with canvas, in non-rectangular shapes, and obscure books with pieces of perspex stuck in them.  Quoting from the PR, “Kassay has reproduced the stretchers initially built to conform to these discards…for entirely new paintings….[he] applies an atomized acrylic paint…the paintings’ surfaces simultaneously condense as solid textures and diffuse into a depth-less fields [sic] of pixels. Oscillating between these dimensional states…”  You get the idea.

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A fine show of Gary Hume at Matthew Marks

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Metro Pictures also had a rather good show by Isaac Julien, about the relationship between money and the art world.  The show was made up of a large film, PLAYTIME, that had beautiful shots of the desert and Iceland; as well as a smaller two-monitor film KAPITAL that actually made Marx a bit less dreary.  There were also a number of large-print photographs.



In Bushwick, Luhring Augustine showed Michelangelo Pistoletto’s earlier work (starting in the 1960s), of considerable breadth when compared to the mirror works that somewhat dominated his 2011 show at MAXXI in Rome.  One of the below wasn’t exhibited at Luhring !

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There were upwards of 20 dealers, project spaces, rent-a-spaces, etc. in the Lower East Side, some of which had pretty forgettable work.  An exception I thought was Sangram Majumdar’s show Peel at Steven Harvey.  It had a number of strong paintings that remained firmly within the boundaries of traditional painting.  The fact that they didn’t rely on performance, tedious text or conceptual frameworks, video, sound, carpets, steel girders, and so forth, gave them economy of means and thereby a formally constrained power. All the more laudable in the current context of painting’s much-exaggerated demise.

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Two final comedy scenes – the one on the right being the queue, in bitterly cold conditions, to see Yayoi Kusama’s installation at Zwirner.

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Two Shows at Thomas Dane Gallery London

To earn our wonderful, but dear, twin Vesper martinis at Duke’s Hotel, we took in 4 shows on Saturday. The Humphrey Ocean (National Portrait Gallery) was lovely, not least for the artist’s name; but I’ll talk about two at Thomas Dane, a lovely gallery, up a narrow flight of stairs with turned-wood banisters and wood panelling all around, discreetly hidden on a side-street in St James’s.

The show (Limp Voyeur in a Humid Landscape) was of Dominick Di Meo, one of the Chicago school of post-war artists, loosely grouped into collectives with names like Monster Roster and Hairy Who. Nancy Spero, Leon Golub, and Jim Nutt are artists from these groups that are widely known (at least if you pick a narrow enough circle of people to ask).

Dominick Di Meo
Dominick Di Meo

Di Meo himself sounds funny, a quote from the NY Times, about (New York’s) Soho where he has lived since 1974: “I didn’t want to move here [in 1974]…it was a huge artists’ dormitory. I don’t particularly like artists, being one myself…It’s nicer now that most of the artists have left…artists are prima donnas, you know.”

The works’ appeal to me was primarily the references to much-loved work by Surrealists and other European artists that we’d visited again in Paris: Jean Dubuffet, Alberto Giacometti and Joan Miro being the most obvious ones. Yet the work wasn’t derivative. His formal devices are uncanny: putting together of nude body parts that, if one can unravel them at all, are perhaps mildly pornographic, sort of like a less-aggressive Hans Bellmer. He combines these shapes on great rectangular fields on his canvas, brown adjoining black, yet the border quite shakily drawn. Then there are the forks hanging about.

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Another group of paintings seem to be X-rays or radio-graphs of objects, forks, scissors, spoons, but possibly they were made with spray paint.


There were a number of pieces that are more anthromorphic, and remind of some of Jean Dubuffet’s impasto paintings from the 1940s. Although the Di Meos don’t have the material richness of the Dubuffets, they derive power from the shapes, the jaw-lines, the simplicity of colours, in short, the graphic-ness of the images. Some of Di Meo’s other works are much more like reliefs, with clay or thick paint or rope laid onto the canvas.

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I can’t say, because I don’t know enough, where this ranks vis a vis Di Meo’s Chicago peers and how, if at all, it takes its European antecedents in a materially important new direction, but the show was enjoyable – a criterion perhaps we’ve lost sight of in these conceptualised days. Oh…lastly, I would love to have one of these on my wall.

I last saw the Turkish film-maker Kutluǧ Ataman’s work in London, at the old Royal Mail sorting office in New Oxford Street. It was called Küba and was made up of interviews with 40 residents of a marginalised shanty-town neighbourhood in Istanbul. Importantly, it’s not clear whether the neighbourhood still exists or ever existed or was made up by Ataman. It was filled with mesmerising stories of daily life (and death) by a range of people, mostly the poor, religious, sometimes uneducated sort, that one doesn’t really see encounter in the posh restaurants, hotels, and bars of Bebek and Nisantasi. Gripping stuff.


The video at Thomas Dane (Journey to the Moon) was sparser, more elegent, funny: one of the two channels showed still archive images of an incident that apparently happened in 1957 in Erzincan, one of the most backward parts of Turkey, on the Iraqi border. These images show a group of villagers, intoxicated by the US and Soviet space-race, as well as Turkey’s breakneck modernisation, deciding that they would travel to the moon, in a rocket made from a minaret that is carried aloft by balloons, inside which they sit.


Sounds unbelievable, and it is, in fact, made up. Never happened. Or did it? The stills certainly exist: showing the preparations, the launch, the flight, the other villagers watching in open-mouthed wonder. Ataman then took the archive to a range of professionals: aeronautics and astronomy professors at Istanbul’s presitigious Bosphorus University, and others; a historian; a lawyer; and so forth. These people all give their views on whether this could have ever happened, each from their own professional perspective, and if it did happen, the likely fate of the villagers (eventually either they or the balloons would explode, with uncomfortable results).

Formally, the work recalls Chris Marker’s great film La Jetee, where the entire story of a world after nuclear holocaust is told with still images and a voice-over, and gains immense power in this telling. The title of Ataman’s film is similar to the famous ground-breaking film by the Melies brothers, La Voyage dans la Lune.

What’s the point? Conceptually, I suppose it’s a little like Ataman’s earlier work – he has blurred the line between reality and make-believe, documentary and performance, and in doing so, tells us something about Turkey: contrasting the people of the back-country and the sophisticates of Istanbul. In a sense, that is a reflection of Turkey’s identity, like Russia, it is two countries, torn between tradition and modernity, the European and the Asian. The film is done with great sensitivity, obviously there is no intention to make fun of the villagers (if, in fact, the archive is fictional).

Best discussed over a Vesper….