In: Sculpture

The South African artist, Jenna Burchell sits opposite me. Despite the fact we are surrounded by the creative bustle of the 1:54 (where she is currently exhibiting), she captivates me by the undeniable devotion she has to her work. Represented by Sulger-Buel Lovell, Burchell is fascinated with the theme of time and has used technology as a way to enhance her subject matter.

Burchell has a particular resonance with technology as her parents migrated from South Africa when she was younger, and thus programs such as Skype were her only forms of communication that produced an emotive response. She explains to me how technology not only helps to reveal previously hidden meanings and emotions but also connects and brings people together.

Jenna Burchell, Songsmith, 2016. Courtesy of Sulger Buel Lovell

As a self-proclaimed anti-disciplinary artist, Burchell has designed her language to create a new form of art. When presented with the question of how she would describe her artistic practices, she explained how it is difficult to develop an idea that is unique; one can only improve what has already been conceived. The artist notes how what were once singular disciplines can now be joined and explored together to create something beautiful; for example, science and art can now work together to shape something new. She states passionately, “You must twist the ordinary on its head and question the conventional.” Her outlook of manipulating disciplines and borrowing techniques is especially prominent in her most recent project Songsmith (Cradle of Humankind), nicknamed ‘the singing rocks’ by her audience. Within this project, she has transformed a relatively ordinary historical object into one of beauty and functionality.

Jenna Burchell, Songsmith, 2017-2018. Courtesy of Sulger Buel Lovell

The artist has collected some naturally broken fossils and rocks from three ancient sites in South Africa. She then repairs the fractures following the Japanese method of Kintsukuroi in which gold lacquer is inserted into the cracks of the object. As a result, the piece becomes more beautiful from the destruction which it faced; it has been gifted with a new lease of life. Not only does the rock become a form of beauty, but it also encompasses a historical tradition. In this sense, Burchell has connected and interlocked cultures, communities and individuals in a single rock. She captures an essence of humanity, and our desire to be bound together, united as one entity. Her work, therefore, generates a cultural capital in which common ground anchors people.

Although the rocks are incredibly beautiful, they are also functional objects. Jenna Burchell has ingeniously uncovered the poetic voice of the rock by capturing the raw-electromagnetic readings beneath the objects’ original resting place. In essence, when you interact with the piece, the magical sound of the earth echoes around you. Captured entirely by mother nature’s call, the viewer has an undeniably personal and emotional relationship with nature (click here to listen). The enchantment we have with the work is amplified by the different sound each Songsmith produces, based on its weight.

Jenna Burchell, Songsmith (Crandle of Humankind), 2016. Courtesy of Sulger Buel Lovell

Each Songsmith is a time capsule. The voice of each rock is infused by the place it came from, meaning each song has been sung for 2.2 million years (in the case of those from the Cradle of Humankind). So not only are we connected to nature physically by touching the rock, but we are also teleported 2.2 million back in time. We are part of an unbelievable collective experience; we breathe the same air, walk upon the same soil and are reminded by nature’s melody.

It is important to remember that Burchell would not be able to conceive her artistic concept without technological help. She argues that technology is like “the books of our age,” and in a sense she’s right. In the 21st century, we learn and adapt through the use of technology, so there is no reason not to embrace it. The only way in which this can be reached is through the specific technological technique called Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR). The golden band running through each rock also aides our understanding. It is not only compositional but also allows the stone to resonate and the foundation to sing. Without technology, Burchell would not have been able to build the bridge joining humanity and nature together.

Carry with you the beauty of the Songsmith’s and let them be a reminder to interact, connect and build relationships with those around you. Replay the Earth’s song in your head and know that beneath you something genuinely incredible is happening.

Jenna Burchell is exhibiting at the 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair in Somerset House, London until the 8th October. Find her on the first floor of the South Wing in room G27. 

In Say Hello to English, his second exhibition at the Tyburn Gallery London, multimedia artist Moffat Takadiwa presents a compelling new series of three-dimensional wall hangings, or object sculptures, that aesthetically engage with problematics surrounding postcolonial constructions of Zimbabwean national and cultural identity.

Born in Haroi in 1983, and practicing in the capital city of Harare since graduating (B.A. Hons) from Harare’s Polytechnic University in 2008, Takadiwa has consistently devoted his work to critical explorations of how material, environmental, and social factors impact the reality of contemporary Zimbabwean daily life. In a previous exhibition entitled Across Borders (on display at the What If The World gallery in Cape Town last year), Takadiwa examined the nature of Zimbabwean-Chinese economic and trade relations, and their deleterious effects on the natural Zimbabwean environment. For that show, Takadiwa created a collection of intricate, highly textural wall sculptures using post-consumer waste materials, such as bottle caps and disused computer and laptop parts.

View of the exhibition ‘Say Hello to english’. Image courtesy of Tyburn Gallery.

In Say Hello to English, his current exhibition at the Tyburn Gallery, Takadiwa shifts his (and our) gaze to a critical reassessment of post- and neo-colonial aspects of the English language, a legacy of Zimbabwe’s colonial past as the former British Crown colony of Rhodesia. For Takadiwa, the English language is problematic because of its tendency to create class divisions (i.e., English-speaking elites) in Zimbabwean society, and its power to both shape and undermine contemporary constructions of Zimbabwean cultural identity. For Takadiwa, language and culture are inextricably intertwined –especially in the context of post-independence Zimbabwe–, and this standpoint is reflected throughout his oeuvre.

Moffat takadiwa, ‘Bantu Terminology’, 2017, computer keys, 230 x 112 x 6 cm. Image courtesy of Tyburn Gallery.

For the sculptural objects on view in Say Hello to English, Takadiwa makes use of a radically different medium to portray his ideas, namely: lettered, Roman-alphabet keys taken from post-consumer laptop and computer keyboards. These computer keys appear to have been woven together like traditional Zimbabwean textiles, but are here recast into a more contemporary, high-tech idiom. In an amusing and daring act of subversion, Takadiwa deconstructs and subverts the English language itself in these objects, by arranging the keys seemingly randomly (in effect scrambling them) so they are not legible in any way. Moreover, the artist has turned most of the lettered keys upside down, so that all viewers can see are their bottom ends, with the lettered crown rendered invisible. This aesthetic strategy powerfully conveys the struggles contemporary Zimbabweans experience with the English language, and how important it is, at least to some extent, to say “goodbye” to English in order to preserve the Bantu languages, as well as other aspects of pre-colonial Zimbabwean culture.

Moffat Takadiwa, ‘The Falling of Rhode/sia’, 2017, computer keys, 250 x 230 x 45 cm. Image courtesy of Tyburn Gallery.

Although all of the works included in the exhibition Say Hello to English deal with problematics surrounding intertextuality, language and culture, one work in particular provides a paradigmatic example of Takadiwa’s philosophy, namely “The Falling of Rhode/sia.” According to the press release issued by the Tyburn Gallery, this work takes its inspiration from the “Rhodes Must Fall” social movement that was formed to contest Western-oriented education in Africa. “The Falling of Rhode/sia” also makes direct reference to the arch-imperialist Cecil B. Rhodes, whose statue at Cape Town University was recently removed from the campus as a result of student protests. In “The Falling of Rhodes/ia,” Takadiwa essentially reimagines Rhodes as a new, post-colonial creature, whose persona is both fierce (signified by the long red tongue and bared claws) and friendly (suggested by the creature’s loose and amorphous shape). For this viewer, Takadiwa’s “fallen,” reincarnated Rhodes is a likeable, positive figure who successfully reconciles Zimbabwe’s colonial past and post-colonial present.

Say Hello to English is on view at the Tyburn Gallery, London until May 6, 2017.

The work of Richard Serra has become synonymous with a fluidity of form and meaning.

Serra, born in 1938 in California, first encountered steel while accompanying his father, a pipe-fitter, to a San Francisco shipyard. Serra said of his experiences at the shipyard: “all the raw material that I needed is contained in the reserve of this memory which has become a reoccurring dream”. And, indeed, metal has recurred throughout the artist’s later works.

Now Serra’s works feature in the collections of world-renowned institutions such as MoMA, Tate Modern and the Guggenheim Bilbao, among others, but this hasn’t always been the case. In the early days of his career, Serra took to working in steel mills on the United States’ West Coast to support himself, becoming increasingly familiar with the raw material that would, from the 1970s onwards, form the basis of his monolithic sculptures.

Richard Serra. ‘Band’. 2006. Weatherproof steel. Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Gift of Eli and Edythe Broad. © MoMA.

Although Serra has produced a prolific number of works on paper throughout his formidable career, it is his sculpture which has captured the imagination of both the artistic establishment and the general public alike. His undulating masses of steel, contorted in ways that make them appear almost weightless, seem to defy gravity. The sheet metal that characterises Serra’s work mimics rippling natural forms. To create them, the artist takes many tons of this solid material and transforms them into towering vertical planes.

In his work NJ-2 the viewer becomes immersed in the meandering curves coated with a rusty patina, the amber tones reminiscent of the Golden Gate Bridge of his native San Francisco. The viewer is invited to walk not only around the piece but through it, as if lost or wandering among winding rocky outcrops and crevasses, with snatches of white-hot desert sun penetrating from high above.

Richard Serra, ‘NJ-2’. 2016. Weatherproof steel. Gagosian Gallery. © Naomi Sparks.

Serra’s forms bend and twist, often striking a stark contrast to their environs. These monumental monoliths seem almost malleable and are open to a variety of interpretations. His sculpture is concerned with ineffability and expresses the unsayable through visual means. The works simultaneously point to recognisable forms whilst also bewildering the viewer. It is no surprise, then, that Serra counts Roland Barthes and Gilles Deleuze among his notable influences. The artist’s sculpture transcends pre-existing linguistic systems, stepping outside of the constraints of human language. Serra could be described as reticent: his minimal sculpture gives little away, leaving it to the viewer themselves to derive meaning. His work could be interpreted as the visual counterpart to that of the great philosophers and poets of the twentieth century, who struggled to represent meaning as they negotiated the world.

A key facet of Serra’s sculpture is its relationship to and dependence upon place. This site-specificity quality characterises his art and ascribes meaning to it. In fact, the work’s purpose relies so heavily on its environment that Serra himself said that to remove it from its intended site would be “to destroy it”. This is evident in the case of his infamous commissions for the Federal Plaza in New York City and the California Institute of Technology. Following a controversy, the former was removed while the latter was never installed, and so the works were “lost” or at the very least not realised in their intended capacity. Though the locations of Serra’s pieces vary enormously, ranging from east to west, city to desert, public space to private gallery, the gently undulating yet imposing metal facades, tarnished with a rusty patina formed naturally over several years, remain recognisably Serra nonetheless.

Richard Serra. ‘The Hedgehog and the Fox’. 2000. Cor-Ten steel. Princeton University, gift of Peter T. Joseph, Class of 1972 and Graduate School Class of 1973, in honor of his children, Danielle and Nicholas. © Richard Serra.

In contrast to Serra’s usual site-specific works, installed in public squares or national parks, three recent works were nestled in a gallery by London’s King’s Cross station. The large-scale steel sculptures, each on display in their own room of the Gagosian gallery, were disconnected from the natural environment and instead presented in a vacuum. Here, prevented from interacting with external influences, their ambiguity and uncertain meaning was intensified. This mode of display bridged the gap between Serra’s site-specific sculptures, created for and bound to their environment, and his two-dimensional canvases displayed on the distraction-free spaces of contemporary art galleries.

At a first glance, Tim Noble and Sue Webster’s current exhibition at Blain|Southern (London) evokes a surprising feeling of nostalgia. The large twisted bronze sculptures remind me of summer evenings spent with my family on holiday in Croatia. My favourite pastime was to wander through markets filled with hand-made goods crafted by the locals. I always found watching the artists sitting at their stalls and contorting thin strands of wire into a menagerie of animals and human figures rather extraordinary and strangely soothing. However, the feeling of nostalgia fades as fast as it emerges, as does the dense blue Adriatic Sea and its warm glow reflecting the summer sun. It is the end of February, it’s freezing cold outside, and I am surrounded by the sterile whiteness of Blain|Southern. The title Sticks with Dicks and Slits could hardly get more literal: the exhibition consists of pairs of gigantic stick figures endowed with humorous genitalia, engaging in actions such as lactating and urinating. This new series of work might seem raw and crude –because, quite frankly, it is—, but it can also be seen as toys with a more playful and whimsical side, its naivety lending a certain charm and innocence to these clumsy figures.

Installation view, Courtesy the artists and Blain|Southern, Photo: Peter Mallet.

The duo met while studying together at Nottingham Trent University and became friends due to their shared love of music. They have been creating together, as a couple, since then, and have challenged the notion of self-portrait and portraiture throughout their series of well-known light and shadow sculptures. Just as their previous works, these double portraits explore the nature of relationships and identity, but they seem to open up a new chapter which allows us to see a different side of the artists.

In comparison to their self-portraits built from trash and waste, these stick figures are surprisingly light-hearted. Earlier works, such as Wild Mood Swings (2009-2010), Masters of the Universe (2000), and Dirty White Trash (1998) scrutinize certain aspects of human relations, from anger and rejection to pleasure and desire. Dicks and Slits focuses on the cheerful, comical side of Noble and Webster. A lovely Pair (Standing) portrays stick-Noble chasing stick-Webster with an erection, while another figure seems to be urinating on the viewer. While sex and bodily fluids are returning elements in the duo’s work, in this case they are paired with the charm of immaturity. The large stick-figures are celebrating our inner child, and act as a reminder of the joy of not taking ourselves too seriously. Childishness is still often considered an undesirable personality trait, and to portray vulnerability and flaws is rare in a world where the artist is still so often seen as an impeccable genius. Noble and Webster, once again, go against the notion of immaculateness to explore natural human attributes so often condemned.

‘A Lovely Pair (Standing)’, 2017, Courtesy the artists and Blain|Southern, Photo: Peter Mallet.

It is refreshing to see the duo stepping away from their usual light/shadow technique to experiment with new materials and methods. The bronze sculptures seem weightless and spontaneous, and it’s interesting to learn that they use the old and difficult method of lost wax casting to create them. Sprezzatura, to conceal the difficulty of production, was considered as an art form in the Renaissance and it was essential to possess it in order to be acknowledged as a great artist. Noble and Webster have been considered the power couple of the art world, but they divorced in 2013, they said, for the sake of their work. As I see it, these sculptures could be the results of an emotionally exhausting period. It might not be wrong to assume that there’s a parallel between the choice of using the troublesome wax casting technique and the hardships experienced in personal life, which are both being concealed by the overall carefree appearance of the figures. This exhibition marks a new period in their relationship, just as in their professional life. Stick with Dicks and Slits portrays two people co-existing in a harmonious and joyful manner, which is a kind of revelation after the intensity and violence that characterizes most of their earlier works.

Installation view, Courtesy the artists and Blain|Southern, Photo: Peter Mallet.

I can’t tell whether this exhibition has left a deeper impression on me than the market artists sculpting their wire pieces or not. It is fun, yet I find it a bit superficial. The figures seem to get lost in the sterile whitewash of Blain|Southern gallery. The antiseptic environment doesn’t do justice to the works’ potential, as the figures seem awkwardly out of place. On the one hand, the repetition of the same motifs, although it serves as a link between this new body of works and Noble and Webster’s oeuvre, it also makes things predictable. On the other hand, this exhibition might be just the start of a progress through which we will be able to see the pair’s work developing into something very different.

Tim Noble and Sue Webster’s Sticks with Dicks and Slits is on view at Blain|Southern, London until 25 March 2017.

“I see life as a passageway,
with no fixed beginning or destination”
– Do Ho Suh

Humanity is often focused upon the destination of life rather than the journeys travelled. These journeys are the ones that result in a life worth living, instead of a life in which the centre of attention revolves around the end result. To be obsessed with the end result of an endeavour, as opposed to living in the present, is the very premise that the artist Do Ho Suh (b.1962, Seoul, Korea) challenges in his new exhibition, ‘Passage/s’.

Currently on display at the Victoria Miro Gallery, London, Suh’s body of work questions the boundaries of identity as well as the global connection between individuals and groups. After growing up in South Korea, the artist has moved and lived in many different countries, immersing himself in the culture of each one of them. In his work he aims to create a global connection between his identity, his previous destination, and his current journey. He establishes that his own understanding of ‘home’ is both a physical structure and a lived emotional experience. In this sense, the physical structure of a ‘home’ can only be described as the building or property in which one has lived, whereas the home as an emotional experience is documented in the adventures and memories of life. I

Do Ho Suh. Left: Staircase, Ground Floor, 348 West 22nd Street, New York, NY 10011, USA, 2016. Right: Main Entrance, 348 West 22nd Street, New York, NY 10011, USA, 2016. Installation view, Passage/s, 2017, Victoria Miro Gallery II, London. Courtesy the artist, STPI – Creative Workshop & Gallery, Singapore, and Victoria Miro, London. Photograph: Thierry Bal. © Do Ho Suh.

Beginning upstairs on the First Floor, the visitor is immediately transported into the many ‘homes’ of the artist. Each independent aspect of a home, whether it is a simple light bulb or a complicated fuse box, has been carefully replicated by Suh’s meticulous hand. Polyester, which is both a fluid and a translucent medium, is the main choice of material for Do Ho Suh. He uses to replicate everyday objects, and its translucency amplifies the importance of concentrating upon the ‘passageways’ of life: you must be able to travel through each destination in order to continue growing and developing.

Do Ho Suh, Passage/s: The Pram Project, 2014-2016. Installation view, Do Ho Suh: Passage/s, Victoria Miro Gallery I, London. Courtesy the artist, Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong, and Victoria Miro. Photograph: Thierry Bal. © Do Ho Suh.

This concept is heightened in ‘Passage’s: The Pram Project’, a video installation recorded from the perspective of three different cameras. Taped from the comfort of his daughters pram, the video removes the viewer from the controlled environment of the gallery, and places them into the charming streets of Islington and Seoul. Surrounded by the child’s adoring laughter and babbling, we are reminded of the innocence of humanity and the importance of ‘home’ as an emotional connection, something which provides stability and safety.

Continuing on the Lower Floor, Do Ho Suh displays large threaded drawings replicating doorways and stairwells. Each entrance has been accurately copied from the multiple buildings in which Suh has lived, exaggerating how the outside exterior of a ‘home’ does not necessarily reflect the individual immersed within it. For example, not everyone who lives in a London home is British – the immersion of cultures is the most important aspect to create a global identity.

Do Ho Suh. Left: Staircase, Ground Floor, 348 West 22nd Street, New York, NY 10011, USA, 2016. Right: Main Entrance, 348 West 22nd Street, New York, NY 10011, USA, 2016. Installation view, Passage/s, 2017, Victoria Miro Gallery II, London. Courtesy the artist, STPI – Creative Workshop & Gallery, Singapore, and Victoria Miro, London. Photograph: Thierry Bal. © Do Ho Suh.

The exhibition arguably concludes with the most impressive component of Do Ho Suh’s work. His series ‘Hubs’ occupies the entirety of the Upper Gallery, where nine reproductions of the apartments in which Suh has called ‘home’ are on display. The transient polyester spaces are connected by threaded doorways and moving doors, enticing the viewer to walk through and experience each room. Although interactive, ‘Hubs’ removes the practical function of a home: door hinges and handles remain motionless while electrical outputs and pipes are frozen without power. By referring back to Suh’s original premise of the home as a physical entity, as well as an emotional experience, we are placed in this complex structure as both ‘private’ and ‘public’ viewers. In one way the elongated home visualises the ‘private’ life of an individual, while the ‘public’ global identity seeps into the design through the fragile material.

Do Ho Suh: Hub, 260-10 Sungbook-dong, Sungbook-ku, Seoul, Korea, 2016; polyester fabric on stainless steel pipes; 296.1 x 294.7 x 131.2 cm; 116 5/8 x 116 1/8 x 51 5/8 in; © Do Ho Suh; Courtesy of the artist, Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong, and Victoria Miro, London.

I encourage you not just to see the exhibition first-hand, but to interact and engage with the artwork. The unfortunate irony of this brilliant collection of work is the influence of present day technology, and our infatuation and dependence upon our mobile phones. The majority of people visiting exhibitions today try to capture every moment and work of art into a single photograph. This degrades the original intentions of Do Ho Suh and his exploration of life as a journey, as a photograph destroys the steps travelled in order to take it. Life is about the experiences seized by your eyes, not the artificial screen of a phone or lens of a camera; rather than living through your phone, live through reality.

Do Ho Suh‘s ‘Passage/s’ is on display at the Victoria Miro Gallery, London until 18th March, 2017.

Between the 22 and 26 of February, Madrid is the place to be for those who love contemporary art. There are at least five different art fairs taking place simultaneously, plus many other art-related events that make this one of the most exciting weeks of the year. The only downside of it is that it is virtually impossible to see everything, and so this year we have chosen to visit Art Madrid, the second biggest art fair in the Spanish capital.

In its 12th edition, Art Madrid maintains its multidisciplinary character and puts the emphasis on the quality of the artworks exhibited, as well as on the international appeal of the 43 galleries selected. These are mainly Spanish, but there is also a good number of them that come from all over the world, including Portugal, China, Latvia, Cuba, Costa Rica, Italy or Lebano.

This year the focus is also on the individual work of emerging and mid-career Spanish and  Latin American artists. Next to the General Program, the ONE PROJECT Program -curated by Carlos Delgado Mayordomo- presents eight solo-show projects that reflect on the concepts of territory, displacement and identity.

Solimán López, ‘File_Genesis’. Centre de Cultura Contemporánea del Carmen.

In addition to this, the relationship between art and technology shapes the fair’s Parallel Program of activities, which includes talks, round tables, workshops and other actions. We attended the last event of the series, the presentation of “FILE_GENESIS”, a multimedia project by artist and founder of Harddiskmuseum Solimán López that revolves around the meaning of the image in the digital era, showing how necessary it is to generate a conversation about the ways in which technology affects the art world.

However, painting and sculpture, from the mid-twentieth century to the present, still predominated at Art Madrid this year. Here are some of the highlights from this edition.

Espacio Olvera (Sevilla)

Mariajosé Gallardo, ‘Raro’ (detail), 2016.

The booth of this Sevillian gallery was one of the first to catch my attention. Selected as a ONE PROJECT, Espacio Olvera showed the work of Mariajosé Gallardo, a fascinating combination of symbolism and a very realistic depiction of plants and animals, painted over golden surfaces that give shape to very powerful artworks. It’s a pity the small space of the booth did not provide enough room for visitors to really appreciate the works.

Galería BAT Alberto Cornejo (Madrid)

Rubén Martín de Lucas, ‘Génesis 1.28. Acciones en el Paisaje’, video installation, 2017.

Galería BAT presented a really interesting mix of artists working in different media, including bright paintings on an unusual support like methacrylate by Pablo Lambertos. I was particularly drawn to José Ramón Lozano’s oversized celebrity portraits and Byeonghee Bae’s curious series of wooden sculptures entitled Citizens above of building. A few works from the series El Jardín de Fukuoka by Rubén Martín de Lucas -who we recently interviewed– were also present at the gallery’s booth, but he was also one of the best represented artists at the fair thanks to having been selected for the ONE PROJECT program, which allowed him to show the latest developments of his investigation regarding borders and the behaviors of the human population.

3 Punts (Barcelona)

Sculptures by Samuel Salcedo.

Another gallery with a wide selection of artists was 3 Punts. In this case I particularly liked the intersections between the diverse approaches to sculpture of artists Alejandro Monge, who cracks the perfectly innocent appearance of regular objects to criticize different aspects of society; Gerard Mas, whose wooden figures seem to have a life of their own; and Samuel Salcedo, especially his hyper-realistic, sinister little humans made of resin.

Marc Calzada (Barcelona)

Joan Miró, ‘Femme’, 1981.

Also from Barcelona, Marc Calzada brought something different to Art Madrid: the work of modern Spanish masters like Antoni Tàpies, Antonio Saura, Miquel Barceló, or Joan Miró. The gallery’s selection of works encapsulated some of the best exponents of Spanish art from the twentieth-century, and included rare items such as a doodle by Miró on a torn piece of cardboad.

Galeria Kreisler (Madrid)

Okuda San Miguel, ‘Mom’s Bird’, 2016.

The work of Madrid-based multidisciplinary artist Okuda San Miguel, shown by Galeria Kreisler, stood out as one of the most visually compelling in this edition of Art Madrid. Combining elements of Urban Art and Pop Surrealism, San Miguel has created a very personal, rainbow-colored universe using a huge range of techniques, including mural painting (check out how he transformed a 100-year-old church into a skate park). One of his most interesting works at the fair was ‘Mom’s Bird’ (2016), made of wool on canvas.

Yiri Arts (Taiwan)

Yiri Arts at Art Madrid ’17.

The booth of Yiri Arts, a gallery from Taipei, was one of my favourites this year. It featured pieces by four artists, two Spanish (Mónica Subidé and Núria Farré) and two Taiwanese (Chen Yun and Wang Guan-Jhen). Their figurative paintings and small-scale sculptures were among the subtlest and most captivating in the whole fair, and they left me hoping to see more from this gallery in the next edition of Art Madrid.

Art Madrid ’17, Galería de Cristal, CentroCentro Cibeles, 22 – 26 February, 2017.

“Cámara de las Maravillas”, the first solo show in Europe by American artist and father of Pop Surrealism Mark Ryden (1963, Medford, Oregon), has brought thousands of people to the Centro de Arte Contemporáneo (CAC) in Málaga, Spain, since it opened last December. It is no wonder that it has attracted so much attention, as it puts together 55 works covering 20 years of creation by the artist, including iconic pieces such Incarnation (2009) –the inspiration behind Lady Gaga’s 2010 meat dress-, most of which are kept in private collections.

The 2012 painting The Parlor – Allegory of Magic, Quintessence, and Divine Mystery opens the show, anticipating many of the elements that the visitor is going to encounter throughout the exhibition: a strange assortment of semi-human characters, a theatrical space populated by a myriad of symbols, odd creatures that are often both ridiculous and disturbing, a whole lot of irony and an exquisite technique that dissolves the brushstrokes into a continuous and delicate surface. His meticulous and detailed work brings to mind that of old Venetian masters like Vittore Carpaccio and Giovanni Bellini. While grounded in contemporary pop culture, Ryden’s works are reminiscent of many previous artistic periods and styles, from French Neoclassicism to the Pre-Raphaelites and, of course, also Surrealism.

The earliest work in the exhibition is the painting Saint Barbie (1994), while the most recent, the sculpture Wood Meat Dress (2016), was created especially for the Málaga show. From the young girl worshiping a goddess-like Barbie doll to the eerie, sad-eyed sculpted lady, we are able to observe the evolution of the physiognomy of Ryden’s peculiar female characters through the years.

All the different series that the artist has exhibited in the past –The Meat Show (1998), Bunnies & Bees (2001), Blood (2003), The Tree Show (2007), The Snow Yak Show (2009), The Gay 90’s (2010), The Gay 90’s West (2014), and Dodecahedron (2015)— are represented here, plus the original artwork for the cover of Michael Jacksons’ album Dangerous and three beautiful porcelain figures made in the last five years. However, the works are neither grouped in series nor displayed in chronological order, and this makes the artist’s ultimate concerns and interests, such as Science and the destruction of Nature, even more evident throughout the exhibition.

The big exhibition space of the CAC has been articulated in a way that allows the visitor to see many of the pieces at the same time, encouraging many dialogues and correspondences not also between the works, but also between their magnificent frames. These have never been a secondary element for the artist, who designs many of them himself so they perfectly match and complete each of the paintings.

Adjectives like kitsch, naïve, creepy or sentimental are often used to define Ryden’s aesthetic, but these labels don’t do any justice to the complexity of his work. The best way to approach this cabinet of curiosities is with the eyes of a child, leaving preconceived ideas at home and letting your imagination run free.

“Cámara de las Maravillas” is a real treat, well worth a trip to Málaga. Those who already love the work of Mark Ryden will be delighted to see together such a careful selection of old as well as new pieces, while those unfamiliar with the artist have here a wonderful opportunity to dive into his enigmatic universe, which is very much alive and still evolving.

Mark Ryden’s  “Cámara de las Maravillas”, curated by Fernando Francés, is on view at CAC Málaga until March 5, 2017.


“Picasso & Rivera: Conversations Across Time,” on display at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, delves into the friendship between Pablo Picasso and Diego Rivera. It explores how the lives of these two 20th-century artists briefly intersected, and the ways they drew inspiration from the ancient visual culture of their respective countries.

The exhibition, which is arranged in a very linear manner, compares Picasso’s and Rivera’s artistic trajectories. This allows the visitor to see how both artists progressed through their early academic training, experimented with different stylistic modes, and shared an interest in antiquity. The works reveal that there was a dialogue between these two artists that spanned cultural and geographic boundaries.

Diego Rivera,’Flower Day (Día de Flores)’, 1925. Oil on canvas, 58 × 47 1/2 in. (147.32 × 120.65 cm). LACMA. © 2007 Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust. Reproduction of Diego Rivera governed by Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes y Literatura.

The display presents a give-and-take between the two artists: Picasso’s Cubism heavily influencing Rivera’s work when they were both in Paris in 1914, and Rivera’s colorful, hefty figures subtly impacting Picasso’s classical style. The paintings included in the exhibition allow for a great deal of one-to-one comparisons between the two artists. But at times, the artworks are dwarfed by the scale of the galleries, giving the viewer a sense that they may have been better viewed in a smaller gallery space.

The largest and most striking room is at the center of the exhibition. Rivera and Picasso’s images are juxtaposed with ancient sculptures that reveal how their styles absorbed the influence of ancient forms. This was the first time I had ever seen ancient Mesoamerican sculpture displayed in tandem with ancient Classical sculpture. During the interwar years, Rivera reexamined the tradition of Aztec sculpture in his native Mexico which informed the mature style that he is most recognized for. The exhibition includes loans from the Anthropological Museum in Mexico City that are paired with Rivera’s gorgeous Flower Day (1925).

LACMA gallery display of Picasso and Greco-Roman sculpture. Photo: Emma Holter.

Picasso was in still in Paris between World War I & II, and his more traditional classicizing figures demonstrate his renewed interest in Greco-Roman antiquity and Iberian art. In the exhibition, classical sculpture -mostly loans from the Getty Museum- is juxtaposed with Picasso’s ‘return to order’ paintings such as Etudes (1920) and Three Women at the Spring (1921).

The final rooms explore how Picasso and Rivera’s artistic practices diverged after World War I. Mexico’s Ministry of Education commissioned Rivera to create murals that would unify the nation through revolutionary imagery. Through his study of Pre-Columbian sculpture (and his collection of over 6,000 ceramic and stone figurines) and Aztec creation myths, he imbued his images of a new, modern Mexico with aesthetics of the past. On the other hand, during the 1930s Picasso was revisiting Greek and Roman mythology -especially Ovid’s Metamorphoses and the myth of the Minotaur- and reworking classical tropes of depicting these narratives.

Pablo Picasso, ‘Three Women at the Spring’, 1921. Oil on canvas, 6′ 8 1/4″ x 68 1/2″ (203.9 x 174 cm), MoMA. © 2017 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Beyond comparing the two artists’ work, the exhibition aims to stress how Picasso and Rivera were inspired by ancient sources throughout their careers, and how their friendship or artistic rivalry fueled those investigations.

“Picasso & Rivera: Conversations Across Time” is on view at LACMA through May 7th, 2017, and will travel to the Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City in June 2017.

October 14, 2016

10 Spanish Artists Under 40

This not-at-all-comprehensive list includes some of the most exciting representatives of the contemporary Spanish art scene. Despite belonging to a generation of highly qualified Spaniards that do not have many chances of succeeding in their home country, these young creators have already caught the eye of critics, curators and the public. Scroll down to discover their work.

Mercedes Pimiento

Mercedes Pimiento, ‘Monument#1’, 2016. Paraffin, 80 x 100 x 80 cm. © Mercedes Pimiento.

Mercedes Pimiento, ‘Monument#1’, 2016. Paraffin, 80 x 100 x 80 cm. © Mercedes Pimiento.

The work of Mercedes Pimiento (Sevilla, 1990) revolves around architectural structures and materials, particularly those that go to waste. She puts the emphasis on the ruins of the capitalist “monuments” of the 21st century by creating her own anti-monuments, small in scale and often made of fragile materials such as soap. In a country full of unnecessary and abandoned megalithic buildings -the result of decades of property speculation- Pimiento’s work make us think about the precariousness of our current sociopolitical system.

Miguel Laino

Miguel Laino, 'I listen to the stillness of you', 2015, Acrylic on canvas, 122 x 152 cm. © Miguel Laino.

Miguel Laino, ‘I listen to the stillness of you’, 2015, Acrylic on canvas, 122 x 152 cm. © Miguel Laino.

Miguel Laino (Huelva, 1980) studied fashion at Central St Martins in London and worked with renowned designers such as Alexander McQueen and Vivienne Westwood. However, after seeing a Georg Baselitz retrospective in 2008, he decided to commit himself to being a painter. He usually reinterprets images from online and print media that he finds compelling, in a process that involves the subconscious more than the conceptual. His piece “Didier” was chosen by Chantal Joffe as the winner of the recent Painted Faces Showdown in Saatchi Art and exhibited at The Griffin Gallery, London.

Guillermo Mora

Guillermo Mora, ‘Dos casi cinco’, 2012. 60 kg. of acrylic paint. 61 x 48 x 36 cm. © Guillermo Mora.

Guillermo Mora, ‘Dos casi cinco’, 2012. 60 kg. of acrylic paint. 61 x 48 x 36 cm. © Guillermo Mora.

Guillermo Mora (Alcalá de Henares, 1980) is currently a resident at ISCP, New York. He often uses paint as his artistic medium, but in original and unconventional ways. Some of his most characteristic works consist on layering great amounts of acrylic and vinyl paint that he later folds and piles up to form sculptural blocks. His recent work looks at the forgotten histories of painting and specifically at ideas about acts of concealment, overlapping and disappearance. The motto “add, subtract, multiply and divide” guides his artistic process.

Almudena Lobera

Almudena Lobera, ‘The Proof’, 2015-2016. Audio-installation. Dark room, framed latent image, altar, liquids for analogic photography in glass containers, safe light lamps, 3-voice audio. ©Almudena Lobera.

Almudena Lobera, ‘The Proof’, 2015-2016. Audio-installation. ©Almudena Lobera.

Almudena Lobera (Madrid, 1984) works in a variety of mediums and formats, including sculpture, performance and installation. Drawing is also essential to her work, which aims to show alternative models for the configuration of the visible, delving deeply into the notion that the image is not always visible or accessible in nature. The work pictured above, “The Proof”, was part of her exhibition A latent revelation, hosted by Galería Max Estrella (Madrid) earlier this year. She is currently based in Ghent, Belgium.

Julio Falagan

Julio Falagan, 'Untitled', 2015. © Julio Falagan.

Julio Falagan, ‘Untitled’, 2015. © Julio Falagan.

Through his collages, installations, and other ‘rarities’ –as he calls them— Julio Falagan (Valladolid, 1979) seeks to dignify the banal and the obsolete. His works lead us to think about social constructions and their fissures by putting dogmas into question. I find particularly interesting how he recycles old paintings found in street markets. He modifies them in different ways, often by cutting them into pieces to compose new works with their fragments, other times by leaving his own mark on them to add new layers of meaning.

Cristina Garrido

Cristina Garrido, '#JWIITMTESDSA? (Just what is it that makes today´s exhibitions so different, so appealing?)', 2015. Mixed-media installation and HD video. © Cristina Garrido.

Cristina Garrido, ‘#JWIITMTESDSA? (Just what is it that makes today´s exhibitions so different, so appealing?)’, 2015. Mixed-media installation and HD video. © Cristina Garrido.

Cristina Garrido (Madrid, 1986) investigates the value that is assigned to objects, and particularly to those objects classified as art. Through common and repetitive gestures, such as picking up, collecting, and archiving, she studies the circulation of artistic objects in the art market and examines curatorial practices. In her 2015 award-winning installation “#JWIITMTESDSA? (Just what is it that makes today´s exhibitions so different, so appealing?)”, for instance, she proposed a critical reflection on the success of contemporary art exhibitions.

Marina Vargas

Marina Vargas, ‘Apolo Hile’, 2015. © Marina Vargas.

Marina Vargas, ‘Apolo Hile’, 2015. © Marina Vargas.

Mythology, symbolism and art history are usually present in the work of Marina Vargas (Granada, 1980). She mainly uses traditional media such as painting, sculpture, and especially drawing, but she has managed to create a very distinct and personal language that has an enormous power over the viewer. In the past few years she has explored the idea of destroying and questioning the classical canon. An image that keeps appearing in her projects is that of the inverted pieta.

Blanca Gracia

Blanca Gracia, ‘Celebraciones de vuelta’ (project ‘Walkabout’), 2015. Oil on canvas, 89 x 130 cm. © Blanca Gracia.

Blanca Gracia, ‘Celebraciones de vuelta’ (project ‘Walkabout’), 2015. Oil on canvas, 89 x 130 cm. © Blanca Gracia.

Watching the animations created by Blanca Gracia (Madrid, 1989) is almost an immersive experience. They lead the viewer into and exotic world populated with noble contemporary savages that provide an evasion from our current reality. These animations originate from Gracia’s incredibly imaginative drawings and paintings, where she merges wild anthropology theories, explorers from pseudo-fictitious worlds and lunatic expeditions, all with a flavour of our contemporary world.


Borondo, ‘SHAME’, Athens, Greece, 2013. © Borondo.

Borondo, ‘SHAME’, Athens, Greece, 2013. © Borondo.

Gonzalo Borondo (Valladolid, 1989), known simply as Borondo, is a street artist based in London whose large-size and very expressive murals cover the walls of buildings all over the world. However, some of his most characteristic work is made on glass, which he covers with white paint that is scraped and scratched from the inside of neglected windows to reveal haunting images. The human figure, and particularly the naked body, is at the centre of his artistic vision, which take its influence from the great Spanish master, Francisco de Goya.

Saelia Aparicio

Saelia Aparicio, 'Pickled Balloons', 2015. © Saelia Aparicio.

Saelia Aparicio, ‘Pickled Balloons’, 2015. © Saelia Aparicio.

Saelia Aparicio (Ávila, 1982) studied sculpture at the Royal College of Art in London. Her recent work establishes analogies between corporeal and social mechanisms, delving into different ideas of the organic to create artificial microcosms that tell us something about our own reality. To achieve this, she uses a multiplicity of materials and processes, always with a poetic approach in mind. In one of her most recent projects, Epidermal Speleology, she explores the concept of ‘abjection’.

It’s no secret that the Latin American art scene has exploded over the past couple of years. Auction houses, galleries, and even museums have tagged along this trend and have finally begun giving these artists the recognition they deserve. However, for those not deeply invested in the ebb and flow of the art world, the current 2016 summer Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro are a perfect time to familiarize oneself with some of the top contemporary artists of Brazil, a country rich in cultural and visual history. Here are a few of my favorites.

Beatriz Milhazes

Beatriz Milhazes, Bye, bye, love, 2011-2012. Acrylic on canvas.

Beatriz Milhazes, Bye, bye, love, 2011-2012. Acrylic on canvas.

Beatriz Milhazes (b. 1960) finds her inspiration in nature and its many, ever-changing forms. Her work is characterized by a vibrant palette, floral motifs, and organic patterns that resemble mandalas. Her recurring arabesques also hold a foundation in Brazilian culture—carnival decorations, Baroque colonial architecture, and popular music. The process of creation is rather laborious and structured —she paints her motifs first on a sheet of clear plastic, which she then applies to canvas to dry. The result is a rhythmic flattened surface, with shadows of color and forms where the color was not completely transferred. Her work has been used worldwide in outdoor spaces, for interior decoration, in stained glass, and for dance productions.

Rodrigo Mogiz

Rodrigo Mogiz, Between My Charming, 2010. Embroidery and Painting, Stabilizer. Courtesy of Fabio Pena Cal Galeria de Arte.

Rodrigo Mogiz, Between My Charming, 2010. Embroidery and Painting, Stabilizer. Courtesy of Fabio Pena Cal Galeria de Arte.

Rodrigo Mogiz (b. 1978) creates dream-like compositions where figures outlined in colorful strings float in an empty, white space. He appropriates images from magazines to explore themes of sexuality, gender, and expression, and to highlight the base superficiality of social media outlets and how audiences merely absorb aesthetics. These fantastical works fall somewhere between painting and embroidery (also using application beads, lace, and pins), poetically fusing the two mediums while simultaneously manifesting each of their unique characteristics. Mogiz has been exhibiting since 2000 and is based in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

Vik Muniz

Vik Muniz, 'The Birth of Venus, After Botticelli (Pictures of Junk)', 2008. Digital C-Print. Courtesy of the artist and Sikkema Jenkins & Co. Art (c) Vik Muniz and licensed by VAGA, New York.

Vik Muniz, ‘The Birth of Venus, After Botticelli (Pictures of Junk)’, 2008. Digital C-Print. Courtesy of the artist and Sikkema Jenkins & Co. Art (c) Vik Muniz and licensed by VAGA, New York.

Vik Muniz (b. 1961), an international sensation, is best known for producing imagery within the nexus of mixed media. Using a diverse range of everyday materials (from trash to diamonds to sugar to dirt) paired with elements from popular culture, Muniz excels in a layered appropriation of canonical artworks. His practice involves arranging his materials into a dense collage and then photographing it. He has recreated works by Leonardo, Dürer, Courbet, Rodin, Picasso, Matisse, Kandinsky, Malevich, Hiroshige, Warhol, Weegee —to name a few. What appears as a familiar image from afar, turns into a wondrous exploration of a myriad of minute details up-close.

Ernesto Neto

Installation shot of Life is a Body We are Part of in the 2014 exhibition at the Guggenheim Bilbao entitled The Body That Carries Me. © Ernesto Neto and Galeria Fortes Vilaça.

Installation shot of Life is a Body We are Part of in the 2014 exhibition at the Guggenheim Bilbao entitled The Body That Carries Me. © Ernesto Neto and Galeria Fortes Vilaça.

Ernesto Neto (b. 1964) is a highly influential figure in the contemporary Brazilian art scene. His work falls within the categories of sculpture and installation, but is not limited to their parameters. Sensuous environments made of organically abstract forms are his trademark. His materials include soft, stretchy fabrics in different colors that he fills with items like coffee beans, spices, or Styrofoam. Interested in sensuality, corporality, and reflection, Neto strives to present conditions where the human body becomes aware of itself in relation to the space around it. Visitors enter his playful worlds and physically react to the immersive habitats. They may feel, smell, look, and share their experiences with those around them.


2015 independent project with artist Doze Green, made as a tribute to ‘80s Hip-Hop scene. Located on the corner of 2nd Avenue and East 1st Street in the East Village, New York City.

2015 independent project with artist Doze Green, made as a tribute to ‘80s Hip-Hop scene. Located on the corner of 2nd Avenue and East 1st Street in the East Village, New York City.

OSGEMEOS (b. 1974), Portuguese for “the twins,” is the name of the street art duo created by brothers Gustavo and Otavio Pandolfo. Working together since they were children, the two share a magically impenetrable bond that has helped them shape a unique visual language that has transcended from the streets and into galleries, auction houses, and even museums. Their work is easily recognizable by its whimsical yellow figures with tubular torsos, gangly limbs, small spaced-out almond eyes, and thin-lipped mouths. These playful characters are inspired by graffiti, hip-hop, and break-dancing culture, and often incorporate social or political referents relevant to each particular geographic location. The brothers have projects all over the world—so keep your eyes peeled, you never know when you’ll round the corner and find yourself face to face with OSGEMEOS.

Alice Quaresma

Alice Quaresma, Ninho 61 (Nest 61), 2016. Color pencil and sticker over photographic print. © 2016 Alice Quaresma Rodriguez.

Alice Quaresma, Ninho 61 (Nest 61), 2016. Color pencil and sticker over photographic print. © 2016 Alice Quaresma Rodriguez.

Alice Quaresma (b. 1985) is a native of Rio de Janeiro and currently lives in New York City. Her practice involves photography and mixed media and explores issues of identity, displacement, and memory. Referring to her works as “photo-objects,” Quaresma superimposes drawings and geometric shapes over flat photo paper to push the boundaries of the photographic medium by incorporating elements of texture and volume. Her faded, dreamlike compositions evoke the subtleties and inexplicable phenomena of the emotional and psychological connection we feel to the places we experience.

“I find inspiration every time I feel physically disconnected from the place where I am.”
—Alice Quaresma, March 2016 interview with

Adriana Varejão

Adriana Varejão’s treatment for the aquatics center built for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Image courtesy of the artist.

Adriana Varejão’s treatment for the aquatics center built for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Image courtesy of the artist.

Adriana Varejão (b. 1964) primarily focuses her practice on ceramics tiles, either appropriating their history and function to reveal a darker, underlying meaning, or using their formal qualities to produce new visual effects. Throughout her career she has explored themes such as colonialism, racism, subjugation, and cultural formation through violence. Her work has often oscillated between the grotesque and the delicately beautiful. Varejão was chosen to decorate the Olympic Aquatics Center in the 2016 Rio games. Her 2004-08 work, Celacanto Provoca Maremoto (“the Coelacanth Causes a Seaquake”), made of blue-and-white tiles, was restructured, blown-up, and printed on canvas to adorn the exterior of the stadium. The work’s obvious aquatic aesthetics seem to be a perfect fit for the center’s function. However, references to Portugal’s colonization of Brazil through azulejo-inspired tiles and Baroque imagery subtly keep the country’s dark history afloat.