A Very Good Job
Suvi Lehtinen, Artfetch’s newest Curator has been on the road, discovering that there may be hope for the art object yet.
Since joining Artfetch in April, I’ve been on a roaming mission to really look hard at art across Europe. As I’ve been travelling around, visiting shows, and reading about them, something has been increasingly on my mind: the relationship of conceptual artworks to aesthetics, or simply put — visuality. And it’s not just me. When the artist becomes more of a practitioner than a maker of singular objects, attention is deliberately drawn to the work’s concept, rather than its aesthetics.
But maybe there is hope for the art object yet.
Following the visually engaging tradition of conceptual practitioners such as Isa Genzken, a younger generation of artists are experimenting with two dimensional images and sculptural objects, while working with a conceptual bent. This is taking their work beyond an engagement with the medium–specific art historical traditions of painting, photography or sculpture, as well as the purely conceptual stance of some of their contemporaries.
I recently visited an exhibition at the new Carl Kostyál space in Stockholm, Awaiting Immanence, that showcases a few of these artists, although the show’s curator Peter J. Amdam highlights that the artists exhibited do not represent some clear new “scene” or “wave”, but rather a sense of theoretical contemporaneity. I would say it’s more of a mood, for those of us not fully immersed in Deleuzian discourse: that is to say most of us. For me the whole point is that you don’t need to know or understand Deleuze or Badiou to sense what is going on here, with these works. They interpret some sense of being in the world or “immanence”, more directly interpreted (by the Merriam Webster dictionary, for example) as being within the limits of possible experience.
The show exhibits many fantastic artists, but I will focus here on the work of Hanna Lidén, who is showing photographs and an installation. Much about Lidén’s work speaks to what Amdam, in his exhibition text, calls the “post–medium” condition: a much discussed term that generally refers to conceptual art and its disengagement from any one medium. Lidén’s Flower paintings, 2012, which are in fact photographs of painted flowers, have an almost didactic relationship to this notion. But the works also have an immediacy of meaning about them, which I imagine, depending on the viewer, is either irrelevant or inseparable to what is their purely aesthetic value. For me these works are clearly engaged with conceptual or theoretical issues but, crucially, still manage to courageously create art objects that are immediately effective as such.
What seems to be going on here is an attempt to find ways of producing visual artworks that are deeply connected to contemporary conditions of being in the world and also, more specifically, being in the art–world.
An exhibition at Berlin’s Galerie Neu, which is open until 1 June, shows the work of Jana Euler. The diverse styles of the seven paintings on show at the exhibition demonstrate both what Manfred Hermes, in the exhibition text, calls the “elasticity of painting”, as well as Euler’s particular way of using the medium of painting in what could be called a post–medium way.
“Euler’s practice is not subject to an obligation to identify herself with painting as painting, or to act sceptically at the abyss of its impossibility.” In Euler’s Gossip rain out in the fields, 2013, one of a series of three paintings that depict falling droplets of speech–bubble–heads, the feeling of recognition is multifaceted. I know these ominously gossiping heads from the relentless presence of social media, and at the same time I am drawn to the purely visual effect of the undulating surface of the fields underneath.
In looking at Die Höhle aus Löwen, 2013, the viewer gets a sense of viewing a 3D image without the appropriate glasses, which in itself is interesting, but Euler adds a geometric dimension to the painting, which according Hermes could be seen as reflecting the architecture of the exhibition space onto the canvas, and hence an attempt at institutional critique. Or maybe it’s simply a way of adding yet another dimension to the painting, or both.
I’m an optimist but these works do make me hopeful for the contemporary art object, and the artist’s potential for showing what it is that they want to say. And I’m looking forward to continuing my travels and seeing more.
Suvi Lehtinen is Artfetch’s Chief Curator for Scandinavia and Germany.
Hanna Lidén, Flower painting (yellow tulips), 2012, C–print on sintra
Jana Euler, Gossip rain out in the fields, 2013, Oil on canvas
Jana Euler, Die Höhle aus Löwen, 2013, Oil on canvas
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