Various Others 2023: a report
Haus der Kunst. Alte Pinakothek. Neue Pinakothek. Pinakothek der Moderne. Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus und Kunstbau München. Museum Brandhorst. Museum Villa Stuck. Kunstverein München. Rosa Stern Space. Ruine München. Espace Louis Vuitton. NS-Dokumentationszentrum. Kunstraum München. Arquive Artist Publication. ZIRKA Zentrum für interdisziplinäre Raum und Kulturarbeit. GiG Munich…
These are just a few of the countless institutional spaces through which art and art history inevitably pass, making Munich a must-visit city if we want to grasp the multiple, complex temporal flows of Art.
One weekend is evidently insufficient to take in the wealth of programmes, exhibitions and venues that make Munich what it is, which is why the task of dealing with and negotiating initiatives such as Various Others always seems Herculean.
Various Others has endeavoured since 2018 to build a network between galleries, artist-run centres and museums to celebrate the renaissance of contemporary art in Munich. But the programme is even more far-reaching than that: grounded in good hospitality practices and fostering a friendly neighbourly culture, Various Others asks galleries and institutions to be key players in welcoming foreign entities, aiming to diversify what’s on offer – borrowing from mercantilist jargon in this case – and to spur curiosity in practices different from those found in Munich. The outcome is a heterogeneous but well-thought-out blend of artists, exhibitions and curatorial programmes, not only in museums and institutions, but also in galleries. As a result, international visitors get to know Munich’s art scene – the primary focus of the Förderung der Außenwahrnehmung Münchens als Kunststandort – and locals take in and get insights into what is happening outside, in a two-fold intercultural exchange.
In this broad and dense cultural landscape, which includes the history of a city whose dark past has been characterised by destruction, reconstruction and overcoming, it is impossible for what follows to be anything other than a glimpse of what can be seen at the sixth edition of Various Others.
A vibrant Capital
Munich is the low-key capital of a low-key German federal state. The headquarters of some of the world’s largest companies, such as BMW, Allianz, and Siemens, Munich boasts an accumulated capital that few other European cities can rival. Capital=Capital. The IAA MOBILITY 2023 festival bears witness to this. The city’s major thoroughfare was shut down to car traffic to host smart car stands, prototypes of what the mobility of the future could look like, as visitors, tourists and entrepreneurs exchanged views on what was once thought to be a dwindling business. The spell of capitalism, blinding and obfuscating any critical thinking, was all too apparent. The chrome shone under an abnormally scorching city sun; the cars’ aerodynamic design enticed even the most die-hard curmudgeon; the LED lights and advertising painted a green, unchanging, polished, smooth, cleaned-up world; social convention mingled with business obligations, with political interests. Just hours before the opening, activists were arrested before they could protest, before they could gather, before they could even open their mouths, duly flagged and pre-emptively detained.
We could have been watching a fragment filmed by Sarah Morris, in her highly aestheticised documentary style that makes us dance to the sound of a broken down, profoundly singular tempo, within the neoliberal anomie seeking profit or Capital at any cost. At Espace Louis Vuitton, in As Slow As Possibles, this could be a extra scene from Capital (2000) or Strange Magic (2014) on how cities embody or codify power’s demands, or how human life has become embroiled in a convoluted, abstracted, bureaucratic system in which the individual is nothing more than a pawn in a winding, devious behind-the-scenes operation – of the rich, the ultra-rich and politicians on one side… and workers on the other.
Capital is a portrait of Washington DC, about what lurks beneath the media webs of 90s US politics and what provides the benchmark for a model of governance, administration, control and conspiracy.
At that time, Bill Clinton, beleaguered by sex scandals, ruled over the Western world, whilst his neoliberal agenda thrived on rampant globalisation, whereby cultural products took their place in an American hegemonic strategy aimed at conquering the world. From sitcoms to Hollywood, fashion to fast food, music to gadgets, the Valley Girl, Wall Street businessman, harried cowboy and white male tropes followed one another. Capital captures a time like no other – the turn of the millennium, when accelerating times announced an ever-faster pace and Washington DC was seen as the epitome of the city of modern imperial power, with The Mall, the White House, the Pentagon, the Watergate Complex, the Kennedy Centre, etc.
If Capital portrays American society, from politics to labour, Strange Magic is a picture of French high society and the luxury and fashion industry. The setting is the Fondation Louis Vuitton building in Paris, with its alluring curves and complex morphology designed by Frank Gherry. Capital dances on the eye like a will-o’-the-wisp, a magical flame fuelling cravings and urges, dreams of grandeur and affluence, haltingly enhanced in the film by Liam Gillick’s soundtrack. What begins as a commission offered to Morris by the Fondation, meant to be eulogistic or an apologia, is soon subverted by his artistic practice, which is naturally resistant to compromise or limitations. Nothing is neutral in this video. Nothing is of disinterest in the narrative nexus of video images and short films that succeed each other according to a critical rationale, because there is a distance here between the explicit and the implicit. The curatorial sequence itself maximises and reinforces the artistic vision. With this in mind, it is at the very least curious that the Fondation itself is screening this video without fear of bias or judgement on the part of the viewers. Whether this is a display of democratic maturity or courage, or whether it is in recognition of an univocal path with no alternatives, traced out by neoliberal Capital, which already has nothing to fear or lose because it has won and is indurate – this is the tension or uncertainty underlined by this sibylline video.
The Schwabing neighbourhood, far from the city centre, is a perfect illustration of the neoliberal European city of the new millennium, where private property takes priority over public with its condos and gentrification, notwithstanding the protests and public demonstrations that have campaigned to preserve the bohemian vibe and population that Schwabing has always been known for.
BABYLON SCHWABYLON, by the Shanzhai Lyric research group, is a peripatetic flutter through this residential bubble, free of tensions and assaults on good taste, with its well-defined boundaries, straight lines and mostly private recreational spaces. In BABYLON SCHWABYLON, viewers follow a performative metanarrative laced with irony, in which the counterfeit, and imitation are linguistic resources that serve to explore the ciphers of Capital. In short, this is a densely text-based project, as we’ve come to expect from the nomadic artist-run space that produced it – Ruine München.
In this impromptu community, we are guided through the murky waters of public and private, among blooming hedgerows, high-end standardised architecture with luxury finishes, distant landscapes of a modern city skyline, and makeshift bazaars with T-shirts picked up in the markets of Shanzhai, which embody an unusual and self-affirming poetics of slogans, misspelled luxury brands, typos and dubious translations. The Babylon of Shanzhai Lyric is this fragmented city of peoples and classes condemned to dissention and discord, a divine punishment that grows ever more pervasive as the future towards which we are collectively and uncritically headed seems more unjust and uninspiring.
Galleries and the practices of good hospitality
As for the galleries, there has been a commitment to bringing commercial and curatorial practices closer to what is commonly found in institutional spaces, with carefully curated group and solo exhibitions, featuring artists from different galleries and countries.
FLIP at Jahn und Jahn is playful, challenging and humorous, with artists Holly Hendry (from Stephen Friedman Gallery, London), Anne Neukamp (Gregor Podnar, Vienna) and Andreas Schmitten (Schönewald, Düsseldorf), whose work served as a catalyst for these games of surfaces, between the exterior and the interior, between what is hidden and what is revealed. The maquette by Schmitten is an ode to absurdism – a hilarious prototype of a dysfunctional city that astonishes at every turn, with surreal landscapes and bizarre structures; Holly Hendry forces the body to readjust before her sculptures and the dialogue she establishes between inside and outside, in a playful perspective that takes its cue from the vernacular of comic books; and Anne Neukamp’s symbolic language defies interpretation and decoding, just as it complexifies spatial layouts and the reading of objects.
In the gallery next door, Jorge Queiroz exhibits for the first time at Munich’s Jahn und Jahn his vibrant landscapes in constant metamorphosis. There is an atmospheric quality to Queiroz’s work that closer resembles an entropic cosmos. The hints of figures or objects depicted fuse and blur together in the plasticity of their paint and colour. The representation of landscapes and figures is a sequence of clouds and spots that burrow into the mind and imagination, in a journey that is more evocative or suggestive than explicit and overt. These are images-in-progress, on the edge, a construction of the viewer’s gaze and the artist’s hand, playing with elements of surprise, error, sudden deviation, the changeable form over time, with practice – oaths of multi-time construction, of paintings and works that never end and can be reconfigured one way or another in the future. Although not a retrospective, especially since these are recent works, In between flatlands is nonetheless a thorough overview of his practice and capabilities, following one of the most thought-provoking dialogues at the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum’s Modern Art Centre with Arshile Gorky in 2022.
Seeking to explore the different forms of transcendence and the physical and psychological limits of the body, the Max Goelitz gallery presents failed transcende, an exhibition that brings together Niko Abramidis &NE’s archaeology of the future, the fossilisation of human production by Nicolás Lamas (from the Meessen De Clercq gallery in Brussels), a phenomenological investigation into hallucinogens done with shamanistic verve by Haroon Mirza and Helga Dóróthea Fannon, and kaleidoscopic photographic objects by Jeremy Shaw. Failed transcende is a rhythmic ascesis, an incongruous journey through the phenomena that transcend us and the quest for an elusive and ever-changing truth or authenticity. The works’ immersive character takes the viewer on an enquiring and psychotropic journey into the dissolution of Culture and Nature or, alternatively, the liquefaction of both.
Haus der Kunst
The most radical of the many exhibitions in Munich’s many cultural centres is certainly Inside Other Spaces. Environments by Women Artists 1956 – 1976, at the Haus der Kunst, bringing together a series of installations by female artists whose practices have prodded art, art history and institutional venues towards new reflections and political standpoints. Spatiality, and atmosphere are obviously crucial to the exhibition. But it is the sheer femininity, if not exactly feminism, of feelings, perceptions and micro-perceptions, intrinsic to the entire exhibition, that cannot be ignored, since we are talking about artists – Judy Chicago, Lygia Clark, Laura Grisi, Aleksandra Kasuba, Lea Lublin, Marta Minujín, Tania Mouraud, Maria Nordman, Nanda Vigo, Faith Wilding and Tsuruko Yamazaki – who were instrumental in the development of these artistic practices, with daring and strikingly original work. Yamazaki evokes Gutai theatre, Clark the body, Chicago a sensation of abandonment and pleasure, Wilding women farmers, and Kasuba the architecture of spaces at the edge, filled with light and colour, challenging linearity and right angles. There is an instant surrender to pleasure and discovery, to youthful joy and reflection that no other male-made exhibition could probably tap into with such temerity and sheer relish. Inside Other Spaces is not meant to be understood as a playground in the middle of a museum. Nevertheless, turning the museum into a playground while revisiting the History of Contemporary Art is a brave and subversive gesture in a building with such austere, sober lines, whose sheer physicality appears to impose itself upon every room. To call this experience nothing but playful would deny the museological narrative and nexus an artistic and historical context of continuous and renewed revival, whereas art and history still demand its existence throughout the ages.
Wang Shui in another room offers an altogether different environment in Window of Tolerance, where the body takes part in a reality that is no longer just its own. nor just one of biological beings, but which still has a creative intelligence. Having said that, Window of Tolerance is a co-creation between human and machine, where the limits of creation and authorship are eroded and a new meaning for artistic expression is experienced. The aluminium paintings and videos run by Artificial Intelligence form part of a larger argument in continuous transformation or construction, where bodies emulate television shows and art is shaped according to murky parameters and algorithms, without, however, forgetting the hand that records, draws and paints. The paintings’ dull, metallised sheen and the LED panels’ flickering make for an ambiguous environment – as much so as the technology before us. However, it is also lively, like coming across a cybernetic organism, odd, surprising, in the process of being formed.
Warm Reflections on Black Ice is an opportunity for introspection from the Rosa Stern Space, Munich, in collaboration with Saigon, a space devoted to the exploration of sound and visual art from Athens. An integral part of the curatorial project GASTSPIEL, Warm Reflections on Black Ice reflects upon a dispersed world, solitude and human interaction. With Ellie Antoniou, Andreas Kassapis, Spiros Kokkonis, Jack McConville, Rallou Panagiotou, Alexandros Tzannis (curator of the exhibition) and Hanna Umin, this is a show that delivers us to contemplation and intimacy, like peering into a dark, bottomless mirror of water.
At ZIRKA – Zentrum für interdisziplinäre Raum- und Kulturarbeit, the programme developed by this transcultural duo takes on a more exploratory, celebratory and ephemeral character, with installations, experimental music concerts, performances and DJ sets. Slipping into Brightness featured works by artists of different nationalities, such as Bogomir Doringer, Max Weisthoff, Rosanna Marie Pondorf, Alexander Scharf, Kalas Liebfried and Anja Lekavski.
Various Others 2023 features 27 organisations, 25 exhibitions and around 200 artists from all over the world. The programme goes on until September 24.
Umbigo was invited by Various Others.