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Zhao Liang – In an Instant

April 17, 2008

For those in Beijing: Zhao Liang, whose work is featured in the Berlin Biennial, has an opening this weekend at the Three Shadows Photography Center in Caochangdi. I’ve seen a few of his films, which I would recommend for their insightful observation of everyday absurdities (Crime and Punishment in particular). Plus, Zhao Liang is an approachable, humble guy who always seems at ease. Opening reception on Saturday, April 19, 3pm.

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The Heartbeat of a Bird, online

Our friend Rob Wynne has just launched a website featuring some of his work from the past 10 years. Some of Rob’s thread drawings were included in our book By Hand, but his new poured and blown glass pieces are also stunning.

The Heartbeat of a Bird, installation view, 2006.

The Last Fairy Tale, 2007. poured and mirrored glass. 63″ x 79″

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Tokyo TDC 2008

April 15, 2008

The Tokyo Type Directors Club has an exhibition of selections from its 2008 Annual up at the Ginza Graphic Gallery until April 26. A project I developed a few years back called Sleep Space is in the show.

Joe Magliaro, Sleep Space, 2005, 1000 vinyl stickers, photographic documentation.

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Brunnen Strasse

Took my tattered umbrella for a walk down Brunnen Strasse today to have a look at a few of the galleries that have clustered just north of Rosenthaler Platz. After peering in through the locked door at Pitrowski Berlin‘s exhibition of Stefan Hauberg, I turned next door to the Curators Without Borders space.

CWB has mounted a group exhibition curated by Carson Chen titled Dark Science. The works on display vary widely, from Via Lewandowsky‘s white cube—the top of which has been cut away to allow a black wig to protrude from an otherwise minimalist object—to Finnbogi Petursson’s sound and light sculpture. The Petursson piece features a bowl of water resting upon an amplifier/lightbox that is connected to two speakers. The piece emits two rhythmic notes that appear to change frequency with the rippling of the water bowl and the approach of the viewer. The work was being repaired/adjusted when I entered, but was up and running with its commanding echo by the time I left. Other artists in the show include: Luis Berrios-Negron, Pash Buzari, Michel de Broin, Eva Grubinger, Darri Lorenzen, Ryan McLaughlin, Jeremy Shaw and Gordon Terry.

Further up the street, Nice and Fit Gallery is holding two shows in its two neighboring gallery spaces. Sophie-Therese Trenka-Dalton’s City of Commerce installation engages with The Citadel, an outlet mall in suburban Los Angeles located in a repurposed tire factory that was designed to resemble the Palace of King Sargon II of Assyria. Trenka-Dalton is interested in how cultural symbols and references are appropriated and incorporated into non-indigenous structures. I have a similar interest in the making-invisible of sites and symbols, so this examination of the palimpsest effect of symbolic referents is on my recommended list.

Sophie-Therese Trenka-Dalton, City of Commerce, partial installation view

Nice and Fit’s other show, Le Retour, includes work by four artists: Markus Amm, Walead Beshty, Liz Deschenes and Nathan Hylden. This is the third time in the past month that I’ve encountered some variation of Beshty’s damaged-by-FedEx glass box installation. In this instance, the artist packed a 3d rectilinear form made from safety glass into a FedEx box and shipped it from his gallery in New York to Berlin. The resultant damage that occurred while in transit fuses an element of chance into the work’s final construction. It’s a clever system that sets up beautifully (especially in the larger-scale installation on view at the Whitney Biennial).

Walead Beshty, Fedex International First, New York – Berlin (Tracking No. 8631647169690402)

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Berlin Biennale

April 9, 2008

The fifth Berlin Biennale, titled “When Things Cast No Shadow,” opened on Friday with the exhibition dispersed among four primary locations: Kunst Werke, the Neue National Galerie, the Schinkel Pavillon and the Skulpturenpark Berlin.

We’ve only made it to two of the sites—KW and the Mies van der Rohe-designed Neue National Galerie—but, thus far, the two most engaging pieces I’ve seen have come out of Asia. First is a series of 53 small black and white photographs by Kohei Yoshiyuki taken in various Tokyo parks during the 1970s is captivating. His subjects are the voyeurs who gather in the parks at night to observe couples engaged in intimate acts. The layers of voyeurism multiply as both Yoshiyuki, the photographer, and you, the viewer, stand in line to peek between the bushes. These photos from more than 30 years ago have received a lot of attention lately—an exhibition of them at Yossi Milo Gallery this past winter was featured in the NY Times and the long-out-of-print catalog of the series has been reprinted by Hatje Cantz.

The second piece that stood out was our friend Zhao Liang’s City Scene (2004-2005), a 23 minute video featuring dramatic and humorous vignettes from everyday life in Beijing. Bike riders running down blind men, villagers hurling bricks at each other, a man dwarfed by tower-block apartments practicing his golf swing amid the urban rubble and a German shepherd mounting a cowering Pekinese dog (irony?) are just a few of the sequences offered in City Scene.

Zhao Liang, City Scene, 2004-2005, video transferred to DVD, 23 min.

From inside Mies’ glass pavilion—the Neue National Galerie.

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How to “Germany”

April 6, 2008

Since I’m going to be working in Berlin, I thought I’d do some research on the different working habits of Americans versus Germans. I stumbled on this dry (but possibly accurate?) account of the mistakes the two cultures make when dealing with one another. The article is aptly titled Bumps and Jolts on the Cultural Road and was written by an expert in cross-cultural training named William Parks. Here’s an excerpt:

Let’s take a look at some wide-spread perceptions we have of each other. How do Germans commonly perceive Americans? Answers to this include open, friendly, flexible, patriotic, but also superficial and unreliable. How do Americans perceive Germans? Here you find personal qualities such as honest, straightforward, reliable, serious, but also opinionated and aloof.

Yay! Americans are nice but flaky. You can count on a German, but he might be a jerk. Good to know. The author goes on to detail the vast historical differences between the two cultures (Americans were always on the prowl for a better life while Germans settled with what they were given). Mr. Parks’ most searing comment relates to the familiar and potentially damaging American need to be well-liked.

Being overly friendly could be construed as a way of covering up a lack of competency. Clear, expert knowledge is called for, not pats on the back and war stories. Clear communication means just that, and Germans make high use of what linguists refer to as “intensifiers” to emphasize clarity – absolutely, by all means, without a doubt, beyond question, for sure, fact is, and so on.

Americans, on the other hand, are more immersed in the relationship and concerned with not antagonizing the other person. We are thus inclined to use “softeners” – kind of, sort of, you never know, you don’t suppose, more or less, could be, in a way, etc.

Great. I’m more or less doomed.

Read the rest of the article here, and please don’t laugh at me for “researching” Germans.

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Beautiful Prenzlauer Berg

April 5, 2008

We’ve been staying temporarily in an apartment in the Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood in Berlin. Touted as one of the more “creative” and forward-thinking neighborhoods in the city, I’m doing my best to take it all in.

Upstairs, someone practices the piano from 1 – 2pm every day. It sounds pretty nice. Across the way is a giant corrugated steel structure. Either a modern office or a disused storage unit. Taken on its own, it would be extremely unsightly. Nestled amongst these old East German apartment blocks, it blends in quite well. Trees of every kind spread out in a phalanx in the back, sharing space with plastic recycling bins and other refuse containers. There is a different repository for each piece of trash here. We discovered this last time when some locals glared at us for throwing a bag of garbage into a bin on the street. Our walls are off-white, a thick lacquer of paint with multiple layers visible underneath. We wonder about the history of this place, who lived here before us. Unlike in Beijing, Berlin apartments are not brand new and you can never expect to be the first tenant. The apartment smells like boiled food and damp sweaters. Acrid and comforting at the same time. Dogs bark constantly and, at about 3am, a stampede of partygoers flies up the stairs and into bed.

An insightful and painfully skeptical article about Prenzlauer Berg on sign and sight today.

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A Sort of Homecoming

April 4, 2008

Arrived in Berlin on Thursday after a sleepless flight from JFK. Thankfully the Tegel Airport is super efficient and the pale-yellow taxis come in extra-large station wagon format (can’t say we’re traveling light).

Outside the apartment on Greifswalderstrasse.

Timing was spot-on, as we had just enough time to locate our temporary accommodations, take a nap, drink a milchkaffe and find our way to Christian’s opening at Klosterfelde Gallery on Zimmerstrasse.

Welcome Home is the title of Christian’s show up at Klosterfelde.

Christian Jankowski, Rooftop Routine, 2008.

An interactive installation, I suppose.

Fireplace, sculpture, film and sound, 2008.

After all the hula-hooping, currywurst and karaoke seemed like the only fitting way to top off our first night in Berlin.

Mic-side histrionics in effect at Kim’s.

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