AS IF IN A FOREIGN COUNTRYcurated by Chris Sharpwith Polly Apfelbaum, Lucas Arruda, Michael Berryhill, Juliette Blightman, Rodrigo Hernández, Ann Cathrin November Høibo, Sonia Leimer, José Antonio Suárez Londoño, Jimena Mendoza, Aliza Nisenbaum, Scott Olson, Arlene Shechet, Patricia Treib
8 Sept – 22 Oct 2016
The generally light, thoughtful and buoyant works in this exhibition behave in a variety of different ways. Difficult to locate in time due to their obvious debt to European modernism, they also pay homage to the domestic setting of the historical apartment gallery in which they are exhibited by assuming an almost decorative function. What is more, decidedly crafted-oriented, they are virtually all hand made, and as such, embody the potential intimacy of their home-like context. However, less about self-expression than about the autonomy of the materials and media themselves, all of the pieces in the exhibition speak to a relative forfeiture of the self.
The New York-based artist PATRICIA TREIB’s painting “Teal Clock”, 2016, which is fluidly composed of repeated gestures, sometimes within the same painting (wiped away and repeated) until she gets it right, nevertheless yields a manifest measure of intention to the highly diluted oil paint she uses. Vibrant, gestural and serene, this highly organized work speaks to the calligraphic discipline of Treib’s painting practice.
The small, markedly quirky and idiosyncratic sculptures of the New York-born and based artist ARLENE SHECHET are the combined byproduct of a playful but strong sense of intention which she all but abandons to the whims of clay and glazing once it enters the kiln. The resultant sculptures such as “Intervals”, “Almost an event”, and “Hint” (all from 2015) are full of a rare conviction as they are of personality and rigor.
A Texan by birth, but based in New York, MICHAEL BERRYHILL is known for his unusual and striking, seemingly fauvist/Blaue Reiter-esque palettes, labored technique and elusive pictorial content. The small work “Untitled”, 2016, presented here, which seems depict some kind of vegetal life from, has been so physically labored that the surface has taken on a quasi, translucent and iridescent quality.
Norwegian, Kristiansand-based sculptor ANN CATHRIN NOVEMBER HØIBO works with a variety of materials, but has become known in particular for her weavings. Woven on a traditional loom, Høibo follows no set pattern, composing with an almost painterly intuitiveness as she goes along, and thus creates compositions such as “Untitled”, 2014, equally reminiscent of abstraction and landscapes.
American, New York-based painter POLLY APFELBAUM has been exploring painting for the past few decades in a variety of media. Her work is concisely represented here by a ceramic wall piece “Amanda”, 2013, with a waffled surface whose bright, motley glaze resembles a classical abstraction, not to mention the structure of Høibo’s wall hanging.
Austrian, Vienna-based artist SONIA LEIMER’s benches “I–Beam”, 2015, whose cushions draw upon Soviet textile patterns of propaganda, operate with a certain ambiguity here. At once sculptures and decorative objects, the benches are functional as benches, and underline the exhibition’s nod to the domestic origins in which the (apartment) gallery is located.
American, Cleveland-based painter SCOTT OLSON has a reputation for working on treated surfaces with homemade, natural pigments, which are often applied in an exquisitely labored process of addition and subtraction. Here, as well as elsewhere, the highly structured pictorial content of his painting “Untitled”, 2014, is formally evocative of European modernism, bringing to mind pioneers such as Paul Klee, whose work has also been shown in the gallery.
The Mexican, currently Paris-based artist RODRIGO HERNÁNDEZ works with classical media such as drawing, painting and sculpture. The sculptures “toute de suite”, “Babylone”, and “Violent Interpenetration of Units” (all from 2016) presented here are the pictorial byproduct of a complex frame of reference which includes Mesoamerican, pre-Columbian iconography, European modernism, and the illustrations of the Mexican illustrator, caricaturist and ethnographer Miguel Covarrubias. At once simple and strange, they blend together the artist’s interest in drawing, painting and sculpture by using a non-noble, craft-oriented art form of papier maché (which is how they are made).
The Mexican-American, New York-based painter ALIZA NISENBAUM works within a complex figurative tradition evocative of the initimism of Pierre Bonnard and Edouard Vuillard, Alice Neel and Fairfield Porter, as well as Mexican textiles, among other things, to depict situations or signifiers of richly patterned intimacy. In addition to her portraits of people, she is known to paint highly crafted still lives including books, flowers, handwritten letters and other private and/or domestic elements, such as “Closed to open”, 2015, a collection of envelops, depicted here.
At the core of Mexican, currently Prague-based sculptor JIMENA MENDOZA’s practice is a commitment to ceramics and their relationship to a Mexican arts and crafts tradition. These three, small-scale sculptures “Policromía 7, 8, and 10” from 2015 are a strange and deliberate amalgam of Mesocamerican artifact, Soviet-cosmonautic iconography, and German expressionist cinema, all as if they were remnants of a classical sci-fi movie which was never made.
The English, Berlin-based artist JULIETTE BLIGHTMAN works in a variety of media including film, installation, performance and painting. Her installation “Better Together”, 2016, uses furniture from the gallery and gallery staff to create a decidedly domestic sculptural installation meant to engender a mood of calm and contemplation.
JOSÉ ANTONIO SUÁREZ LONDOÑO is a Colombian artist based in Medillín. Essentially a draftsman, Suarez Londoño makes meticulous drawings as well as etchings such as “no170”, 1999, presented here. His highly personal vocabulary issues as much from literature as does from European modernism and indigenous iconography. Generally working on a note-book size scale, his wildly imaginative works are characterized by intimacy, idiosyncrasy and a certain level of virtuosity.
The São Paulo-based, Brazilian painter LUCAS ARRUDA is interested in light, space and atmosphere. Drawing from his imagination, and not observed reality, he principally paints seascape horizons at different times of the day and night and in different types of weather. He is as influenced by the work of Joseph Turner and Gustave Courbet as he is by the likes of the Venezuelan painter Armandro Reverón. Difficult to place in time, Arruda’s painting such as “Untitled”, 2016, can be read as the finale of the exhibition, functioning less like a conclusion than a vista that continues indefinitely outward to a vast and elusive elsewhere.
As if in a foreign country is a group exhibition which approaches the idea of homage from a variety of perspectives: historically, geographically, culturally, architecturally, and perhaps most importantly, ironically. Playing with L.P. Hartley’s famous and much quoted opening sentence to The Go-Between (1953), “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there,” the exhibition reverently collapses a number of assumptions, from the idea of the “past” to the notion of foreignness imbedded within the anachronistic designation “foreign country.” This happens through the fact that all of the artists featured here are working within a classically modernist tradition– a past that is still very much present– which they either idiosyncratically elaborate upon or hybridize with other indigenous and arts and crafts traditions. By the same token, the notion of so-called “foreignness” is problematized by the no less dubious notion of the “native”, as if it were possible to circumscribe the latter, especially in the 21st century. Indeed, where the “foreign” formerly presupposed the “native,” and vice versa, their socio-cultural disenfranchisement is now, to a large extent, mutual, leaving little more than a system of continuous homage in their wake. Meanwhile, the exhibition intends to pay homage to the fact that Galerie nächst St. Stephen Rosemarie Schwarzwälder is not only one the oldest galleries in the world, but has been at the same address since the original founding, as the Neue Galerie, in 1923. Decorously embracing the original function of its context as a domestic living space, As if in a foreign country also acknowledges the symbolic dissolution of the separation between the public and the private at the heart of the gallery. Thus is homage plaited upon homage, weaving it all together in a lavish, if paradoxical salmagundi of homage.
Chris Sharp (*1974, USA) is a writer and independent curator based in Mexico City, where he and the Mexican artist Martin Soto Climent run the project space Lulu.
The exhibition takes place in the context of the gallery festival curated by_vienna: Meine Herkunft habe ich mir selbst ausgedacht [My Origins? I Made Them Up]. The theoretical starting point for the participating galleries and curators is provided through the eponymous essay by cultural theorist and author Diedrich Diederichsen. With the project curated by_vienna, the Vienna Business Agency and its creative center departure have been supporting cooperation between Viennese galleries for contemporary art and international curators since 2009.
The exhibition takes place on the occasion of curated by_vienna 2016.