The Germans at ACROmadrid


Thomas Demand Patio, 2014 at Galeria Helga de Alvear

At the main entrance of pavilion 7, the booth for Helga de Alvear was buzzing with TV cameras and press photographers. As camera crews were filming de Alvear being interviewed in the mist of controversy, her face stoic and unresponsive, I walked straight to this Thomas Demand photograph to the left of her and thought “I saw you in Venice.’

The ice was melting in the glass bowls that had once chilled Champagne and the catering staff was packing away long plastic tubes filled with winter fruit. The fair will already filled with people and there was no wait to get in. I had clearly missed a morning party.

I kept finding myself being drawn to a well represented group of Berlin galleries and German artists, almost as if I was looking for a familiar face. However, I also couldn’t help but notice and secretly chuckle at the one lone Philip Guston painting at Hauser & Wirth behind the gallerist desk placed almost like an impulse buy and a segment of the former Cuba pavilion from the Venice Biennale at another booth.

Wolfgang Tillmans
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Michael Müller Gstaad (Vor und hinter dem Glas), 2017 Galerie Thomas Schulte
Peter Zimmermann Galeria Filomena Soares





From Radiant Child to Mute Adolescent

A Panel of Experts, 1982

I spotted three middle-aged American gallery girls in London having the same problem I was, finding the entrance to the Basquiat exhibition at the Barbican. We tried to enter a cinema, crossed the street, crossed back over, and then finally realized the entrance was buried deep in the underpass. Then somehow we managed to get lost separately once inside and then meet again at the ticket counter, that is how large the center is.

This was a Thursday in mid-December and perhaps the record crowds had already come and gone but the staff was still left creating a three staff for every 1 visitor ratio. There was even a staff worker opening doors, which made me feel like I should have given him 20p.

When I entered the exhibition, the space felt wrong and the image greeting me felt wrong. The space consisted of two floors with small cubicles along the sides of the upper floor and a larger ground floor in the center and a staircase next to a cinema projection screen in the middle. Projected onto the screen, you had a silent film on loop of Basquiat not painting or speaking but rather what could only be described as prancing around in place. This central image had to remain mute as the smaller rooms had his voice audible in the form of interviews, spoken poetry (4 corners of the earth on repeat), or films.

I wanted to go straight to the paintings on the ground floor but was told to go up the stairs, then I wanted to turn right, away from the crowds, but was told to start from the left. Patrolled and restricted, I had to start the exhibition in chronological order. It soon became apparent that I was being given a biographical account almost like how Obama wrote his autobiography before he ran for president, that if we knew his story, we’d vote for him. The approach seemed similar in manner, that somehow if the visitor was introduced to Basquiat’s biography and contextualized in his time, we’d be convinced of his merit. I thought back to the Cy Twombly exhibition at the Centre Pompidou earlier in the year and remembered just rooms and rooms of his paintings. That is what I wanted here but was given something else.

Not that biography isn’t important, I stood looking at the painting above and thinking so this is how/ when Madonna became the number 1 cartoon breakfast cereal, but a sense of speed was lost (a defining quality) as the result of the slow pace of learning his biography and those cubicles were like rest stops I didn’t want to take.

When I did finally get to the large-scale paintings, I wondered who has all of his work, Leonardo DiCaprio? Once you look at the paintings, you notice how clear the colors are and the lines of the text clean. You are given the feeling of first stroke was the last stroke, winning at the first punch.

After the exhibition, I left seeing the gardens of the Barbican to lazy chance and it didn’t cross my path. I looked for the restrooms but found none. In the end, I left with a carrot muffin having only found the cafe.

The Birth of New Connections

‘Ach So!’ 2016 Jorinde Voigt

When a moment of unseen clarity erupts from its hard shell and becomes a colored, delicate light form leaving behind its dark liquid state, this is the image I want in my mind this new year and that they may all connect into a central living heart and feed other ideas. To the ideas about to die, the intensity of its color coalescing in the center to then go down into donut holes.



To the Sound of Horns at Crescendo

I discovered a song with my name in it while watching Us Dead Talk Love by Ed Atkins. Walking into the room, I was first attracted to the sweet voice of the speaking cadaver and a recurring slightly curved black line, cutting midway through the images like the first stroke of calligraphy writing, the focal point and the leitmotif to a love story. The slash rendered as eyelash took on the dimensions of an objet petit a. Two wide screens were alternating images of the cadaver’s severed head complete with high definition zits (the head kept making me want to leave but I stayed for the voice) and the iconography of romantic and erotic symbolism depicting falling apples and reclining marble statues.

Later, as the rambling narrative mentioned an eyelash and foreskin along with the meandering stream of words evoking fossilized time, the understanding of “I,” the metaphysics of representation, and the human body in biological terms, there it was, the obvious confession by the cadaver “as in, I love you.” As the images flashed binding the eyelash to a dream world and the melody of the voice feeling like love’s own caresses, the instrumental sampling from the musical Todd Sweeney comprised of horns and percussion rose to a climactic crescendo as I was lulled into my own reverie of eyelashes and eyebrows.

Ed Atkins Us Dead Talk Love, 2012


Anne Imhof “Faust” & A Hell of My Own

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My arrival to this year’s Venice Biennale was a curious one. If I didn’t have a crowd of people depicting me as their face of Hell, I wouldn’t have been able to appreciate all the allusions to Dante’s Inferno everywhere I went.

I saw Anne Imhof last September at the Hamburger Bahnhof observing her performers with a CEO stance, her feet slightly spread apart in line with the width of her shoulders. As I observed her stance, I became aware of my own crossed my feet prone to causing tilting stumbles. No one seemed to recognize her. Then a half year later, I saw her again winning the Golden Lion and she looked as though years had passed. The hard work and fatigue could be seen on her face.

The choreographed tableaus of “Angst” had changed to ones of hate shown through warring movements against oneself and others. Shadows moved like a herd created by the audience chasing the performers from above and then circling them as they stood looking down through a pane of glass. Small cotton ball bonfire flames burned in a corner, hands traveled down beneath the shorts and inched its way near the groin, a foggy imprint of breath made its way across the floor like one-legged footsteps. Fists appeared, first one, then two, then three – all lined up signifying a moment of unity within the struggle/ resistance.

Walking up to the German Pavillon, I thought is this a cliché, looks just like a building from the Third Reich. Ideology now looked like a cliché. The architecture had the body of classic Prussian style slightly gray in tone but the insides of a concentration camp examining room – Germany’s own pool of inferno blood being washed away by an overflowing pool of water. Imhof carried the burden of German history well on her shoulders and was even introducing non-Germans to “Faust.”

Before the performers arrived, I made a round of the space and found a little bee on the ground. While normally afraid of bees, I bent down and examined it and wondered are you chance or are you art. The bee was gone by the time I came back.

The accessories were laid out grouped in threes and fours, all meticulously placed along the walls, on tables or near corners. There on a Tuesday, around 2 weeks after the fact, the stars of the group were not present. Out of the group of 20 dancers, only 6 were performing the day I was there. Disappointed, the bodies I saw were a little less majestic, conveyed a little less power but even without the stars, I could see Imhof’s piece had come to Venice to kill.



Eating Well in Frankfurt

As my friend saw me off on the train back to Berlin, she wistfully said, ” I hope your train ride is like Before Sunrise.” To which I replied, “You haven’t seen the people who sit next to me on trains.” Instead, my Deutsche Bahn train got delayed almost until sunrise and so I got a 9 EUR refund.

I had spent part of the weekend in Frankfurt asking her to help me deconstruct a music video in which a wolf was following a lady in a blue dress. Then I threw in an extra variable of Phrygian mythology into the mix in which a man becomes like a woman or dresses like a woman. Listening to myself, I realized this is really hard to explain. I had the feeling I must be the wolf scared off by the sound of music and then left on the road as the car drives off. And if one wolf wasn’t enough, I saw another one looking straight into my eyes, telling me sweetie pie, you’re the wolf honey bun. The second she-wolf was this pseudo-cinematic poster for Ed Aktins’ Corpsing exhibition at MMK.

When we walked into the exhibition, my friend noticed the artist was born in 1982 and said, “He was born in 1982 and already in a museum. Johanna, we’re losers.” I replied, “He’s ‘one of the greatest artists of our generation.’ ” I told her it might be difficult in the beginning to understand but after about 20 minutes, it will start making sense. Every 5 minutes, I checked in to see how bored she was, “Are you okay?” She said, “This guy is the king of depression but I like the song.” Song went something like this,” I didn’t know… I didn’t know how deep I had gone…” The avatar sang this as he sank deeper and deeper into acts of depression while his body started to decompose until finally a sinkhole (that was unknowingly present the whole time) opens up during an earthquake and swallows him and his world whole. The next day while we were driving through the city, I heard my friend humming a tune and realized it was the depressed avatar song.

Her son was now 3-years-old, so after I bought him some coloring wall stickers and a coloring poster I asked her, “Does your son like to color?” “I’ve never seen him coloring.” “Oh, what does he like?” “He wants to be Darth Vader.” So when my wonderful coloring gifts were revealed, all three of us (Friend, Dad, and Me) made an effort to get him to start coloring. He made like three rough up and down motions with a green marker outside the coloring lines and then started yelling, “Badminton, badminton!” However, I didn’t want to stop coloring but felt I had too. Then, the dad got out the badminton rackets, but the boy kept missing the birdie. My friend then turned to me and said “See, can’t color or play badminton.” “So much energy…” “This is nothing.” Then, the son started yelling, “Darth Vader, Darth Vader!” So the dad got his black cape, mask and lightsaber, fastened the cape, handed him the mask and the lightsaber, and then he presented himself to me as Darth Vader.

The next day the whole family and I went to brunch at a Japanese/ French cafe. After a few bites of peaceful eating, the son’s head erupts. He starts coughing, then his nose starts running, then tears start streaming down his cheeks and then he vomits. His dad catches the vomit in his hands as I quickly pick up a plate for it to be disposed. The two of them immediately head home but my friend barely even freaks out. “Your son’s head just erupted!” “Happens all the time,” and she goes back to eating. Just the two of us now, I start telling her of this video I posted on Facebook and got a Durex condom advertisement in my newsfeed. But right as I start telling this, my friend calls which I ignore because I specifically told him I would be busy visiting a friend but accidentally took the call so he hears the first half of the story. Astonishing how much I was able to communicate in just under a minute.


A Love Affair with Myself

A Palermo lady upgraded my room to one with a view of Teatro Massimo. Teenage kids party, socialize, dance, drink wine, and make out all around it. I fed a homeless cat a hot dog in front of a cafe on one of its side streets.

Inside the theater, there is a room originally only for nobles called Pompeian Hall or the Echo Room with frescos from Pompeii circling it. If you stand in the center of the room and speak, your voice echoes and everyone can here you. But if you stand anywhere else, your conversations will be drowned out by other conversations, keeping all conversations private.

When this lady found out I would be spending two nights in Messina, she grimaced and said, “Messina is not worth the trouble. Just sleep there.”

I told another Milanese lady I’d be going to Messina and her eyes went wide and asked, “Why?”

Then in a long-winded fashion I tried to explain, “I saw these paintings in the Risorgimento museum in Turin and…” and before I could finish she said, “You’re going because of Garibaldi ?!” and then she laughed for a good 2 minutes.

I blame the tempera paintings of Carlo Bossoli found in the National Museum of the Italian Risorgimento Turin. I saw Messina and decided to go. His little room of paintings showed the Piedmontese conquering and yet also admiring the view.

Attack on Messina by Carlo Bossoli


I blame Filippo Juvarra for being born there and Caravaggio for being on the run. But it wasn’t as ugly as everyone said it would be. Although everything was destroyed in an earthquake, the so-called ugliest city in Sicily still had its charms. I saw the Strait of Messina and its like the width of the Rhine in Cologne. In the distance, you can see the white buildings of Reggio Calabria. I had a Bronte pistachio gelato twice. I saw a boat called “Tourist & Carton” and found my little poseur dog from the Boudin painting I loved so much. He is a little bigger in real life.

The Beach at Trouville, 1865. E. Boudin
“Tourist & Carton” ship off in the distance and the Boudin dog

So I asked this Palermo lady the places she liked the best in Sicily and she said, “Agrigento in the south. It has 5 Greek temples and Erice with over 100 churches. And the most beautiful in the sunset, the salt dunes in Marsala.”

“Marsala, like the wine?”

“Yes, they also make salt.”

I thought damn, my love story did not take me there.