Spruth Magers Presents Three Varied Solo Exhibitions For Berlin Gallery Weekend

Spruth Magers

Spruth Magers is presenting three artist solo shows as part of their programme for Berlin Gallery Weekend. Artlyst attended the exhibition which was mounted in their impressive tree floor building in the Mitte area of the city.

Craig Kauffman 

Sprüth Magers inaugural exhibition with the Craig Kauffman Estate, the gallery presents a selection of early works on paper and plastic pieces from the 1960s that examine diagrammatic and fragmented abstract female forms as a precursor to his later three-dimensional wallworks. Following a period of travel in Europe from 1959–61, Kauffman returned to his native Los Angeles to commence work on several series that looked to his personal interests in the historical avant-garde. Foremost was a reworking of the nude as machine that took place some decades earlier by Marcel Duchamp and Francis Picabia. Their shared interests in new materials and the mechano-erotic human form inspired Kauffman to react against the abstract painting of the 1950s. A selection of their works in the exhibition investigates this dialogue. 

In a series of collages and drawings dating from 1961–63, sensual and mechanical pendulous forms are derived from lingerie catalogues – both as source material and the ground onto which he works. Borrowing shapes from these commercial magazines, the increasingly abstracted designs incorporate underwear bursting at the seams, perilous high heels and isolated sections of an erotically charged female form. These often appear as technical appendages, creating a diagrammatic bionic form. Trailing tentacles and teats resemble limp hosiery or loosely drawn anatomical diagrams, reducing the human body to its constituent parts. 

These forms underwent subsequent degrees of abstraction and his plastic works continued in a similar vein: experimenting with acrylic lacquer applied to the back of clear plastic. This technique ensured the front remained sleek and flat – a lustrous surface for fetishized fragments of the human form. The use of colour incorporates both saccharine primary colours, seemingly fresh out of the can, and hues more akin to skin tones. By displaying these larger panels in shadow box frames, ambient light is captured behind the intensely coloured translucent plastic, making them seemingly float and cast shadows on the white backing. Kauffman also discovered he could spray rather than brush the lacquer on. This execution demanded clear planning and precision as, typically, they could not be reworked. His first experiments in vacuum forming then took place in 1964, making use of a commercial process that was still in its infancy, to add literal depth to some of his bulbous two-dimensional forms. 

Thea Djordjadze

Few contemporary artists have so cannily, idiosyncratically explored the existential experience of the interior as Thea Djordjadze, whose expansive sculptural installations combine constructed and found elements into intuitive arrangements. The materials she uses range from the mundane to the elegant, from rigid timber and steel structures to amorphous plaster, textile and foam parts. Some of these objects are reused from one exhibition to another, running through her work like a continuous thread. With their striking psychological depth and unique physical impact, Djordjadze’s installations have an inimitable effect on the viewer. 

This meticulous narrative handling of the interior is also at the core of Djordjadze’s new exhibition at Sprüth Magers in Berlin. It takes a moment to notice the fine, mesmerizing light filling the first space in the installation.

a light filtered through a Plexiglas plate mounted on a window, which Djordjadze has painted with a translucent mixture of gouache and housepaint, to create a thin haze of blue, yellow and green hues, sometimes red. The effect is subtle, not ostentatious, but it has a decisive, sustained impact on how the space is perceived. This fundamental impact on the viewer’s perception is evident in Djordjadze’s other spatial interventions as well. The two exhibition spaces are connected by a tunnel of polished stainless steel plates. Rather than create a seamless transition, their high-gloss, mirrored surfaces cause the viewer to hesitate when passing through, making for a certain sense of disorientation. An elaborate construction of untreated wood core plywood has scaled the otherwise large showroom down to ‘homelike’ dimensions: half-height walls reach deep into the museum-like exhibition space with their organic surfaces flanking it on two sides. Djordjadze mounted plexiglas plates along the timber wall here too, in which light from the window is reflected. Three of the windows feature sculptures made of raw steel plates connected with piano hinge; they transform the light entering the room and, despite their odd dimensions, look something like window shutters from a distance. 

The installation has an atmospheric flair, fusing presumably familiar elements from Djordjadze’s work. Painted glass objects recall her 2008 intervention at the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin. Two dark wall sculptures with rusted interiors have the look of paintings – closer inspection reveals them to be planters from her installation at the 56th Venice Biennale in 2015. The plaster blocks filling Djordjadze’s mahogany frames – their surfaces covered in slapdash bits of paint residue – appear to be both paintings and sculptures at the same time. We also find examples of her objects that, despite their unsettling proportions, resemble furniture, as well as her dark steel structures that act like axonometric drawings in space. 

Over the last two decades, contemporary art has seen a remarkable shift towards the performative. This change in emphasis from art-object to process is expressed in the current revival of performance art, site-specific and time-based projects as well as process-driven painting practices. Nevertheless, the boundaries between the spheres of visual art, theater, literature and film have remained remarkably intact. 

Alexandre Singh

French-born, UK-raised and New York-based artist Alexandre Singh’s practice blurs these boundaries in ways that are as surprising as they are rigorous. His idiosyncratic, playfully investigative spirit is manifest throughout his works. In the Assembly Instructions (2008-12), conceptual collages take the form of surreal flow-charts; The Marque of the Third Stripe (2007), is a gothic novella about the founder of Adidas and The Humans (2013/14), is a three-hour theatrical play reimagining the creation of the world. In Singh’s universe, the floorplan of an IKEA building serves as a map of all human knowledge and the lowest part of the lowest animal, a donkey’s rectum, is the secret dwelling place of the divine creator. 

Here, Singh presents his installation The School for Objects Criticized AE – an earlier version of which was exhibited at the New Museum, New York and Palais de Tokyo, Paris. At first, it appears to be an elegant, theatrically-lit readymade installation in which seemingly banal objects – a bottle of bleach, a toaster, two cassette recorders, a derivative abstract sculpture, a stuffed skunk and a slinky toy – are presented on pedestals much like important historic sculptures are in museums. But the installation soon reveals itself to be an elaborate, dramatic set-up. 

Photos:P C Robinson© Artlyst 2016