June 11, 2009

Holbein to Tillmans

As mentioned the Schaulager is a great space and experience to visit. From Wikipedia: “Designed by the renowned architectural office of Herzog & de Meuron under commission from the Laurenz Foundation, the Schaulager was opened in 2003 in Münchenstein outside Basel and was conceived as an open warehouse that provides the optimal spatial and climatic conditions for the preservation of works of art. The collection of the Emanuel Hoffmann Foundation forms the main core of the Schaulager. The institution functions as a mix between public museum, art storage facility and art research institute. It is primarily directed at a specialist audience but is also open to the general public for special events and the annual exhibitions.”

Coincident with last year’s Basel was a brilliant double show of Andrea Zittel and Monica Sosnowka, both beautifully displayed in the pure white spaces. To allow the Kunstmuseum to receive the Van Gogh landscapes show, the former’s collection moved to the Schaulager this year. Last year’s experience had been so good, I wondered whether what appeared to be a convenience driven survey could be particularly interesting. Curatorially it is a tour de force. The concept of the show consciously views the works, both contemporary and historical, with today’s eyes. The brochure talks of the astonishing connections between the works – this hyperbole is slightly misplaced though I think. Many of the connections are very striking such as a great accumulating presence of On Kawara date paintings (http://www.davidzwirner.com/artists/13/work_1309.htm) circulating Fischli and Weiss Table installation – the latter probably would have left me cold but in this juxtaposition Fischli & Weiss became as potent an existential presence as Kawara. Another great one is Joseph Beuys’ 1965 “Snowfall” made of 32 felt blankets weighing down fir tree trunks on the floor, beside a Mountain landscape with smashed trees from the 1620s. It read as a criticism to say the brochure is hyperbolic; I’d also say it is falsely modest: The monumental outer wall on the lower storey is hung “like a mine of still unformed raw material. Countless paintings are spread out, only roughly sorted, above, beside, and beneath one another across the entire length of the wall. Each painting can stand for itself, but at the same time it invites to look within the spacious presentation for its partner or groups to which it could belong.” This could even be called disingenuous: as, far from it having a sense of categorising still to come, it actually stands as one of the most subtly balanced and controlled installation I have ever seen. The curator who organised that wall has one of the finest eyes I have ever come across.

As a footnote, it is interesting to compare this show with the Giacometti show and the Visual Encounters – Africa, Oceania and Modern Art which are both on at the Fondation Beyeler which I saw earlier in the week http://www.beyeler.com/. Another great architect's building (Renzo Piano). The Schaulager also features a couple of Giacometti’s which are much better served by being given lots of space to breathe and therefore carry the existential potent that you expect from his work; the Beyeler installation packs in too much work and in the crowding (added to by the huge visitor numbers) the sculptures are distracted and lessened. The paintings come across as much stronger because standing front of them framed alone on white walls they remain powerfully intense. The Visual Encounters installation has some very fine set piece juxtapositions: the connecting space between the two shows features 9 Giacometti figures connected by a long Monet water lilly painting to some wood carved figures from Cameroon in front of a Cezanne; A gallery of Rothko paintings with vitrines of African masks, Leger paintings with Oceanic sculptures, more Cezanne Bathers with work from Mali, etc. (Mondrian doesn’t work in this context I think); but there is something strangely unsurprising about the Encounters, in a sense it is too balanced spatially. The Schaulager manages to be perfectly tuned while offering the tingle of risk, and the pleasure of seeing the risk pulled off.







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