Fisun Güner selects:
Feminist Avant-Garde of the 1970s, The Photographers’ Gallery, London
Once you get past the dry, academic title, this exhibition of conceptual feminist art (mostly photo-based work, some film and one big sculpture) you’ll find a brilliant kickass survey of pioneering art that’s full of wit, insight and tremendous brio. Selected from the Verbund Collection in Vienna, 48 artists are featured, with a mix of well-known names – Cindy Sherman, Francesca Woodman (pictured above), Valie Export, Martha Rosler – and the not so well-known. Being a Viennese collection it’s particularly strong on Austrian artists, and the exhibition offers a brilliant opportunity to make new discoveries in this often overlooked period of art. The exhibition continues until the end of January, so I’ll certainly be back.
7 October 2016 – 29 January 2017. thephotographersgallery.org.uk
Robert Rauschenberg, Tate Modern, London
Who could have imagined that 2016 would end on such a high? OK, I’ll try not to get carried away, but this is the exhibition to make you forget the bad things. Tate curator Achim Borchardt-Hume has done a grand job: he pulls off an immensely rich survey of this most prolific and restlessly inventive artist, even though so much had to be left out. Of the most famous of Rauschenberg’s combines, we have the paint-splattered Bed, and Monogram, the shaggy goat girdled by a tyre, plus a selection of unforgettably powerful silkscreens. Rauschenberg is an endlessly fascinating artist.
1 December 2016 – 2 April 2017. www.tate.org.uk
Michael Dean: Sic Glyps, South London Gallery
Prizes Schmizes – my pennies were on Michael Dean for the Turner Prize this year, but it wasn’t to be. Still, the South London Gallery should congratulate itself for putting on this awesomely clever, richly immersive exhibition. With its concrete casts and corrugated metal sheets, we could have been in a builder’s yard, but as the exhibition’s title, ‘Sic Glyps’, suggests, Dean’s elaborate, beautifully elliptical installation was rather like one big semiotics trip: signs and codes fazed you and enticed you at every turn. Dean’s Tate Britain display is a reprise of sorts, but the artist’s SLG show offered just that bit more.
18 March – 22 May 2016. www.southlondongallery.org
William Kentridge: Thick Time, Whitechapel Gallery, London
The ENO’s recent production of Lulu was designed and directed by the South African artist William Kentridge. One part of the Whitechapel Gallery’s thrilling and completely immersive exhibition is a part-animated film installation based on Kentridge’s work for that production. But there’s so much else besides. This exhibition shows just how cleverly this artist works with the influence of German Expressionist film. What’s more, this really is an exhibition that brings to mind the concept of a Gesamtkunstwerk – the total work of art that draws together so many art forms. Whatever he does, Kentridge is an artist who just seems to get better.
21 September 2016 – 15 January 2017. www.whitechapelgallery.org
Abstract Expressionism, Royal Academy, London
Wow, in a word. This is a visually tantalising exhibition of a movement that wasn’t quite a movement but more of a ‘phenomena’. The Clyfford Still room alone will knock you out, and then there are the Rothkos, the Pollocks, the de Koonings, all punctuated by the sculpture of David Smith. There’s a giant Motherwell that I can’t quite get out of my head, plus an incredible Lee Krasner – in case you’re wondering if it’s all just boys. It mainly is, but a few women artists are featured, including Joan Mitchell, Helen Frankthaler and Janet Sobel, the latter, as we now know, beating Pollock as the first to exhibit drip painting.
24 September 2016 – 2 January 2017. www.royalacademy.org.uk
Anneka French selects:
Prem Sahib: Grand Union, Grand Union, Birmingham
This concise, minimal exhibition of new and recent works by Prem Sahib included custom built bench seating that ringed the gallery and a large wall structure covered with white ceramic tiles. The clean, locker room-like set up was dramatically undercut by paintings on aluminium that looked to have been sprinkled with urine, and a black cock ring in rubber and fibreglass, Beast II (2016), made the size of a life preserver. Accompanied by an excellent small publication with a story by Huw Lemmey, the exhibition variously explored aspects of sexuality and the intimacies and complexities of emotionally charged, desiring bodies.
22 April – 3 June 2016. www.grand-union.org.uk
Sally Troughton, Pump House Gallery, London
Raw-edged silk pieces printed with digital landscapes such as In the Offing (2016) delicately fluttered with the aid of office fans. Latex, vinyl and foil forms were sumptuously draped over perfectly constructed frames, while other sculptures incorporated soil, bog oak and palm wood. Subtly drawing attention to the body’s textures and materiality, and to the choreography of the gallery and more distant environments, further intimate audio pieces introduced heartbeats and other less distinguishable sounds via headphones. Sally Troughton’s exhibition adeptly drew attention to the ways in which we attempt to orient and navigate conceptual, physical and digital space.
4 August – 25 September 2016. www.pumphousegallery.org.uk
Lothar Baumgarten: The ship is going under, the ice is breaking through, Palacio de Cristal, Madrid
A complicated backstory of post-colonial conflict underpinned Lothar Baumgarten’s site-specific multi-channel audio installation at the Palacio de Cristal, organised by Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia. Housed within a glass structure modelled on Kew Gardens and built in the late 19th century to showcase Spain’s Filipino colonial legacy, the exhibition provided an aural close-up of the sound of ice thawing. The work’s almost glitch-like cracking sounds provided an unsettling if strangely calming experience within the empty, sun-lit, sparkling glass structure. Baumgarten’s work created a tension that resonates with a world on the edge of chaos – fault lines in history made palpably audible for a contemporary audience.
3 November 2016 – 16 April 2017. www.museoreinasofia.es
Gordon Cheung: Here Be Dragons, Nottingham Castle
Gordon Cheung’s digital works, shown in the opening room of his solo exhibition, undoubtedly stole the show at Nottingham Castle. Dramatic lighting amplified Cheung’s curious dripping and oozing processes, rendering historical oil paintings anew. Fishing for Souls (After Adriaen Pietersz. Van der Venne, 1614) (2015) is among works that dramatically distorted images via algorithm in an expansion of the technology of painting. A selection of the multi-layered, dystopian photo-collage paintings Cheung is best known for further contributed to the exhibition’s wider contexts of fracture, disassembly and coalescence in and of time and place.
30 April – 17 July 2016. www.nottinghamcastle.org.uk
Eva Rothschild: Alternative to Power, New Art Gallery Walsall
Eva Rothschild’s display at New Art Gallery Walsall, whose high ceilings and polished black floors feel like they have been made for the artist’s works, was a beautifully balanced one. Featuring two newly commissioned pieces made during this summer’s EU referendum campaign, works such as RedSun, An Array, Ruins and Technical Support (all 2016) typically employed an economy of material, relying on balance and precision to achieve formal tension through texture, form, and vibrant colour paired with black. Generously punctuated with seating that acknowledged the viewer, this was an elegant, resonant and timely politicised exhibition.
24 September 2016 – 15 January 2017. www.thenewartgallerywalsall.org.uk
Chris Sharratt selects:
Sharon Hayes: In My Little Corner of the World, Anyone Would Love You, Common Guild, Glasgow
Split across the two floors of the gallery – and also shown in a different configuration at Studio Voltaire, London earlier in the year – this film installation by American artist Sharon Hayes was an intimate, gently radical portrait of personal experience and collective resistance. Set across the rooms of a shared house and presented on five separate screens, a series of gay and transgender women read from letters sent to and published in US and UK lesbian and feminist magazines from 1955-77. While that may sound a little drab, its domestic setting and cross-generational cast imbued the looping narrative with a quiet drama that spoke of the strength and personal struggles of these often isolated letter writers. Beautifully shot and deftly presented, this was a masterfully understated piece of work.
8 October – 4 December 2016. www.thecommonguild.org.uk
Rachel Maclean: Wot u :-) about?, Home, Manchester; Tate Britain, London
Scottish artist Rachel Maclean’s latest film is a sickly bright interrogation of our digital dependency, a horribly icky world of data hungry rats, puss-coloured onesie-wearing teens and a needy social media junky who should really cut down on her smartphone time. Presented across three screens at Home in a large solo show that also featured an array of largely inconsequential sculptures, it’s the tightly edited one-screen version at Tate Britain that really hits the mark – a fast-paced distillation of Maclean’s dystopian fairy tale that shifts between darkly absurd and genuinely disturbing. Not much to smile about here.
Home: 29 Oct 2016 – Sun 8 Jan 2017. homemcr.org; Tate Britain: 15 Nov 2016 – 2 Apr 2017. www.tate.org.uk
Kate V Robertson: Semper Solum, Glasgow International
This year’s Glasgow International was full of energy and urgency, balancing the mainly international director’s programme with the city’s indigenous DIY scene. With film highlights such as Mika Rottenberg and Amie Siegal at Tramway, and a fascinatingly rich show of paintings by Louis Michel Eilshemius (1864-1941) at 42 Carlton Place, it was a varied and lively affair that also managed to deliver some pleasant surprises – Glasgow artist Kate V Robertson’s installation being one of them. Filling a semi-derelict former courtroom with a variety of sculptural objects – a crumbling cobbled concrete floor made from casts of take-away food cartons, a large foam finger hanging from the ceiling, a suspended sheet of Financial Times newsprint – Robertson’s intervention was a quietly confident site-specific work in a hidden gem of a building.
8-25 April 2016. glasgowinternational.org
Lawrence Abu Hamdan: Rubber Coated Steel, Liverpool Biennial
In what felt like a revitalised Liverpool Biennial, Lawrence Abu Hamdan’s single-screen film installation set in an indoor firing range, Rubber Coated Steel (2016), was a captivating highlight. Presented inside the neoclassical Oratory, the Beirut-based artist’s powerful exploration of institutionalised violence focused on the trial of Israeli soldiers accused of killing two Palestinian teenagers during a demonstration in the West Bank. Featuring the artist’s own testimony – Abu Hamdan is also a forensic audio analyst – text of the court transcript documented a discussion around whether real or plastic bullets were used. As the debate gets more heated, we are left to imagine the ear-splitting noise and destructive power of the gunshots – and the tragedy of young lives lost.
9 July – 16 October 2016. www.biennial.com
Hinterland, St Peter’s Seminary, Cardross, near Helensburgh, Argyll and Bute
NVA’s Hinterland kicked off Scotland’s 2016 Festival of Architecture but this light and sound celebration of modernist relic St Peter’s Seminary – built 1966; abandoned in the late 1980s – was more about its brutalist sculptural forms than its function as a school for Catholic priests. With a choral sound piece by composer Rory Boyle and the structure’s futuristic concrete curves and crannies lit up in rainbow colours, the audience wandered through and around the site on a chilly March evening, clutching light staffs as they went. Fifty years on from when St Peter’s first incongruously loomed in this rural landscape, Hinterland was a dramatic reminder of both the past, and of what the future once looked like.
18-27 March 2016. nva.org.uk
Pippa Koszerek selects:
In a Dream You Saw a Way to Survive and You Were Full of Joy, The Whitworth, Manchester
How we survive, individually and collectively, psychologically and practically, is one of the many refrains of this Hayward Touring exhibition curated by Elizabeth Price. Price has assembled artefacts, projections and artworks under the four thematics of ‘sleeping’, ‘working’, ‘mourning’ and ‘dancing’. It is easy to walk among these signifers as in a dream, picking out meanings and links in a disparate way – encountering, for instance, funerary relics with the sinister memory of a scene from Night of the Hunter still lingering in the back of the mind. Most memorable was Katrina Palmer’s wall-based text work, New Stone, a meditation on what an archeological remnant of our society might look like in the future – repeated at intervals along the wall, the letters becoming increasingly compressed, the final column illegible.
10 June – 30 October 2016. www.whitworth.manchester.ac.uk
Ragnar Kjartansson, Barbican Art Gallery, London
Joyful and sorrowful in turns, this survey exhibition of the Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson was a timely introduction to his expansive practice. On entering, we encounter musicians lounging around the gallery space, singing the melody, “Take me here by the dishwasher.” This accompanies a sequence from the feature film in which Kjartansson’s actor parents met – an erotic dream sequence of housewife and utility man getting it on in the kitchen. In another work, a series of four performances to video, shot every five years over a 15-year period, we see Kjartansson’s mother repeatedly spit in his face. Over and above these revelations of familial trust, Kjartansson’s work often uses carefully constructed theatrical settings and durational resilience to heighten emotion, whether it be the artist repeatedly singing “sorrow over happiness” in big band-style pomp or the band The National, repeatedly performing their hit, Sorrow.
14 July – 4 September 2016. www.barbican.org.uk
Lara Almarcegui: Le Gypse, Casino Luxembourg, Luxembourg
To mark the reopening of the Casino Luxembourg, which has transformed the way it uses its spaces for exhibitions, Spanish artist Lara Almarcegui recycled the newly discarded exhibition walls, presenting a mound of 20 tons of plaster dust. Interested in where her materials originate and borrowing an approach traditionally used by consultants, Almarcegui has a subtle way of undermining the imperceptible forces that influence land use. Revealing the way international energy corporations own much of the ground beneath us, for Mineral Rights, Almarcegui and the Casino have made an application to the Luxembourg authorities for a licence to explore the gypsum sediments 130m below the building.
23 March – 4 September 2016. www.casino-luxembourg.lu
Harmony Korine: Fazors, Gagosian Gallery, Davies Street, London
It’s as if the colour and light redirected through the raw, wavering circles of Harmony Korine’s paintings pulsate out from the canvas, smashing the mind and body of the viewer. The acclaimed filmmaker’s transition to contemporary art has thrown up a new set of psychedelically mesmerising experiences. Overpowering and overstimulating, these are paintings that can draw you in and absorb you.
8 February – 24 March 2016. www.gagosian.com
Walter’s Way, The Self-Build Revolution, Architectural Association, London
The legacy of the late architect Walter Segal’s practical vision for affordable homes in the 1970s and ’80s, that led to a number of lasting self-build communities in Lewisham, provides a model that still has relevance today. This compact exhibition, sited around and inside a structure built by Assemble that referenced the ‘Segal method’ seen in streets such as Walter’s Way, provided much food for thought. Alongside archive footage of the self-builders and architectural plans and models, it was exciting to find out about current self-build initiatives in Lewisham such as RUSS (Rural Urban Synthesis Society), a community land trust that intends to build 33 homes in Ladywell.
16 January – 24 March 2016. www.aaschool.ac.uk
Richard Taylor selects:
Sidsel Meineche Hansen: No Right Way 2 Cum, Transmission Gallery, Glasgow
Arriving at a packed Transmission Gallery during the opening weekend of Glasgow International 2016, a meaty sound system played deep bass as a suspended screen showed Sidsel Meineche Hansen’s porn-like animation of a computer generated body fucking an ever-changing mass. As the sound changed, in ran two screaming women dressed in very little, clear plastic packets of sardines attached to their upper thighs. We moved up against the walls in anticipation of the fish being released, which soon happened with the help of sharp scissors. Completely disgusting and enthralling performance art.
8 April – 19 May 2016. www.transmissiongallery.org
Diango Hernandez: Time Islands and Space Islands, Mostyn, Llandudno
This quiet exhibition was viewed during a very windy January visit to a largely deserted Llandudno. There was a repetition of fruit, hung like a chain, sliced by panes of glass and laid on reclaimed furniture only to be completed again by perfect reflection. A delicate metal structure jutted out, constructed from curling, welded together numbers depicting years – 1959 to 2008 – and reminiscent of school gates or fences. Opposite, there was a painted mural of waves in deep red and blue. Altogether, this was a carefully crafted installation presenting sculptural interplay with accompanying drawing and collage. A treat for someone fresh to this Cuban-born, Düsseldorf-based artist’s work.
14 November 2015 – 8 May 2016. www.mostyn.org
Siân Robinson Davies: Conversations, Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop
Two comfy chairs in a carpeted room lured me into Siân Robinson Davies’s video installation. Armed with a handout that included a key to what happened on screen, I sat in a chair, placed my shoes neatly on the carpet, and listened. An elaborate set of one-on-one conversations played out, objects and concepts given voices to argue and question themselves, with each conversation represented by a different coloured screen and no other imagery. ‘Conversations’ was a well-executed exhibition that, after more than one sitting, unpeeled itself as rewarding and uncompromisingly researched.
16 July – 3 September 2016. www.edinburghsculpture.org
Jumana Emil Abboud, Baltic, Gateshead
The wireless headphones handed to you on entering this exhibition effectively switched what could have been an ordinary viewing experience into something else entirely. A number of works were fitted into what felt like a tight spot in an intermediary space, but the track you listened to was closely linked to an immersive video installation in a dark room at the back of the gallery. The listening experience matched vast landscapes and tightly focused filmed observations, while a voice telling a story led you to imagine other worlds. Refreshingly, the work was not afraid of losing its control over the viewer – instead, it let go.
6 May – 2 October 2016. www.balticmill.com
Pilvi Takala, CCA, Glasgow
With a plethora of screens hanging plant-like from the ceiling, Pilvi Takala’s busy and engaging solo show documented the artist’s infiltration into everyday environments, often with comic effect. In a series of videos in which Takala played a starring role, we saw her trying to get into Disneyland dressed as Snow White; wearing a pink gown and declining requests to dance in an old people’s social club; making up an internship position and faking office productivity. All these activities were entirely captivating, with ‘props’ such as discarded clothing on chairs adding to the immediacy of this entertaining exploration of human behaviour and societal norms.
8 April – 15 May 2016. cca-glasgow.com
Selections written by: Fisun Güner, Anneka French, Chris Sharratt, Pippa Koszerek, and Richard Taylor