Critic’s Guide: Dusseldorf & Cologne

Ahead of this year’s DC Open and gallery share Okey-Dokey, a round-up of the best shows across the Rhineland cities

Monika Stricker, ‘Stereo Balls’, Clages, 2017, installation view. Courtesy: Clages, Cologne

Monika Stricker, ‘Stereo Balls’, Clages, 2017, installation view. Courtesy: Clages, Cologne

Monika Stricker, ‘Stereo Balls’, Clages, 2017, installation view. Courtesy: Clages, Cologne

Monika Stricker, ‘Stereo Balls’
Clages, Cologne
8 September – 21 October 2017

If there is one body part that’s been given little attention by sculptors to date, it would have to be the male gonads. With her exhibition ‘Stereo Balls’ at Clages, Monika Stricker seeks to remedy this with a crude floor sculpture in raw plaster. Although the form of the work leaves a certain scope for indeterminacy, in combination with the show’s title their identity is pretty clear. The match between the fragile material and the vulnerability of the subject matter is surprising – and surprisingly funny. Especially since Stricker shows an obviously empty scrotum, while the ‘balls’ themselves are to be found elsewhere in the gallery. Between each pair, Stricker has installed a piezo buzzer that uses the plaster forms as resonators for a low-key soundtrack. The more serious (and agreeably undogmatic) comment on sculpture and gender that lies behind this artist’s joke becomes evident when one begins to see these works in a different light: the sculptor’s cliché of a barely abstracted female posterior.

Moyra Davey Copperhead no. 78 , 1990 c-print, framed, 60 x 46 cm (framed: 76.6 x 62 x 2.8 cm), Ed. 2/3 + 1AP Courtesy: the artist and Galerie Buchholz, Cologne / Berlin / New York

Moyra Davey, Copperhead no. 78, 1990, c-print, framed, 60 x 46 cm.  Courtesy: the artist and Galerie Buchholz, Cologne / Berlin / New York

Moyra Davey, Copperhead no. 78, 1990, c-print, framed, 60 x 46 cm.  Courtesy: the artist and Galerie Buchholz, Cologne / Berlin / New York

Moyra Davey, ‘Empties’
Galerie Buchholz, Cologne
8 September – 21 October 2017

Moyra Davey is enjoying something of a moment in Europe: featured in both the Athens and Kassel legs of documenta 14 which coincides with exhibitions at Galerie Buchholz in both Berlin and Cologne. Once more, she emerges as one of the few contemporary artists able to develop an artistic cosmos both consistent and flexible. This show includes new versions of her well known (and colourful) series of variously distressed pennies (‘EM Copperheads’) and a selection of 55 black and white photographs, ‘Empties’, reprised from her earlier series ‘Bottles’ first shown at American Fine Arts in 2003. The latter series conveys an immense vulnerability, suggesting drinking as a solution to problems, while the precise compositions offer glimpses of a domestic setting. In a familiar approach, ‘Empties’ is presented with fold marks, remnants of tape, franked stamps and address stickers. Each print was sent to the gallery folded into a letter, putting the old series into circulation and giving it an entirely new look. Now, blue and red stamps explode the grey veil of the pictures, making the drinking appear as something past, something that has been lived through.

Joachim Coucke, Containing the Future — Engineered moments of approval, 2017, plastic food crate, plexi, locks, modified display heads, plastic basket, led lightbox, pieces of a laptop screen and various computer cables and components, 40 x 60 x 40 cm. Co

Joachim Coucke, Containing the Future — Engineered moments of approval, 2017, plastic food crate, plexi, locks, modified display heads, plastic basket, led lightbox, pieces of a laptop screen and various computer cables and components, 40 x 60 x 40 cm. Courtesy: MÉLANGE and the artist

Joachim Coucke, Containing the Future — Engineered moments of approval, 2017, plastic food crate, plexi, locks, modified display heads, plastic basket, led lightbox, pieces of a laptop screen and various computer cables and components, 40 x 60 x 40 cm. Courtesy: MÉLANGE and the artist

Joachim Coucke, ‘Strength in Numbers’
Mélange, Cologne
7 September – 1 October 2017

Three stops on the underground from the city centre leads you to Mélange, Cologne’s most flexible independent space, expanded this time to include the roof of an adjacent building. Here Joachim Coucke is showing plastic baskets repurposed as showcases containing electrical waste that appears to have been thrown together at random. The various gadgets, some of them broken, give off a cool blue to white light that is reflected in transparent plastic masks. The work does what the press release promises, creating a (not especially new) bridge between the fluid worlds of data and their material equivalents. The result has a slightly outmoded feel, like a memory of some 1990s cyber aesthetic, but in turn triggers a far more interesting insight: countless product generations later, little remains of the idealism of the web’s early years with its hunger for change. The crushing force of the resulting IT trash is also underlined by three hanging sculptures made of knotted cables, immediately reminding me of Laocoön’s struggle with the serpents, although in this case a whole horde of snakes has already tightened its stranglehold.

Talia Chetrit, ‘Poser’, Sies + Höke, Dusseldorf. Courtesy: the gallery

Talia Chetrit, ‘Poser’, Sies + Höke, Dusseldorf. Courtesy: the gallery

Talia Chetrit, ‘Poser’, Sies + Höke, Dusseldorf. Courtesy: the gallery

Talia Chetrit, ‘Poser’
Sies & Höke, Dusseldorf
8 September – 8 October 2017

Talia Chetrit’s exhibition in the upper rooms at Sies & Höke is strange and exciting (the basement space has a show by Henning Strassburger). Only three self-portraits, shot as aggressively subversive nudes in a messy studio, are recent works. The remaining photographs were all taken by a teenage Chetrit in the mid-1990s. They show her teenage girlfriends in awkward half- and shoulder-length portraits pulling clichéd poses (one of the girls is sucking on a lollipop) – the pictures show technical errors such as red eye. There is something touching about this precocious amateurism, especially in Girls in Bed, a classic double nude in black and white that gets everything right – except that the women’s roles are played here by girls and the photographic vocabulary is seriously reduced. The three more recent photographs could be seen as reactions to these youthful mistakes in the name of artistic self-discovery. But rather than counteracting the spontaneity and intimacy of the artistic play with her girlfriends, the sterility of the current self-portraits actually emphasizes it.

Courtesy: Mike Nelson; 303 Gallery, New York; Galleria Franco Noero, Turin; Matt's Gallery, London; neugerriemschneider, Berlin

Courtesy: Mike Nelson; 303 Gallery, New York; Galleria Franco Noero, Turin; Matt's Gallery, London; neugerriemschneider, Berlin

Courtesy: Mike Nelson; 303 Gallery, New York; Galleria Franco Noero, Turin; Matt's Gallery, London; neugerriemschneider, Berlin

Mike Nelson, ‘A52’
Capri, Dusseldorf
8 September – 8 October 2017

Traditionally, Germany has been an automotive nation – a self-image that has been shaken up by the VW emission scandal and the push to see the demise of the combustion engine in the coming years. Mike Nelson might not have been thinking of this while setting up his installation ‘A52’ at Capri, a cosy space in Dusseldorf, but the association is obvious. Old car tyres, both whole and in shreds, dangle from the ceiling on threads, found material that points, via the work’s title, to the nearby autobahn A52. Worn down and slack, the material tells the tale of its own fatigue; combined with the dense arrangement, this triggers an oppressive chill that has become something of a trademark for Nelson. All the more so because this time, unlike the version of this work shown (under different titles) in Lyon and Basel, the scene is dominated not by the variance of minimalist forms in the individual fragments, but by what they have in common – the fact of having arrived at their own end. Like Germany’s renowned carmakers, perhaps.

Erik Kessels, ‘Erik Kessels & friends’, NRW-Forum, 2017, installation view. Courtesy: NRW-Forum; Photograph: B Babic

Erik Kessels, ‘Erik Kessels & friends’, NRW-Forum, 2017, installation view. Courtesy: NRW-Forum; Photograph: B Babic

Erik Kessels, ‘Erik Kessels & friends’, NRW-Forum, 2017, installation view. Courtesy: NRW-Forum; Photograph: B Babic

Erik Kessels, ‘Erik Kessels & friends’
NRW-Forum
12 August – 5 November 2017

The notion that the way we relate to photographic images has undergone radical change in the last ten years is of course a platitude. In spite of this, or perhaps because of this, the Dutch artist Erik Kessels engages with analogue photography with a big dose of melancholy, sorting his vast collection of mainly found materials according to curiosities, patterns, or both. ‘In Almost every Picture #7, Shooting Gallery’ (2008), for example, consists of numerous shots of a woman with a rifle, all taken automatically at a fairground shooting gallery – the pictures showing how the woman and her relatives change from year to year. ‘Strangers in My Photoalbum’ (2007), on the other hand, consists of blurred portraits of ordinary people. Kessels discovered them in his own family album, the kind of random extras to be found in their thousands in the background of our photographic family histories. Such approaches often deliver good results, but as the person I was with rightly pointed out, Kessels often stops thinking too soon after hitting on a theme. The show is certainly worth seeing, though, as the man clearly never runs out of ideas for new ones.

Simon Lässig & Vera Lutz, Alles Gute, keine Angst (7), 2017, digital print mounted on museum cardboard, glass, 94 x 70 cm. Courtesy: saxpublishers and the artists

Simon Lässig & Vera Lutz, Alles Gute, keine Angst (7), 2017, digital print mounted on museum cardboard, glass, 94 x 70 cm. Courtesy: saxpublishers and the artists

Simon Lässig & Vera Lutz, Alles Gute, keine Angst (7), 2017, digital print mounted on museum cardboard, glass, 94 x 70 cm. Courtesy: saxpublishers and the artists

Okey-Dokey
Delmes & Zander (Cologne), DREI (Cologne), Galerie Max Mayer (Dusseldorf), Ginerva Gambino (Cologne), Jan Kaps (Cologne), Linden (Dusseldorf), Lucas Hirsch (Dusseldorf), Rob Tufnell (Cologne), Studio for Propositional Cinema (Dusseldorf)
8 September – 30 September 2017

Coinciding with this year’s DC Open is the gallery share Okey-Dokey, for which nine galleries and art spaces in Cologne and Dusseldorf have invited other galleries and artists to put on a show. Okey-Dokey – with a similar model to the ‘collaborative exhibition’ Condo founded last year by Vanessa Carlos (of Carlos Ishikawa gallery) in London and with a recent New York edition – was launched on account of the internationalization of DC Open. Not a bad idea with an eye on the nearby boomtown of Brussels.

Okey Dokey graphic. Courtesy: the organizers

Okey Dokey graphic. Courtesy: the organizers

As often with gallery shares, the works on show at the various locations are only loosely connected, if at all. A nice solution was found by Jan Kaps (showing Édouard Montassut, Paris, and Weiss Falk, Basel), where Veit Laurent Kurz rebuilt the Rebschänke (Wine Bar) shown by Weiss Falk at Art Basel as a Cologne version he called the Jülichstübli. If one had to highlight one of the works on show here, then it would be Claudia Lemke’s Pale Pattern, a delicately painted grotesque on plywood. At Ginerva Gambino (with Sandy Brown, Berlin, Ermes-Ermes, Vienna, and Truth & Consequences, Geneva), Carl Strathmann’s meticulous gouaches of carpet designs are very striking, not least because a German art nouveau ‘Jugendstil’ artist is the last thing one would expect in this context.

Piotr Łakomy, Untitled, 2017, wooden door, ostrich eggs. Courtesy: Stereo, Warsaw

Piotr Łakomy, Untitled, 2017, wooden door, ostrich eggs. Courtesy: Stereo, Warsaw

Piotr Łakomy, Untitled, 2017, wooden door, ostrich eggs. Courtesy: Stereo, Warsaw

On the other bank of the Rhine, it is worth visiting gallery Lucas Hirsch (with Stereo and Lomex), if only for Piotr Łakomy’s preposterous sculpture Untitled, a cross between a beehive and a fencing mask containing a whole pile of quail’s eggs. Another surprise is Fergus Feehily at Max Mayer (with Arcadia Missa, London, Miguel Abreu Gallery, New York, and Misako & Rosen, Tokyo). Not just because the Irish artist known for his sure-handed anti-paintings in small formats presents a mural, but also because Feehily is already represented by a Cologne gallery (Christian Lethert). Which makes it clear that for all its networking and internationalization, Okey–Dokey does not intend to break with the rich tradition of the Rhineland as an art location. As with its title, taken from the legendary gallerist of the region, Konrad Fischer, quite the contrary.

Main image: Erik Kessels, ‘Erik Kessels & friends’, NRW-Forum, 2017, installation view. Courtesy: NRW-Forum; Photograph: B Babic

Moritz Scheper is a writer and curator based in Baden-Baden, Germany, where he works at the Staatliche Kunsthalle.

Most Read

Ahead of its South London Gallery performance, how Tom Phillips’s Irma – a work that questions the genre of opera...
With the opening of the 15th Istanbul Biennial this week, a guide to the best exhibitions around town
Ahead of the openings of EXPO Chicago and the 2017 Chicago Architecture Biennial, a guide to the best exhibitions...
Florine Stettheimer, Beauty Contest: To the Memory of P.T. Barnum, 1924, oil on canvas, 1.2 x 1.5 m. Courtesy: Wadsworth Athenaeum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut and Ettie Stettheimer
The Jewish Museum, New York, USA
Highlights of the exhibitions and performances taking place during Berlin Art Week 
Reflections, a favourite verse, and a new poem dedicated to one of the English language’s most renowned poets of the...
Nicole Eiseman, Sketch for a Fountain (Skizze für einen Brunnen), 2017, Skulptur Projekte 2017, bronze, gips, wasserbecken. Courtesy: Skulptur Projekte Münster
Various venues, Münster, Germany
Buoyed by Manifesta announcing it will dock in the port city in 2020, is Marseille becoming the new LA? 
Ahead of this year’s DC Open and gallery share Okey-Dokey, a round-up of the best shows across the Rhineland cities
From artist Enoch Cheng’s nocturnal balletics to fascist violence in Charlottesville, rethinking the political agency...
Opened 15 months ago but remaining empty until now, the inaugural show at the landmark Palestinian Museum in Birzeit
The dual sides to the city’s Cph Art Week
Queer cringe at the BBC and other diversity dilemmas
Marta Minujín, El Partenón de libros (The Parthenon of Books), 2017, under construction in Kassel as part of documenta 14. Photograph: © Rosa Maria Ruehling
On documenta 14 in Athens and Kassel
Chris Kraus’s biography of the first female ‘Great Writer as Countercultural Hero’
Remembering the artist whose occultist experiments transformed her body and biography into art 
In this microcosm of the disenfranchisement of ‘Late Great Britain’, what use is art?
Public debate around Confederate insignia has little to do with historical fact, and everything to do with collective...
A multi-faceted collaboration between Matthew Barney, Ragnar Kjartansson and the Iceland Dance Company reflects on...
What Luc Besson’s Valerian and a number of recent artists’ 3D films are getting right about our current reality
The removal of the Confederate monuments in Baltimore shows decisiveness after years of inaction – already they stand...
Yayoi Kusama to open her own museum; Confederate monuments removed in Baltimore; David Roberts Art Foundation to leave...
From a tribute to Straub/Huillet to Valerie Massadian’s portrait of teenage motherhood, the turn to real situations and...
Japan’s growing number of art festivals tread a precarious path between state-sponsored leisure-culture and soft-power...
Fifty years after the term was coined, a show in Samos reflects on ‘the unlikely liaison between love and politics’
Arsenale and Giardini, Venice, Italy
SoundCloud has been invaluable to the new music community for both documentation and discovery – now the audio-...
The extraordinary life of the late, great, gallerist and collector Alexander Iolas
Various venues, New York, USA
At a time of instantaneous information and fetishized immersivity, artists are evoking scent as an alchemical, bodily...
With her current show at Gasworks, London, the Kuwaiti artist shares some influential images
Romare Bearden, Pittsburgh Memory, 1964, mixed media collage and graphite on board, 22 x 30 cm. Courtesy: © Romare Bearden Foundation / DACS, London / VAGA, New York 2017
Successfully layering a broader socio-historical narrative onto a period of radical non-conformity, this is an...
With a strong surrealist strain, and including a welcome number of female artists, highlights from the 48th edition of...

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

May 2017

frieze magazine

June – August 2017

frieze magazine

September 2017