Critic's Guide: Madrid

Highlights of the museum shows on now in the Spanish capital

Hiroshi Sugimoto, from the ‘Theaters’ series

Hiroshi Sugimoto, from the ‘Theaters’ series, 1976–ongoing. Courtesy: © the artist

Hiroshi Sugimoto, ‘Black Box’
Mapfre Foundation
23 June – 25 September

‘Black Box’ presents more than 40 black and white photographs from five of Hiroshi Sugimoto’s major photographic projects: ‘Dioramas’ (1976–2012), ‘Theaters’ (1976–ongoing), ‘Seascapes’ (1980–ongoing), ‘Portraits’ (1994–99) and ‘Lightning Fields’ (2006–ongoing). Taken together, they show Sugimoto to be nothing less than a master. His concepts are simple and yet at the same time profound, even breathtakingly so; his execution, meanwhile, is exquisite. The passage of time is a recurring subject (as, arguably, it is in all photography) although rarely does its essential elusiveness find such deft handling. In ‘Theaters’, for instance, Sugimoto set up his tripod in movie theatres and captured, in a single long exposure, entire film screenings: the screen, inevitably, comes through in the final photograph as a gleaming, minimalist white square, while the surrounding architectural interiors of the theatres (themselves imbued with an element of nostalgia) are rendered in the sharpest of detail. ‘Portraits’ and ‘Dioramas’, with their intense photographic representations of lifeless figures in wax museums and museum dioramas, effect a sense of temporal and physical displacement. The exhibition itself, unhurriedly installed throughout winding, darkened galleries, appropriately allows viewers to relinquish their own sense of place and time.

Remy Zaugg, 

Rémy Zaugg, Recording the Time of a Film Projection, 25 August 1990, with Reinhard Manz, René Pulfer and Kurt Würmili, view of the Sustenhorn from the Susten Pass, Bern

Rémy Zaugg, ‘Questions of Perception’
Reina Sofía - Palacio de Velázquez
31 March  28 August

The Swiss artist Rémy Zaugg (who died in 2005) assembled over the course of four decades a body of work that as analytical as it is elegant, as relentless as it is poetic. Sprawling through the Palacio Velázquez Palace in the Madrid’s Retiro Park, this large show offers an impressive overview of Zaugg’s work, including his 27 esquises perceptives d’un tableau (1963–68) a series of deconstructive studies of Cézanne’s Le Maison du Pendu (1873); Zaugg’s extended examination of Cézanne’s painting combines homage and challenge into a tour de force that recalls the theme-and-variation structure more common to musical composition. Zaugg’s later language-based works, looser in spatial composition but no less intense, continue to examine the perceptual and conceptual interplay of text and image. ‘Questions of Perception’ is a large show but does not feel like one: the cavernous Palacio de Velázquez allows the works ample breathing room, and its abundance of natural light provides welcome support to Zaugg’s programmatic use of colour in his paintings.

Teresa Lanceta, installation view, Casa Encendida

Teresa Lanceta, ‘Adios al rombo’, 2016, installation view, Casa Encendida, Madrid

Teresa Lanceta, ‘Adios al rombo’
Casa Encendida
10 June – 18 September

Teresa Lanceta, who is primarily a textile artist, has been collaborating with weavers in North Africa since the 1970’s: this exhibition brings together a compendium of her own work, her collaborations with the North African weavers, and the work of those uncannily skilled artisans themselves. Unlike traditional weaving, with its obedience to warp and weft, much of the work on view seems intentionally subversive, open to and even seeking asymmetry, improvisation and error. While not reaching the saturation level of a dealer’s shop in a bazaar, rugs are nonetheless everywhere in ‘Adios al rombo’: attached to walls, hanging from rods in the middle of rooms, splayed across tables and, yes, on the floor. The presentation also underscores the complex nature of these objects, combining powerful visual imagery with an equally powerful physical and textural presence; ultimately, however, the exhibition favours the visual, thus placing the works provocatively in contemporary debates on the nature of image-making.

Miroslav Tichý, Untitled, 1960–80, © Tichý Ocean Foundation, Prague

Miroslav Tichý, Untitled, 1960–80, © Tichý Oceán Foundation, Prague

Miroslav Tichý, ‘Miroslav Tichý or the Celebration of the Photographic Process’
Museo del Romanticismo
3 June – 28 August

It is oddly appropriate to present an exhibition of Miroslav Tichý’s work in a museum dedicated to Romanticism: Tichý’s work, while clearly voyeuristic (and while verging in an unsavoury way into ‘dirty old man’ territory) is, fundamentally, romantic. His images, blurred and awkwardly cropped, are invariably of young women, captured surreptitiously in various states of undress; and yet rather than objects of a creepy erotic fixation, the partially-viewed figures seem metonyms for life itself, a poetically rendered celebration of life force and life source. Moreover, Tichý printed, matted and framed his own work; his hand-crafted presentations, rife with imperfections, emphasize the artistic (albeit eccentric) intent driving the work. ‘Miroslav Tichý or the Celebration of the Photographic Process’ is quite small and yet also quite thorough: it includes early paintings by Tichý (much of his work was destroyed, often by himself); a fascinating example of one of his hand-rigged cameras; and an informative documentary video on Tichý with interviews of him, his neighbours, ‘subjects’ and others.

Andrea Robbins and Max Becher, Colonial Remains: Herero Day #6, 1991 © the artists

Andrea Robbins and Max Becher, Colonial Remains: Herero Day #6, 1991 © the artists

Andrea Robbins and Max Becher, ‘Displacements’
Museo ICO
1 June – 11 September

‘Displacements’ presents of hundreds of photographs, taken around the globe, of people, places and things embodying cultural cross-pollination to a mind-boggling degree. These include festive Germans dressed as Native Americans; Americans festively dressed as Germans; a Brooklyn town house replicated around the world to serve as headquarters for communities of Hassidic Jews; abandoned film-sets for Western movies in southern Spain; European-style buildings and monuments erected in China; German-built colonial structures crumbling in the deserts of Namibia; and, of course, Venice in Las Vegas. Playing with stereotypes is a dangerous game: they can just as easily blow up in your face as turn out to be duds. Moreover, it might be asked ‘well, what doesn’t represent a cultural overlay in this day and age?’ Nonetheless, the extremes captured by Robbins and Becher, combined with the works’ impeccable execution (as well as their repetitiveness) come together into a dizzying whole that induces in the viewer a sense of ‘displacement’ all its own.

Hieronymus Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights, 1490–1510, oil on oak panels, 2.2 cm × 3.9 m. Courtesy: Museo del Prado, Madrid

Hieronymus Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights, 1490–1510, oil on oak panels, 2.2 cm × 3.9 m. Courtesy: Museo del Prado, Madrid

Hieronymus Bosch, ‘Bosch. The Centenary Exhibition’
Museo del Prado
31 May – 11 September

Few biographical facts are known about the Netherlandish painter Hieronymus Bosch, but we do know that he died in August 1516, making this year the 500th anniversary of his death – which is as good an excuse as any for assembling an exhibition of his work. And biography apart, we also know that the strangeness of Bosch’s mind, as manifested in his fantastical imagery, was matched only by the astonishing skill and talent of his brush; 500 years later, Bosch’s work is as unsettling as it is ravishing. Organized by the venerable Prado museum (which possesses the world’s greatest trove of works by Bosch) ‘Bosch. The Centenary Exhibition’ gathers together 25 of Bosch’s few known works – including a few fascinating drawings – as well as a number of contemporaneous pieces, in various media, by Bosch’s peers, colleagues and assistants. It is glorious exhibition and offers an unparalleled opportunity to see, in a single setting, some of the most enduringly strange and beautiful paintings ever concocted.

Damián Ortega, Monumento, 2016, installation view, Palacio Cristal. Courtesy: Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía; photograph: Joaquín Cortés / Román Lores

Damián Ortega, ‘The Rocket and the Abyss’
Reina Sofía - Palacio de Cristal
5 May – 2 October

Installed in one of Madrid’s most beautiful structures – the Palacio de Cristal, a 19th century steel and glass building in the Retiro Garden – Damián Ortega’s sculptural exhibition ‘The Rocket and the Abyss’ offers a dark but not humourless take on 20th century notions of monumentality and progress. The exhibition consists of three large works. The centrepiece of the exhibition is a model of the Torre Latinoamérica, an iconic mid-20th century skyscraper (modelled on the Empire State Building) that stands in Mexico City atop a seismic fault-line. Ortega’s version is hung upside down by a steel cable and converted into a pendulum that is filled each day with black sand; the sand slowly leaks from the swinging, upside-down building’s tip, so that over the course of the day an ephemeral sand drawing is created beneath it. Similarly, Monumento (2016) is a saggy canvas mock-up of the Titanic, also hanging from the Palace’s ceiling, presented as the ship pitches into a semi-vertical position and begins to go under. Although related, Los pensamientos de Yamasaki takes a rather different form from the other works on view: the work centres around the infamous Pruitt-Igoe housing project in St. Louis, designed by Minoru Yamasaki (who went on to design the World Trade Center). Pruitt-Igoe was later demolished, having utterly failed in both its architectural and social mission. Ortega’s work consists of an installation of texts (fictional and theoretical) and assorted period objects (such as telephones, cameras and everyday furniture) that, like archeological remnants, obliquely conjure up an era. Like Claes Oldenburg, Ortega has revisited our enduring need for monumentality, but in Ortega’s case, via an examination of monumental failure.

George Stolz is a critic and curator based in New York, USA, and Madrid, Spain. He is currently working on the Juan Muñoz catalogue raisonné. 

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