We're pleased to continue presenting Exposures: An Aperture Blog, where fine-art photography enthusiasts around the world can interact with some of the most engaged professionals in the field. We welcome your comments.

22 June 2007

Native Tongues

Galicia has another peculiar story to it. The local dialect is almost exactly like Portuguese. Long ago, the king of Galicia made a pact with the king of Portugal to work together economically and against the Spanish. When the king of Castille heard of this, he sent his troops to the kingdom of Galicia and conquered the area; it later became the Spain we know.

The people of Galicia are (like the Basques and the Catalanes) proud of their own culture and language and they always say that the Spanish cannot understand them, but they can understand the Spanish. Here too local culture, language, and habits are too strong to disappear.

21 June 2007

Sculpture Project 07 Münster

I have just spent a few days at the new Sculpture Project 07 in Münster. This is the fourth installment of a city sculpture project that happens every ten years. If it's not too soon to judge, past years have been much, much stronger. Still there was much to see.

(You may find the official Skulptur Projekte Münster 07 website at http://www.skulptur-projekte.de/. If you don’t wish to read the site in the original Deutsche, note the “English” link at page bottom.)

On the first evening, we bravely struck out on our own without a guide. What followed was a farcical Roland Barthes treasure hunt. We had a map with the general location of the work, a list of artists, and a few titles. Armed with that, we were quickly reduced to pointing at random objects asking, "Is that a sculpture?” “Is that a sculpture?” is THAT a sculpture?" To be sure, we found a few of the obvious works: Martha Rosler, Isa Genzken, and Hans-Peter Feldman for example. But something like Mark Wallinger's circle of fishing line mounted six yards above our heads and extending most of the way around the inner city completely escaped notice.

The next day our group was given a docent/guide. If you go to Münster, this is the way to go. There is just no way to find all the work on display without help. Our guide was incredibly knowledgeable, helpful, and articulate.

The highlights for me were few. Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster explored memory and nostalgia by creating a mini-theme park of 1/4 sized reproductions of many of the sculptures from previous years. Her idea is that, since this is the fourth installment of the Project, and our memory stores only about one-quarter of what we see, her miniatures recreate a semblance of what we really remember. When I was there, the park was filled with squealing children and families having the best time crawling on and around all the mini-sculptures. To see a Richard Serra in 1/4 size is to really understand what scale does for his work. I loved everything about this—its accessibility, its multi-layered meaning, and its combination of child-like pleasure mixed with real intellectual rigor. Great.

Bruce Nauman submitted plans for an inverted pyramid for a previous fair that was never built. The result, which was built this year, is remarkable; defined negative space that rewards the eye from many vantage points.

Susan Philipsz had a sound installation under a bridge that was quite haunting. Singing the “Barcarolle” from Offenbach's Tales of Hoffmann, her voice was projected by speakers from each side of the river. The score is based on The Story of the Lost Reflection by the German Romantic writer E.T.A. Hoffmann. It is the story of the seductive yet unfortunately vicious charm of the courtesan Giulietta, whose spell men cannot resist, thereby losing their own reflection, so that neither their wives nor their children are able to recognize them. It was creepy fun.

Coming up in a few weeks: Rencontre de la Photographie from Arles, France.

20 June 2007

Corn House

The little stone house you see is built to keep corn from rats. The ten stone legs all have big flat round stones on top of them and it’s on top of that the house is built. This way, the rats cannot come past the round flat stones and thus not into the corn house. The buildings are very old and typical for this area in the north of Spain.


On a bus between Documenta and Münster.

I've just spent two days at Documenta. It wasn't nearly enough. Unlike Venice and Basel, it wasn't really crowded, but there was so much to see and digest that two days seemed only enough for a rough overview.

Documenta prides itself on being firmly anti-art market, as well as having a deep
intellectual foundation. I found myself at a disadvantage by not buying the extensive catalog and ancillary magazines, which provided ample supporting essays and information. Other than the art, there just isn't that much information available in the galleries. In some cases that was okay. Either the art spoke for itself or there was some other pleasure to be found in the works. But other times, one just really needed help. The information on the wall tags was spare and merely factual in most cases. I was left wanting more.

I’ll give an example from work I know and love. Zoe Leonard’s set of three hundred-plus photos, documenting the demise of her Lower East Side neighborhood, which morphs into her tracking of piles of donated clothes to Africa, was offered at two sites. The first site presented the complete portfolio of work. The second site had her suite of forty photos culled from the larger set, which she has sumptuously printed using the dye transfer process. I can make up my own stories about this beautiful work. I especially love the dye transfer set. But if I didn’t know that there was a complete and engaging narrative explicit in the work, I would never know it without a guide or by buying the catalog. Call me lazy or cheap, but I think a curator owes me a bit more.

Also on display were two South African photographers whose work I admire: Guy Tillims and David Goldblatt. Their solid emotional message combined with satisfying formal footing made their work stand out to me against the large collection of ‘70s conceptual work that was everywhere at this Documenta.

Other notable photography was hard to find. One of the standout works to me was a sculpture by the Brazilian artist Iole de Freitas. Her work takes over architectural space like a virus. In this case, it even spilled through the walls to start again outside, and pierced the outer walls again to move inside. It looked like art had invaded the building and taken its basic form for nourishment, growing in any direction like kudzu. Fabulous. For me, it mirrored the work of Monica Sosnowska at the Polish pavilion at the Venice Biennial. Both artists invade their space in dramatic, telling, and satisfying ways. They were two of the best things I saw in my whole trip.

19 June 2007

On To Basel

For those of you who haven’t been to Basel, take note: it’s huge. Forget about the satellites or the corollary museum shows. There is more art here than one could ever see in one place. An art market Uffizi. A super-sized Warhol, Rothko, Picasso Big Mac mega meal. With fries.

[For information on the next two Art Basel exhibitions: this year's Art Basel Miami and Art 39 Basel, go to www.artbasel.com.]

I thought I had seen big shows. I've been to Art Basel Miami, Art Forum in Berlin, FIAC in Paris and Paris Photo, but this is the mother ship. The catalog has the heft of a phone book. I thought I had chops to absorb loads of art in an art fair environment. This was too much even for me. After a day spent zig-zagging through a seemingly endless maze of galleries and installations, I was hard-pressed to remember a single thing I’d seen.

But... it’s my job to remember something, right? So here goes.

Blue chip is the name of the game here, and photography is no exception. I found some of the great photo galleries of the world strutting their stuff. Rudolf Kicken´s booth had beautiful examples of vintage Otto Steinert, Ryuji Miyamoto, and Christoph Stromholm, in addition to relative newcomer Götz Diergarten. Mr.Kicken always has a fantastic booth.

Jeffrey Fraenkel had a marvelous small installation of portraits from the collection of Richard Avedon alongside a number of smaller scale portraits by Mr. Avedon. It was sublime.

But the treat for me was a gallery that may be less well-known to Americans. Francoise and Alain Paviot have been running a first-rate gallery in Paris for twenty years. They specialize in 19th century French photography; Man Ray; Brassai; and a well-curated collection of newer artists. Their booth was a revelation. First off there was a large Dieter Appelt twelve-piece installation. Very dark and conceptual, as his work always is, but very emotional in this case, too. Also on view were five very early Edward Weston nude studies. I had never seen anything like them. There was much more. Truly a gallery to check out.

Of course, there were all the big names you would expect: Becher, Gursky, Struth, Sugimoto, Lawler, Sherman, et al. But you knew that, didn’t you?

More later, on some of the satellite fairs, and then on to Documenta in Kassel. The caravan continues!

18 June 2007

Chop Wood

In the hills above Portosin we found a couple of interesting people. One of them was a woman who lived alone with her two dogs. She must have been well over sixty years old, yet she showed us how she still chopped her wood for the fireplace.It was a way of chopping as I never had seen before: she would hit the wood with her axe and then she would hit the chopping block again with the back of the axe first and the wood-to-be-chopped on top of it. She did it with great precision and it worked out great.

Venice Biennial, Part II

Just a few more notes in passing about the Venice pavilions. I know this is a photo-centric blog, but Venice has so much great non-photo art, it's hard not to mention a few highlights.

The Korean Pavilion had the work of artist Hyungkoo Lee.Mr. Lee imagines a world where we have invested so much into the characters in our cartoon, animatronic, and fantasy worlds, that they can actually become something corporeal. He has meticulously recreated skeletons of the likes of Tom and Jerry and presented them as some kind of fabulous blend of Hanna-Barbera and a natural history museum. The first pass is one of fun and humor, but of course deeper waters lie under the cartoon surface. This was a great show and an artist whom I want to see more of.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am no fan of large art for the sake of largeness. When it works, though, there is no denying its power. El Anatsui had just such a piece in the Arsenale section of the Biennial. He "wove" thousands upon thousands of bottle caps (and in another case, the metal wrappers from the tops of liquor bottles) into a tapestry that must have been thirty feet high and twenty feet across.From across a large room, the work seems to be spun of gold and precious fibers. It has a look of antiquity, like loot from faraway lands.But as you come closer, you realize the humble thread of this tapestry; it's the detritus of a consumer society writ large and gorgeous.I can't stop thinking about it.