in Frieze Masters | 19 OCT 20

Artists’ Artists: Part Three

Petrit Halilaj, Brook Andrew, Guendalina Cerruti, Peter Graham, Mira Schor, Elisa Sighicelli and Sung Tieu select works by some of their favourite artists

in Frieze Masters | 19 OCT 20

Petrit Halilaj nominates the work of Alije Vokshi

Alije Vokshi, who was born in 1945, was the first woman to have access to an academic painting education in Kosovo. She recalls that her first drawings were realized by sliding her finger along a condensed window. She was always happy when the weather was cold outside so that moisture would form on the glass. These drawings were soon erased by the shifting temperature, marking the inevitable passing of time; calling to mind all of the traces that are lost, all of the artistic practices that are actively neglected or simply ignored by the dominant history of art. Most of these lost traces belonged to female artists. Growing up painting and playing basketball – very unusual activities for a woman in Kosovo at the time – Vokshi struggled to affirm her art and vision in a male-dominated society that was not ready to receive her work. Despite the resistance she fought, she ultimately arrived to leave an important trace. Today, her work is well known in Kosovo, but she has never been exhibited abroad. Her practice deserves international attention.

Petrit Halilaj is an artist who lives between Germany, Kosovo and Italy. His solo exhibition at Retiro Park, Palacio de Cristal, Reina Sofia, Madrid, Spain runs until 28 February 2021; his solo show at Tate St Ives, St Ives, UK will open in Spring, 2021. 

Jimmie Durham, Malinche, 1988-1992, guava, pine branches, oak, snakeskin, polyester bra soaked in acrylic resin and painted gold, watercolor, cactus leaf, canvas, cotton cloth, metal, rope, feathers, plastic jewelry, glass eye, 177 × 60 × 89 cm. Courtesy: the artist, SMAK, Ghent; photograph: Dirk Pauwels
Jimmie Durham, Malinche, 1988–1992, guava, pine branches, oak, snakeskin, polyester bra soaked in acrylic resin and painted gold, watercolour, cactus leaf, canvas, cotton cloth, metal, rope, feathers, plastic jewelry, glass eye, 177 × 60 × 89 cm. Courtesy: the artist, SMAK, Ghent; photograph: Dirk Pauwels

Brook Andrew nominates Jimmie Durham’s Malinche (1988–92)

Whenever I walk into a gallery or community space where artworks are being made, presented, installed, moved about or performed – either through ceremony or spoken word – I want to connect with the artist. I like to be surprised by an uprising, a non-Western experience. When I visited Jimmie Durham’s exhibition ‘At the Center of the World’ at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 2017, I remember two things: one, the whiteness of the gallery walls; two, spinning around on the heels of my shoes, my eyes darting from experience to experience. Other people were also darting around the works, the words, the journey – Jimmie’s journey. Jimmie has a way of spinning people. Suddenly, a member of the public got down on their knees, gave penance and prayed to the sculpture Malinche (1988–92).

Malinche is based on the Indigenous Nahua woman La Malinche. (The Nahuas are Indigenous to Mexico, El Salvador and parts of Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.) An interpreter and cultural mediator for the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés, who destroyed the Aztec Nation, Malinche was also, apparently, Cortés’s mistress and slave. But that is not her true story; that is the version of Spanish historical record. It’s like Bennelong, the Wangal man from now-a-days Sydney, who, in the late 18th century, was kidnapped by Governor Phillip and became an interpreter and cultural mediator for the British colonists. We, as an Indigenous community, only really know him through British historical record – and some think of him as a traitor.

The creation of Malinche by Jimmie in 1988 coincided with the bicentenary of the British claiming the more than 300 Indigenous territories now called Australia – but many do not know that Australia was not settled without a fight. The Frontier Wars raged for more than 170 years with many massacres, fierce guerrilla resistance and attempted genocide. Though 1988 was a year full of land rights rallies in Australia – the call for a treaty was loud and clear – by the end of the 20th century, the History Wars stifled public debate, and conservative politicians and commentators continued to claim that Australia was ‘discovered’. In 1992, the year Malinche was completed, many in the Americas, Jimmie included, were involved in uprisings and cultural activism protesting the quincentenary celebrations of Christopher Columbus’s landing in Guanahani. That same year in Australia, the Mabo case was finally successful in establishing native title in the Australian legal system and abolishing the fiction of terra nullius: nobody’s land.

I see all of these interlinked histories confronted in Malinche’s eyes. Speaking loud against conquest and ongoing battles is essential for our cultures to live on and for our lands and livelihoods to be maintained. In Australia, this is controversial because it acknowledges that our lands were invaded illegally under international law, as no treaties were made with Indigenous peoples. This denial of sovereignty and subsequent genocide leads straight to the current issues of deaths in custody and the continual removal of Indigenous children from their families – causes that find solidarity with the Black Lives Matters movement.

Predictably, perhaps, the man at the Whitney who prayed to Malinche was deemed suspicious by the security guards and backups were radioed in to move him along. Ceremony, acts of longing and awkward moments in formal galleries may seem strange but, for me, Malinche and the man praying to her are reminders of the entanglements and complications of histories: what is invisible in the vibrant violence of inheritance and how this spews forth in art and through the identities of artists and their personal investigations of cultural legacies. Thank you, Jimmie and thank you to that man who got down on his knees and made things complicated. Interestingly, Malinche looks like Jimmie – maybe it’s a kind of self-portrait, too. I am glad that these voices are in the museums and institutions that tried to crush us and forget about us. Now, here we are, increasingly in this space, and you love us.

Brook Andrew is a Wiradjrui / Celtic artist, based in Melbourne, Australia. This year, he was artistic director of ‘NIRIN’, the 22nd Biennale of Sydney, and his work was also exhibited at musée du quai Branly, Paris, France, and Nest, the Hague, the Netherlands. He is Associate Professor Fine Art, Monash University and Enterprise Professor Interdisciplinary Practice, University of Melbourne.

Robert Gober, The Silly Sink, 1985, plaster, wood, steel, wire lath, semi-gloss enamel paint, 160 × 84 × 74 cm. Courtesy: ©​​ Robert Gober and Matthew Marks Gallery; photograph: John D. Kramer
Robert Gober, The Silly Sink, 1985, plaster, wood, steel, wire lath, semi-gloss enamel paint, 160 × 84 × 74 cm. Courtesy: ©​​ Robert Gober and Matthew Marks Gallery; photograph: John D. Kramer

Guendalina Cerruti nominates Robert Gober’s The Silly Sink (1985)

Robert Gober’s sculpture The Silly Sink is the first work of art I fell in love with.

Robert Gober’s sinks are more like people than objects. Their deep, tiny eyes look at you like they’re about to tell you a secret or they’re ready to keep yours. 

Robert Gober’s sinks – especially The Silly Sink – have always been very good friends of mine.

I hope that one day I will manage to create an object with a similar emotional depth and sense of intimacy.

Guendalina Cerruti lives in London, UK and Milan, Italy. This year her work has been included in exhibitions at Rolando Anselmi Galerie, Rome, Italy; Treignac Project, Treignac, France; Greengrassi, London; and K-gold Contemporary, Lesvos, Greece. 

Michelangelo, Christ on the Cross Between the Virgin and St John, c.1555-1564, black chalk and white lead on paper, 41 x 29 cm. Courtesy: British Museum, London
Michelangelo, Christ on the Cross Between the Virgin and St John, c.1555-1564, black chalk and white lead on paper, 41 x 29 cm. Courtesy: British Museum, London

Peter Graham nominates Michelangelo’s Christ on the Cross Between the Virgin and St John (c.1555–1564) 

In 2019, I made an appointment to view this work in the Prints and Drawings study room at The British Museum. It is one of a small group of late drawings of the Crucifixion in which Michelangelo ignored conventional standards of finish, did not use a model and was not working towards some future plan. Therefore, this was not a presentation drawing – more like a trace of the artist’s innermost being; an emanation grafted directly from the mind like a rare fossil. 

This strong sense of interior vision radiates throughout the drawing and diminishes the relevance of an outside world, so that the image seems to harbour an insular awareness of itself, separate to anything we might bring to it. The work’s many reconfigurations of form and pentimenti suggest that the artist’s physical act of drawing was a meditation upon the drawing’s own coming into being; on how a fleeting spirit is made manifest in our frail bodies, as the shifting nature of mind is made concrete within fading mediums of art. When I lifted this fragile artefact from its storage, I remember a kind of sadness that such a slight thing could contain immeasurably expressive potency, and that human endeavour of such sensitive yearning could be recorded at all, yet so easily be lost, destroyed, overlooked. It seemed to me as if the two figures at the base of the cross were contorting in response to their sudden exposure to my presence, or to the drama of their own depiction, having been alerted to their entombment within the mythic space of the picture plane. These figures wrestle tangibly with the crises of embodiment, as if expressing a physical response to representation as a state of being; their reaction even implying acknowledgment of their vulnerability at the mercy of the artist’s hand. 

The work resonated for me with a deep anxiety that underpins humanity’s longing beyond an incorruptible connection to matter. It made me feel as though black chalk and white lead might encase all of our restless souls and that the cross on the hill is not just a kind of spiritual launching pad, but an anchor in the sky.

In these lovely smudges Michelangelo seems to suggest that maybe after Christ got pinned to the air, the rest of us were left to break out of materiality like entombed ghosts, awaiting the release of our Creator like it was an artist’s divine touch. 

Peter Graham is an artist who lives in Melbourne, Australia. His work is in collections including The British Museum, The National Gallery of Australia and the National Gallery of Victoria. 

Ida Applebroog, Marginalia (trio), 1995, oil and resin gel on canvas, 3 panels, installation size variable. Courtesy: © Ida Applebroog and Hauser & Wirth; photograph: Emily Poole
Ida Applebroog, Marginalia (trio), 1995, oil and resin gel on canvas, 3 panels, installation size variable. Courtesy: © Ida Applebroog and Hauser & Wirth; photograph: Emily Poole

Mira Schor nominates Ida Applebroog’s Marginalia (Trio) (1995)

Ida Applebroog once caught me in the act of feeling up one of her paintings while she had stepped out of the room. ‘How like a painter,’ she said (or something to that effect), a seeming contradiction that I understood perfectly; how like a painter to grasp the sculptural nature of painting. Its illusionism or its flatness is only one aspect of the medium: the tactile and the sculptural is as important as the representational. 

We meet Applebroog’s life-sized triptych, Marginalia (Trio) (1995), face to face. Or, rather, it meets us and stops us in our tracks. On each panel is a life-sized figure – two boys in their underwear and on the left an older woman, slightly taller yet somehow slighter, lifting her left leg and pouring out a thin stream. Each of the three figures is created from thick palette knife slabs of deep crimson oil and resin gel paint, such that the liquid emanating from under her skirt is indeterminate in nature – everything here is blood red. 

This bleeding/peeing older figure is a thunderbolt in the history of women’s representation, in part because the passionate intensity of the colour and texture is contradicted by her non-committal expression. She is doing something seemingly abject, but there is no exhibitionism nor bravado – she simply is doing it, right in front of us, in our space. These paintings are not windows into a world: because they are free-standing on the floor we also stand on, they are like full-length mirrors, so that we are the people in the painting. I, the female viewer, am the bleeding/peeing figure I’m looking at. 

Twenty years after I first saw this work, I painted the older woman artist still leaking blood, despite having a death’s head, but I had so thoroughly internalized the impact of and the permission given by Applebroog’s work that I temporarily forgot it was her image, redux. 

Mira Schor is an artist and writer based in New York, USA. Her show ‘HERE/THEN, THERE/NOW’ is on view at Fabian Lang Gallery, Zurich, Switzerland, until 14 November. 

Carla Accardi, Rossogiallo, 1968, Acrylic on sicofoil, 138 × 69cm. Courtesy: the artist, Andrew Kreps Gallery and Bortolami, New York.
Carla Accardi, Rossogiallo, 1968, Acrylic on sicofoil, 138 × 69cm. Courtesy: the artist, Bortolami, Kaufmann Repetto and Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York

Elisa Sighicelli nominates Carla Accardi, Rossogiallo (1968)

Carla Accardi’s freedom and rigour have always influenced me. Although her painting practice developed constantly, over the course of her long experimental journey she maintained a restless exploration of the relationship between the subject, her marks and the background. In the 1950s her works played with an interchangeable dichotomy of black and white: she made you wonder where the foreground ended and the background began. Later, she made contrasting colours of the same strength vibrate together, rendering the painting unstable.

In the 1960s she started painting on sicofoil, a transparent plastic that allows you to see simultaneously the different spatial planes. In Rossogiallo (1968), a layer of yellow marks overlaps with pink ones, but most importantly you can see the real wall behind the paint. The transparency of the background activates the space beyond the picture plane. The physical space, the one the viewer actually inhabits, becomes part of the painting. Representation incorporates reality whilst at the same time the painted marks expand through it. Their boundary becomes unstable. Reality seen through transparency indicates an element of uncertainty between the viewer and the world.

This indeterminacy between representation and reality makes me feel close to her, along with her fearless desire always to explore new variables of the grammar of her language. She never stopped exploring because one thing worked.

Elisa Sighichelli is an artist who lives in Turin, Italy. In 2019, she had a solo exhibition at the Museo di Villa Pignatelli, Naples, Italy. Earlier this year, she had a solo presentation at Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, Turin. Her solo exhibition at Rossi & Rossi, Hong Kong, runs until 14 November 2020. In December, she will have a solo show at 55 Walker, New York, USA. 

Cerith Wyn Evans, Dreammachine, 1998, installation view. Courtesy: the artist and White Cube, London
Cerith Wyn Evans, Dream Machine, 1998, installation view. Courtesy: the artist and White Cube, London 

Sung Tieu nominates Cerith Wyn Evans, Dream Machine (1998) 

The first exhibition by Cerith Wyn Evans that I encountered in person was ‘c=l=e=a=v=e’ at Galerie Buchholz in 2015. Different arrangements of single and multiple ultra-thin, two metre-high neon tubes in slightly different shades, entitled Leaning Horizons, rested against the blank gallery walls. Some were accompanied by Katagami Screens, vertical monochrome grids that mimicked the glare of the strip lights. With the most minimalist of gestures, he got me dreaming. By the time I was back home, I read what I could find about Wyn Evans’s recreations of Brion Gysin’s Dreamachines and my head kept spinning in fascination.

Sung Tieu lives between Berlin, Germany and London, UK. Earlier this year, she had solo exhibitions at Nottingham Contemporary, UK and Haus der Kunst, Munich, Germany. Her current solo show “What is your |x|?” at Emalin, London, runs until 7 November 2020. 

Main image: Alije Vokshi, Dy fytyrat (Two Faces) detail, 2005–07, oil on canvas. Courtesy: the artist