The Best European Exhibitions to Visit This Month

From Vojtěch Kovařík's monumental depictions of Hercules at Mendes Wood DM, Brussels to Birke Gorm's dishevelled jute mannequins at the Museum of Applied Arts, Vienna

in EU Reviews , Exhibition Reviews | 19 MAY 23

Vojtěch Kovařík

Mendes Wood DM, Brussels

19 April – 27 May

Vojtěch Kovařík, Hercules and Omphale, 2023, exhibition view, Mendes Wood DM. Courtesy: the artist
Vojtěch Kovařík, Hercules and Omphale, 2023, exhibition view, Mendes Wood DM. Courtesy: the artist

The statuesque figures in Kovařík’s paintings emote through gestures of classical sculpture. As a child, the artist and his siblings were shepherded by their parents to various museums and, every summer, from their home in Czech Republic to Greece, familiarising them with classical mythology as well as with the canons of painting and sculpture. The kaleidoscopic collage of influences is evident. The viewer can perceive, in the treatment of figures, the intentional maladdress of Pablo Picasso’s neoclassical period and, in the approach to colour and texture, the bold language of advertising as interpreted by Fernand Léger. There is the monumentality and solemnity of the sculptural figures of art deco, as well as something of the exuberance of socialist realism. –Wilson Tarbox

‘The Chimera Complex’

Mai 36, Zurich

31 March – 27 May

‘The Chimera Complex’, 2023, exhibition view, Mai 36, Zurich. Courtesy: the artists and Mai 36, Basel; photograph: Loana Lenz
‘The Chimera Complex’, 2023, exhibition view, Mai 36, Zurich. Courtesy: the artists and Mai 36, Basel; photograph: Loana Lenz

All five artists in ‘The Chimera Complex’ are from Italy and the show is grounded in the notion that the peninsula’s successive civilizations share a fascination for the chthonic – something to which, curator Antonio Grulli argues, the countless artistic and literary depictions of Roman and Etruscan mythological underworlds (Hades and Charun, respectively) would seemingly attest. In Jacopo Benassi’s Ercole (Hercules, 2023), this fascination turns into a fetishization. One of five wall-based works that uses tension belts to hold a shrine-like selection of objects and images, it comprises an erotic black and white photograph of bare, upturned feet and a plaster bas-relief of the titular Hercules, whose twelfth and final task, according to Greek legend, was to capture Cerberus, the three-headed hound of Hades. –Paolo Baggi

Rosemarie Trockel

MMK, Frankfurt am Main

10 December 2022 – 18 June 2023


Rosemarie Trockel, Sabine, 1994, Courtesy: Sprüth Magers, © Rosemarie Trockel & VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2022
Rosemarie Trockel, Sabine, 1994. Courtesy: Sprüth Magers, © Rosemarie Trockel & VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2022

To write about Rosemarie Trockel is to enter the ranks of the bewildered. In 1988, reviewing the German artist’s exhibition at New York’s Museum of Modern Art for Art in America, Ken Johnson encountered assemblages that appeared ‘as puzzles, which produced the tantalizing feeling that you might be able to figure them out’. After unearthing a couple of Freudian puns in Trockel’s work, Johnson bowed to the fact that they presented only ‘flickering hints’ of sense. It didn’t much matter to Trockel what Johnson could or couldn’t figure out. ‘I keep my eyes open,’ she told artist Jutta Koether in a rare 1987 conversation for Flash Art, ‘and I trust them more than the words of the critics.’ Given how often those words fall short, her point is well made, though not without a dose of anti-intellectual revanchism. –Mitch Speed

Birke Gorm

Museum of Applied Arts, Vienna

1 February – 25 June

Birke Gorm, sit-up (4), 2022, jute, wastepaper, rusty metal scraps, textile scraps, glass, 140 × 165 × 280 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Croy Nielsen, Vienna; Photograph: ©
Birke Gorm, sit-up (4), 2022, jute, wastepaper, rusty metal scraps, textile scraps, glass, 1.4 × 1.7 × 2.8 m. Courtesy: the artist and Croy Nielsen, Vienna; Photograph: ©

Birke Gorm studied both painting (University of Fine Arts, Hamburg) and sculpture (Academy of Fine Arts, Vienna), but it is textile design – which she learned in Denmark, where she grew up – that is the true driver of her practice. Her works in jute are a case in point. These began with the series ‘I Can Smile at the Past’ (2018–ongoing), which draws on scenes from one of Europe’s oldest Totentanz murals (Dance of Death, c.1435–40), likely painted by Konrad Witz for the city of Basel in response to an outbreak of bubonic plague in 1439. Formed from single sheets of light-brown jute, the threads of which the artist unravelled then restitched, Gorm’s textile panels feature life-sized skeletons caught in a frenetic dance, except there is no one around to follow them. In alluding to the common cultural trope of death as the ultimate equalizer while simultaneously emphasizing the manual labour undergirding her work, Gorm articulates a recurring rift in the social tissue that returns with all tectonic shifts across the globe, including the Great Plague. –Krzysztof Kościuczuk

Main image: Rosemarie Trockel, exhibition view, MMK, Frankfurt am Main. Courtesy: the artist & VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn; photo: Frank Sperling