The Best Exhibitions to See in Europe this Summer

From Kayode Ojo's synthetic opulence at Sweetwater, Berlin, to Jef Geys’s playful iconoclasm at Kunsthalle Bern

BY frieze in EU Reviews , Exhibition Reviews | 18 JUN 21

Dominique Knowles, Meena, 2018, oil on canvas, 213 x 457 cm. Courtesy: the artist and LAYR, Vienna; Photo:

Dominique Knowles

LAYR, Vienna, Austria

[A] sense of interspecies intimacy and co-dependency is evoked in ‘The Solemn and Dignified Burial Befitting My Beloved for All Seasons’, Dominique Knowles’s first solo exhibition at LAYR, Vienna. Meena (2018), a large-scale oil on canvas pinned directly to the wall, depicts an upright horse between two nude male figures – one standing, the other reclining. For the artist, who cites his childhood horse, Tazz, as his muse, these paintings are ‘metaphors for queer desire, or a quest for intimacy in general’, as he told Garage magazine in 2020. There is both beauty and melancholy in this attempt, which is reflected in the exhibited paintings’ muted tones. The show’s two titular works – smaller oils on wood panel – depict a chestnut horse against a brown background and a bird’s shadow fusing with a haze of deep earth tones. Both created in 2020, these paintings exude a sense of the collective grief of our current moment – an era of climate crisis, pandemic death and profound loss. – Francesca Gavin

Jef Geys, 2021, exhibition view, Kunsthalle Bern. Courtesy: KAZINI and Jef Geys Estate; photo: Stefan Burger

Jef Geys

Kunsthalle Bern, Switzerland

In the mid-1960s, the late Belgian artist Jef Geys accompanied his stepfather during his work as a cattle trader, where he made a discovery that fascinated him: cows were issued with ‘passports’. Using a card index system, the traders recorded each animal’s name, birthdate, ear-tag number, vaccination record and, within pre-printed outlines, even the markings on its hide. Geys appropriated this bureaucratic format for his series ‘Passeport de vache’ (Cow Passport, 1965–2014), in which he paired a photograph of a cow with a form that listed its birthdate, name and sex. Beneath this was a standardized black outline of the animal, which Geys filled with all manner of abstract patterns in a range of media, from coloured-pencil hatching to photo-collage. – Kito Nedo

Kayode Ojo, I Put all of my Energy into this Tower, 2021. Kiev 88, Alco 8601 Letterbox 31 x 36 x 15 cm Varnished Silver (5), mirrors, dimensions variable. Courtesy of the artist and Sweetwater, Berlin, Germany

Kayode Ojo

Sweetwater, Berlin, Germany

In ‘Call It What You Want’ – Kayode Ojo’s solo exhibition at Berlin-based gallery Sweetwater – a series of chandeliers hangs from two metal chains strung across the room like necklaces. Titled Up to Here (all works 2021), the installation suggests an opulence that is undercut by its materials: five of the eight chandeliers are made from acrylic in place of crystal. A similar deception is on display in I Put all of my Energy into this Tower, five mirror-plated letterboxes filled with components from the Kiev 88 – an inexpensive, medium-format camera based on the iconic Hasselblad. Named after a quote from Ben Wheatley’s 2015 film adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s class-based satire Hi-Rise (1975), it immediately brings to mind the kind of commodity-obsessed social climbers who populate the author’s novels. – Chloe Stead

Simon Fujiwara, 'Who the Bær', 2021, exhibition view, Fondazione Prada, Milan, Italy. Courtesy: the artist and Fondazione Prada, Milan

Simon Fujiwara

Fondazione Prada

Conceived during the first COVID-19 lockdown, ‘Who the Bær’, Simon Fujiwara’s current solo exhibition at Fondazione Prada, is the artist’s response to spending the past year living in a world almost entirely mediated by on-screen imagery. Overwhelmed by a period marked not only by the pandemic but also crucial social change, the artist sought refuge in drawing and collage, combining his own original characters with photographs and news stories culled from the internet – from Elon Musk’s space launch to the Black Lives Matter protests. In Milan, Fujiwara has extended this practice, creating a site-specific installation overflowing with collages, drawings, mixed-media sculptures and stop-motion animations dedicated to the adventures of an adorable cartoon bear that lends the exhibition its name. – Ana Vukadin

Susan Philipsz, Slow Fresh Fount, 2021, four channel sound installation and six steel barrels, dimensions variable. Courtesy: the artist and Konrad Fischer Galerie; photo: Roman März

Susan Philipsz

Konrad Fischer Galerie

'Whenever I enter a space that I am considering working with, whether it is a gallery or museum, a cistern in Italy or a silo in Brandenburg, I call into the space to measure its acoustics,’ says Susan Philipsz in the press release for her solo exhibition, ‘Slow Fresh Fount’, at Konrad Fischer Galerie. Characterized by its cathedral-like rooms and glass façade, the converted transformer station is an ideal venue for the artist, whose work explores how sound can sculpt our perceptions of space. – Sonja-Maria Borstner

Main Image: Jef Geys, 2021, exhibition view, Kunsthalle Bern. Courtesy: KAZINI and Jef Geys Estate; photo: Stefan Burger

Contemporary Art and Culture