Highlights 2014 – Saim Demircan

My favourite exhibitions over the past year were notable for serendipitous encounters with artists both familiar and new to me. Marsden Hartley's show at Berlin’s Neue Nationalgalerie, Die deutschen Bilder 1913-1915, for example, was one such surprise. His brightly coloured paintings – often of collaged military insignia – reflected the formative years the American modernist painter spent in Europe. Yet the artist’s estranged sexuality was an underlying subtext, and his love for the soldier Karl von Freybourg, who died in the First World War, is evident in Portrait of a German Officer (1914); the centerpiece of this touchingly put together show. Also in Berlin, Marc Camille Chaimowicz turned Galerie Neu’s new space into an aviary for his show Forty by Forty, which featured the artist’s bespoke Italian-designed vases together with utilitarian pieces by Klara Lidén and Manfred Pernice – all of which played host to forty canaries who inhabited the exhibition throughout its duration. In a dilapidated altbau in Kreuzberg, Isabella Bortolozzi Galerie displayed a series of sado-erotic drawings by Pierre Klossowski. Hanging on crumbling walls, or in front of casually draped black cloth, a faint air of decadence lingered in and around the apartment, which became a theatrical set piece for Klossowski’s dubious scenes of illicit activity. This incredible show created a lasting impression.

BY Saim Demircan in Critic's Guides | 24 DEC 14

At Deborah Schamoni’s gallery in Munich, Anna Imhof successfully replaced the corporeality of her performances with suggestive, disembodied physical components, rather than resorting to filmed documentation or leftover props. Since Munich’s Lenbachhaus reopened last year, it has delivered two very different but equally stellar shows in 2014 beginning with group show Playtime, which used Jacques Tati’s eponymous 1967 film as inspiration to host pieces by artists that collectively addressed and critiqued issues of work. More recently the museum mounted the first substantial presentation of Florine Stettheimer’s paintings in Germany, which was something of a rare privilege considering a large number of the artist’s fragile work resides in various institutions in the USA. One could sense not only how much her work has resonated stylistically with later generations but also how her salons are relatable to modern social networks, from those in 1990s Germany to the contemporary communities frieze d/e editor Pablo Larios wrote about in his piece Network Fatigue for this magazine earlier in the year.

Elsewhere, Dorota Jurczak’s wonderful show titled Zapałki – the Polish for ‘matches’ – at Marc Jancou in New York was, appropriately enough, populated with paintings and sculpture of anthropomorphized matchstick heads, among other fantastical characters such as a bespectacled, mustachioed figure in the etching Flascher: wiezowiec, wiatraczek, wujek (2014). Fiber Sculpture 1960 – present at the ICA in Boston was at first sight a perplexing hypothesis for a show but ended as a terrific counter narrative to familiar historical canons, weaving marginalized practices of ‘fibre art’ into the context in which they were made.

In London Kai Althoff turned Michael Werner gallery into a quintessentially poetic environment – his latest Fanal LP playing quietly on a record player as one entered. Back in Germany I found the fatigued minimalism of Kitty Kraus’ sculptural installations sensitively handled at the Kestnergesellschaft in Hanover. Another surprise was Steven Shearer’s apocryphal suite of paintings at Galerie Eva Presenhuber in Zurich. One floor up at the Kunsthalle in the Löwenbräu, in what was nevertheless also a great show, the paintings in Jana Euler’s Where The Energy Comes From seemed positively tumultuous in comparison to Shearer’s understated, ambiguous canvases. Other exhibitions of note were Zum Beispiel Schlossbesitze by Katharina Wulff at Fürstenberg Zeitgenössisch, Philip Guston at Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt and Neïl Beloufa’s Counting on People at the ICA in London.

The hat trick of David Fincher’s Gone Girl, David Cronenberg’s Maps To The Stars and Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler were sinister, darkly comic and enjoyable commentaries on contemporary TV media, celebrity and vampirism. I don’t mind admitting that I enjoyed former Troma filmmaker James Gunn’s campy, sci-fi space opera Guardians of the Galaxy. At the other end of the spectrum, Stephan Geene created a one-to-one portrait of contemporary Berlin in Umsonst while Laura Poitras’ mesmerizing Citizenfour captured a defining moment.

Despite having made music for years, the sprechgesang of Sleaford Mods’ vitriolic Divide and Exit provided an apt soundtrack for present-day Britain. Artist Abel Auer introduced me to Die Nerven & Karies, two bands out of Stuttgart who share the compulsive drumming of Kevin Kuhn. Other bands I’ve enjoyed this year were the Munich-based Friends of Gas and Das Weisse Pferd, Brighton-based surf-psych three-piece The Wytches, Jan St. Werner’s Candomblé ensemble Black Manual and the always-amazing Bo Ningen.

Several works of fiction by artists deserve mention: Unlawful Assembly by Lucy McKenzie and Alan Michael; The Drumhead by Gerry Bibby, and Come On by Peter Wächler. While the narrative of Scott King’s comic strip Anish and Anthony Take Afganhistan was deliberately absurd, it nevertheless provided a trenchant critique of artistic instrumentalization in the field of public art.

The ‘po-mo’ mock-reportage of Casey Jane Ellison’s Touching The Art; Brian Droitcour’s Vernacular Criticism and Sarah Nicole Prickett’s Truth or Dare article for Artforum’s ‘Scene and Herd’ all showed that there were positive signs of gonzo-criticality online. Tate Live’s stream of Cally Spooner’s He’s in a Great Place! (A film trailer for And You Were Wonderful, On Stage) succeeded in transposing the ‘liveness’ at the heart of the artist’s ongoing project into a format that acted as both culmination and precursor.

And finally honourable mention to artists Allison Katz, Veit Laurent Kurz, Julien Nyguen, Magali Reus, Rachel Rose, Cameron Roweland, and Gili Tal, as well as projects such as Aaron Angell’s Troy Town Art Pottery in London, Calla Henkel and Max Pitegoff’s New Theater in Berlin and Mirja Reuter and Maximiliane Baumgartner’s collaborative performances True Lives of Performers; all of whom I’ve followed with interest this year and will continue to next year.

Things to look forward to in 2015 … Ryan McLaughlin’s solo presentation at the Kölnisher Kunstverein; Lynn Hershman Leeson inaugurating Bridget Donahue’s new gallery on the Bowery; Mark Leckey at Haus der Kunst in Munich and Simon Denny and Flaka Haliti representing New Zealand and Kosovo respectively at the next Venice Biennale.

Saim Demircan is a curator and writer. He lives in Turin, Italy. He recently curated ‘Exhibition as Image’ at 80WSE, New York, USA.