Category Archives: modernism

Toilet of Modern Art, Vienna

I’m not even going to mention the most famous toilet in modern art, but here’s another pretender to the throne, no pun intended.

Hundertwasser was an Viennese architect. His quirky creations are a guide book mainstay, with their undulating floors and irregular windows. Coach parties love him.

Just streets apart in the East of the city are the playful KunstHausWien, and a co-designed apartment block called Hundertwasser House. Both are equally tacky, equally welcoming.

And I would defy even the most hardline modernist not to get sucked into the gaudy arcade opposite. It was so cold in late November, aesthetics were barely a consideration.

This busy market is where you will find the so-called Modern Art Toilet. Which proved so irrestistable, I forked over 60 cents for a service I did not at the time require.

Aside from some crazy tiling effects and cracked mirrors, it was not all that different from a less artistic toilet. But there was an option to wash hands in a fountain.

Ahead of me in the queue were a delegation of elderly Italians. The turnstiles kept rejecting their money and they were exhibiting symptoms of toilet rage.

This may not be exactly what Hundertwasser had in mind. But this art nouveau hippy does have an eye for the main chance. Upstairs you could buy posters and prints of his artwork.

But say what you like about his nemesis, Adolf Loos. The more sober local architect, with his ‘devil’s tools’ (straight lines, according to Hundertwasser), has much more desirable merch.

And his buildings do not pander to your inner child. Only streets away is a prime example built by his student Paul Engelmann and his friend Ludwig Wittgenstein.

It’s a notorious fact that elements such as doorhandles took a year each to design. But still, one has no real desire to turn them and enter this villa of good taste. Perhaps that is the point.

Is it me, or are these washbasins over selling themselves here?

The door is locked. Come back when you’ve read Tractatus and make an appointment.

Toilet of Modern Art can be found in the shopping complex opposite Hundertwasser House on the corner of Lowengasse/Kegelgasse.

Gordon Matta-Clark, Splitting (1974)

Gordon Matta-Clark, Splitting (1974). Image courtesy Barbican Art Gallery.

Novelist Philip Roth is known for having said: “When a writer is born into a family, that family is finished.” And this work by Gordon Matta-Clark suggests a comparable model for artists.

The house which he literally saws in two is described in a caption to the film of the event as a “typical family home”. It is then demolished in a total act of homewrecking.

A certain level of violence is needed to complete this task and, as Matta-Clark bludgeons out the foundations with a sledgehammer, it looks pretty dangerous.

According to an intriguing academic paper, just a year before this work was made the artist’s cousin was in the Broadway Central Hotel, speaking to his mother on the phone, when it collapsed.

So it was Matta-Clark’s experience that the roof over your head and your nearest and dearest can, in a direct and indirect way, destroy. When anyone is born into a family, that person is finished.

Of course, it was this person’s good or bad fortune to be the son of two more artists, Anne Clark and perhaps more significantly, Roberto Matta. That cannot have been too damaging to his own work.

And from dad he inherited an antipathy towards conformist architecture. Matta worked for Le Corbusier and later rejected his ideas. His son also studied the discipline only to do the same.

But their relationship appears to have been fraught, which may be another word for typical. Or maybe, this piece is just a comment on housing in New Jersey, where Roth grew up, incidentally.

Film and photography documenting Splitting, along with four upper corners from the house itself, can be seen in at Barbican Art Gallery, London. The show is called Laurie Anderson, Trisha Brown, Gordon Matta-Clark: Pioneers of the Downtown Scene New York 1970s and runs until 22 May.

You can read my review of this show on Culture24. And further reviews of shows which feature Matta-Clark can be found in Frieze and The New York Times. I also found this news piece about his show at the Whitney to be most informative.


Rory Macbeth, The Wanderer by Franz Kafka, 2011

Looking at art and reading can seem poles apart. Galleries are public spaces in which we move from one room to another. Reading is usually sedentary and usually in some way private.

But The Wanderer by Franz Kafka, by Rory Macbeth, suggests otherwise. The title promises a mobile activity, while the reading which took place held many gallery goers in one spot.

In case you were wondering, this does not represent the discovery of a lost masterpiece by Kafka.That is a home-made book, a translation, and Macbeth claims not to speak German.

Gregor Samsa crops up, so we may take this to be a version of Metamorphosis. And we may also take it that in every act of reading some translation, or metamorphosis, takes place.

Of course, reading does get done in galleries. We read plaques, interpretation boards, even the works themselves. But this work suggests it may all stray from the path of intended meaning.

The modernism of Kafka et al may be to blame. And this may be a warning, given the outcome for his best known protagonists. Wanderings can only go so far, after all.

NB: That’s not the artist in the photo, but someone he delegated to perform The Wanderer at the launch of Display Copy at Kunstfreund Gallery, Leeds (29/01/11). The show features work by Rory Macbeth and Ross Downes and runs until 12 February. See gallery blog for more details.

Preview: Modern Times at Kettle's Yard

Franciszka Themerson, Gustav Klucis.

Modern Times – Responding to Chaos, Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge, until March 14 2010

Attempts to build a world order invariably result in chaos. Some of the outcomes can be seen at a new exhibition at Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge.

Modern Times: Responding to Chaos is the first of a series of shows in which creative protagonists of the 20th and 21st century have been asked to trace a personal journey through recent history.

First up is film-maker and painter Lutz Becker, whose personal responses to chaos are classic documentaries. Art in Revolution (1971) looks at Russian art in the early days of Communism, Swastika (1973) looks at the rise of Nazism in Germany, and Vita Futurista (1987) studies the far right Futurist movement in Italy.

So it’s no surprise that Becker’s curatorial interests take in many artist-made films of the last hundred years. The show includes moving image pieces by Viking Eggeling, Hans Richter, Fernand Léger and even Kazimir Malevich.

But latter-day chaos has also caused a rupture in the most longstanding of art forms, drawing. As film captured slices of reality, artists used the hand-drawn line to pit abstraction against figuration and turn geometry against spontaneous gesture.

Malevich and Eggeling reappear on paper, along with Boccioni, Mondrian, Grosz, Klee, Pollock, de Kooning, Giacometti, Bourgeois, Beuys, Serra, Judd and Twombly.

But what have these exponents of Futurism, Constructvism, Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism and Conceptualism left us with? More chaos, and the 21st century awaits a few comparable responses.

Written for Culture24.

Preview: Sanity Assassin by Amanda Beech

Amanda Beech, Sanity Assassin (2009), Installation view. Courtesy of Spike Island. Photo: Stuart Bunce.

Spike Island will hold the first major solo show in a public space for Amanda Beech. The West Country gallery promises a nightmarish trip to America’s West Coast.

Sanity Assassin is a three screen video installation with a sinister sculptural element, a series of chainsaws atop a mirrored plinth. This display, based on a real corporate showroom, was inspired by a visit to LA, where the piece was also filmed.

Footage centres around two very different city residents, a disillusioned European drifter and a spokesman for the new world order. As their stories synchronise to the beat of a noise soundtrack, they ultimately merge with psychotic results.

An interview with photographer Julius Shulman, who shot California architecture, and a text by Theodor Adorno have been worked into the narrative. Equally diverse influences on the film are provided by MTV montage, the title sequences of Saul Bass, film noir and 3D building fly-throughs.

Often thought of as a secluded playground for the rich and famous, Beech gives us a version of LA which is maddeningly claustrophrobic.

But while the work should be highly visceral, it also sets out to examine the theories of so-called ‘exile modernism’ as found in later writings by Adorno, Thomas Mann and Bertolt Brecht.

In 2009 Beech was awarded the main production residency at Spike Island. Sanity Assassin is a new work developed in her time there.

Written for Culture24