Design
Where form meets function

The festive season is well and truly upon us. With it, we can expect the coming together of one and all, the giving and receiving of gifts and goodwill, and plenty of decorative illuminations. However, if you’re feeling more in the mood for a gallery outing than yet another Christmas function, we’ve got you covered, too.

In this month’s Ten Best Exhibitions there’s a strong focus on light and color, appropriate to the holiday season. Keith Sonnier, for example, plays with neon light and simple geometrical forms, whereas group exhibition “Chromophilia vs. Chromophobia” challenges the rigidity of the color circle.

From satirical figurative paintings to pop-up shop explosions of color, we’ve sought out the finest shows from Finland to Brazil and recommend you pay a visit if you’re nearby:

Keith Sonnier, Untitled, Finland

Keith Sonnier, Angel Gil. 2016

Keith Sonnier was among the first artists to explore the creative potential of light in sculpture. His latest show combines neon light with a variety of materials that are associated with urban settings and neon-lit billboards. Known as a serial practitioner, some of his works span the entire duration of his career. This exhibition features pieces from his groundbreaking “Ba-O-Ba” series, a project he began in 1969.

Sonnier detaches his cultural allusions from their original context and re-contextualizes them as elements of inherent self-proclaimed value. His unique treatment of neon light has retained its artistic appeal through decades, setting him apart as unique among his contemporaries working in the light genre.

Many of his neon sculptures strike up a dialogue with the surrounding architecture: the neon light infuses simple geometrical forms with an ethereal quality that accentuates the work’s reflectivity and impact on its surroundings.

Galerie Forsblam, running until December 22

Charlie Roberts, “Juicy,” London

Charlie Roberts, Charlie Roberts, Juicy, Exhibition View. Courtesy of the artist and Marlborough Contemporary. Photo Francis Ware

Appropriating its title from legendary rapper Notorious B.I.G’s 1994 debut single, Juicy fuses elements of hip-hop subculture with myriad art history influences, from Byzantine iconography to Matisse, via folk art and comic books; representing the artist’s freestyle approach to high and low culture.

Playfully bright and bold, Charlie Roberts lives up to his reputation as an innovative and exciting artist. Contrasting abstract patterned images with fluid female figures and pastel tones, every aspect of his show is beautifully juxtaposed.

Featuring some 200 gouaches on paper hung Salon-style, the exhibition at Marlborough Contemporary will mark a departure for the gallery, with “Juicy” reimagining the space as a “pop-up shop.” In keeping with the artist’s practice and ethos – making artwork both affordable and accessible – once purchased, each piece will be taken off the wall and replaced with a new one, ensuring the exhibition is in a constant state of flux.

Marlborough Contemporary, running until January 14, 2017

Dan Rees, “Ruins of the Cambrian Age,” Berlin

Dan Rees, Photo courtesy of the artist and Tanya Leighton, Berlin

Cambria is the Latinized form of Cymru, the Welsh name for Wales. It’s where Britain’s Cambrian rocks are best exposed and close to where artist Dan Rees was born.

A multi-disciplinary artist whose work spans a variety of different mediums, Rees’ “Ruins of the Cambrian Age” showcases work made from sand, clay, aggregate, lime and pigment. Conceptually orientated, the artist seems to have paid homage to the rock formations that would later spawn our reality.

“Around 500 million years ago the Cambrian explosion gave birth to life on earth as we know it,” explains Rees. “Once as large as the Himalayas, the mountains are now in permanent retreat; water percolating through the cracks, shaping and softening their contours.”

Tanya Leighton, running until January 21, 2017

Brigitte Kowanz, “Switch Over,” Austria

Brigitte Kowanz, Photo courtesy of the artist and Galerie Nikolaus Ruzicska

For the 2017 Venice Biennale, Brigitte Kowanz will represent Austria with a show titled “Light Pavillon.” Describing her artistic creativity in a nutshell, she states, “I concentrate on light and space, the spatial quality and informative content of light.”

“Switch Over” continues this exploration. Along with light and space, the third essential element in Kowanz’s work is language and its partial coding. In eight of the 12 wall and floor objects exhibited, the artist’s handwriting, transferred to neon or LED letters, is used. AS WELL AS, ATTITUDE and SWITCH OVER can be read through dyed glass cubes in green, lilac and blue writing.

The light omitted from the writing as well as the observers themselves are repeatedly reflected through a full-length mirror that forms the rear wall of the work of art. The dynamism of the work consists of constant transformation: you stand opposite a scene that can never be clearly comprehended.

Galerie Nikolaus Ruzicska, running until January 10, 2017

Group Exhibition, “Who are You?”, Switzerland

S.A.L.T.S Group exhibition, Who are You? Photos by Gunnar Meier

S.A.L.T.S. supports young international artists to develop unique and exceptional projects. Born from an open-ended conversation the ultimate goal for each show is to become a landmark in an artist’s career.

“Who Are You?” is a group exhibition that looks at the paradox of publicly concealing your identity. This in itself is a notion that seems to emphasize the fact that we live in an environment overshadowed by austerity and fear. In this context, a need to test what is often perceived as an “unstable” reality has emerged.

Working with ideas of the “alter ego, collective identity, meta-artist and improved or lessened versions of oneself,” the involved artists explore identity under a fictional guise. The group exhibition includes works by Olivier Castel, Dorota Gaweda and Eglé Kulbokaité, Selina Grüter and Michele Graf, Than Hussein Clark and Martin Soto Climent.

S.A.L.T.S., running until January 15, 2017

MPA, “RED IN VIEW,” NYC

MPA, Mars, 2014-2015. Courtesy of the artist; commissioned by the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston

Since relocating to California’s Mojave dessert in 2013, artist MPA has been immersed in a broad inquiry into the potential colonization of Mars, often known as the red planet. In the Whitney’s multi-part exhibition, the artist looks at Mars as a place for settlement and resource for our own planet, as well as a site of possible human origin.

MPA’s research considers unconventional sources such as mythology, psychic accounts and personal narratives as credible authorities. By reflecting more generally on histories of colonization, “RED IN VIEW” raises questions of militarism and patriarchy, prompting us to examine our own (often subconscious) colonizing behaviors.

Unfolding in four movements throughout the museum, the exhibition culminates with a performance in February. Over the course of ten continuous days, MPA and artists Malin Arnell and Amapola Prada perform “Orbit”: the space will become a biosphere – an enclosed, self-sustaining habitat, modeled after an environment where the first settlers on Mars might reside.

Whitney Museum of American Art, running until February 27, 2017

Kelly Akashi, “Being as a Thing,” L.A.

Kelly Akashi, Activity Table. Courtesy the artist and Ghebaly Gallery, Los Angeles. Photo: Marten Elder

Working among sculpture, installation and photography, Kelly Akashi cultivates relationships among a variety of “things” to investigate their ability to transmit consciousness and to explore how they can actively communicate their histories and potential for change.

For this exhibition, the artist constellates interconnected processes of extended viewing of object — and, by extension, coming to know those objects. Microcosms of glass, wax, bronze and fibre highlight organic forms, at once familiar and foreign. The works presented balance the controlled environment of the gallery space with materials and displays that oscillate between the ephemeral, the durable and the impressionable.

Delicate lead mounds emerge from brick surfaces, candles are burned or left in their uninterrupted form, and two pairs of bronze hands drape over a small wall. The latter represents a unique moment of the artist’s physical history solidified in time. They are crystallized examples of the artist’s consciousness imbued in her things, but, like the others, they are not her.

Ghebaly Gallery, running until December 23

Ara Peterson, Untitled, NYC

Ara Peterson. Photo courtesy of Derek Eller Gallery

Based in Providence, Rhode Island, Ara Peterson’s art can variously evoke senses of place, motion, substance and bodily awareness.

Peterson begins his process with a lengthy period of development rooted in the visualization of wave phenomena. For each work, he plots the relationships between color, mood, scale, weight, surface tension and directional flow. The actual physical process is a series of stages executed by hand that the artist refers to as organization, execution, deconstruction, editing, re-editing and re-execution. Peterson cuts wood laminate forms using a heat laser, paints them with a brush or an atomizer and divides the slats to be manipulated, arranged and affixed.

Each work in this exhibition rewards sustained viewing. Color and form are seamlessly integrated and these still objects become kinetic as they shift and move with light, placement and the physical presence of the viewer.

Derek Eller, running until December 23

Group Exhibition, “Cromophilia vs. Cromophobia,” São Paulo

Group exhibition, Cromophilia vs cromophobia. Photo courtesy of Galeria Nara Roesler

An exploration of color, “Chromophilia vs. Chromophobia” builds on the theoretical base of the essay “Chromophilia” from David Batchelor’s book Chromophobia. The exhibition experiments with how contemporary artists play, destroy and reveal in the tension between post-1960s use of industrial colors and the advent of the color chart.

Batchelor describes the color chart as “a disposable list of readymade color. Each strip of paper is a perfect abstract painting in miniature, or a compact example of color serialism, or one page of a vast catalogue raisonné of monochromes.” The chart gave artist freedom and autonomy in their use of color, previously unimaginable within the rigid structure established by the color circle.

The 18 artists on show challenge the viewers to experience color. They materialize colors to provoke a freedom of experiment, leaving behind the rigidity of the color circle.

Galeria Nara Roesler, running until January 21, 2017

John Currin, Untitled, London

Copyright the Artist, Courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London

In his sixth exhibition at Sadie Coles HQ, John Currin presents a group of five new paintings. In these, his enduring themes and preoccupations – sexual personae, social types and historical painterly genres – appear in surreal new guises.

The majority of the paintings depict a pair or couple, echoing the tradition of the marriage portrait. However, incongruous elements have infiltrated each picture. Whimsical headdresses, animals, food and other visual non-sequiturs push the compositions into ambiguous territory, a realm suspended between lucid realism and dreamlike figuration.

Throughout the works in the exhibition, Currin captures the tones and textures of real life with acute sensitivity – using multiple layers of paint to evoke patterned fabrics, translucent flesh or the luster of porcelain or ripe fruit. The make-believe mood of each picture is offset by an insistent realism and a sense of the tangibility of things.

Sadie Coles HQ, running until January 21, 2017

If you happen to be in Berlin right now, Sneakerstuff has officially opened its new Berlin store.

  • Words: Tom Giddins
  • Lead image: Dan Rees and Tanya Leighton
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