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Monthly Archives: July 2018

Pikachu Garden And a Ruthless Critique of Consumerism

Remember way back in the summer of 2016? Barack Obama was president, and the world was obsessed with Pokemon Go. In many ways, it was a simpler time. As New York digs itself out from the blizzard of 2017,Castor Gallery invites visitors to escape the winter blues with Michael Pybus’s Pikachu Orchid Garden, a summery art installation full of cuddly stuffed versions of the undisputed star of the Pokémon franchise.

The bloom may be off the Pokémon Go these days—although I still occasionally spot museums advertising the presence of Pokéstops on site—but relaxing in a plushy, albeit commercialized Pikachu oasis sounds like it could be just the sort of soothing experience art lovers are in need of. And Pybus isn’t just jumping on the bandwagon: He’s worked with the character for over a decade.

The work, titled In 3D the basil never wilts, is part of Pybus’s exhibition inspired by global brands. Everything in the garden was purchased at IKEA, which has bragged about using CGI to create three quarters of its catalogue’s imagery. (The show’s title is derived from a quote from the company.)

As it becomes nearly impossible to tell the difference between real and computer generated imagery, the global reach of brands such as IKEA and Pokémon extends further and further. The exhibition statement describes Pikachu as “an icon of consumerist thirst, engineered to never be fully quenched”—appropriate given the game’s “Gotta catch ’em all” tag line.

An Artist Who Tore Down The Old to Build The New

For years, I would encounter Gustav Metzger in public talks and at galleries, often away from the beaten track. He was always there, always watching and listening. At first I found him a bit intimidating. More recently, I would see him, looking slightly frail and small and in a certain disarray, struggling with bags of documents and other papers, as he went to and from where he lived in London’s East End.

His activities included the accumulation of thousands of newspapers and other ephemera, and he could appear a little eccentric and vulnerable. But impressions can be deceptive. Everything Metzger did had purpose, even his inveterate walks in the city he had known since the second world war.

From the 90s onward, appearances in large exhibitions – where Metzger showed, on one occasion, the congealed liquid slides he had once used for light shows with Cream and the Who in the 60s – located him among younger artists who regarded him as a sort of errant father figure.

For Metzger, who arrived in England on the Kindertransport in 1939, it was David Bomberg (whose background was also Polish-Jewish) who was a kind of father figure. Metzger studied with the painter for years at Borough Polytechnic – working in his influential life class alongside Frank Auerbach and Leon Kossoff – before choosing a different path.

A few years ago, he showed the sad wreckage of his early life drawings and paintings, the tattered remnants of his early paintings. They had the status of evidence. However, he continued to believe in the power and importance of art to a degree that might seem idealistic. Persuaded by the curators to take part in an exhibition Art Into Society, Society Into Art at London’s ICA in 1974, he produced a manifesto calling on artists to stop producing art between 1977 and 1980, in the first art strike.

Metzger was a paradox. He could, he thought, have been successful had he not been so political – he once gave a lecture on Damien Hirst’s diamond encrusted skull, a work he found beautiful, while at the same time complaining about the lack of ethics in the art world.

A small, intense and somewhat prickly man with twinkling eyes, his cantankerousness was at once political and personal. He had numerous arguments and fallings-out, not only with Bomberg but also with Lord Goodman(who supported him for a number of years), with Joseph Beuys and with John Latham. The disputes were ideological and artistic. Essentially a warm, kindly man, he could be recalcitrant, and would follow ideas to what seemed extreme conclusions.

His art made connections – in one work, between Hannah Arendt, Walter Benjamin, Paul Klee’s watercolour The Angel of History, and Nazi criminal Adolf Eichmann. He made works using archive newspaper articles on mad cow disease (prefiguring Roger Hiorns’ work on the BSE crisis) and, like Eric Hobsbawm andWG Sebald, worked against forgetting what had led to, and happened, in the Holocaust.

Art for Metzger could be painting or a drop of water sizzling on a hot plate; a piece of metal floating on the Thames, a display of 10,000 newspapers, a stack of refrigerators or 120 cars, or a group of inverted dead trees, their roots aloft. His lectures, manifestos and films all attested to his beliefs. It turned out he was right on many points. I shall miss his constant, agitating, difficult presence.

His auto-destructive art was an anti-capitalist gesture against global corporate power and domination, rather than simply a formal gambit. Metzger didn’t want to destroy art. Artists, he believed, had a responsibility to help society and to prevent future wars. “Can art do it instead of just politics?” he asked. “Art can do it. Art must do it. And I must be one of the artists who do it.”

Why Cyprus Is Europe’s Most Exciting

There is movement afoot in the art world, triggered by the rising scale of the art market coupled with the downturn in Western economies, from the cultural capitals to places on the margins where physical space is more affordable and mental space more expansive.

Dropping out is not the risk it used to be: While the conditions in major cities have become prohibitive to creative production and the stakes higher, art producers and dealers have become nomadic, even shedding gallery spaces, to chase increasingly interesting marginal markets around the globe.

In turn, art production is becoming less object-oriented and artists hop from residency to residency, making it easier to participate from the periphery.

Located at the southern terminus of the European Union, Cyprus is both isolated and yet highly contested for its strategic proximity to three continents as well as offshore oil and gas resources. The heart of the capital, Nicosia, is split down the middle by barbed wire—a formerly lively market street and the international airport left bereft in the UN buffer zone—the scar of a political stalemate between Turkey and Greece. The threat of conflict is escalating even now as hard-line Turkish president Recep Erdoğan ramps up nationalist rhetoric. The cancellation of Manifesta 6, planned for Nicosia in 2006, attests to the complex nature of the Cypriot reality.

So living on the edge is nothing new to Cypriot artists, and a young contingent has returned from studies abroad to collaborate in getting one another’s work out there by opening collective project spaces.

The art market has always been illusive in Cyprus, and the few influential commercial galleries that were active—like Archimede Staffolini, directed by Pavlina Paraskevaidou, and Omikron, backed by collector Nicos Pattichis—did not survive the economic crisis, the latter closing in 2012.

Staffolini showed now successful artists such as Haris Epaminonda and Polys Peslikas early on; Omikron’s 2010 group show “Notes to Self,” curated by Elena Parpa, introduced a new generation of Cypriot artists who grew up in the digital age.

A year after Omikron closed, former director Maria Stathi, previously at London’s Anthony Reynolds, opened the nonprofit space Art Seen in Nicosia, which produces limited-edition prints and multiples to support its exhibition program.

The production of affordable art supports the exhibition program and is part of an attempt to reach out to a nontraditional audience. “It is super challenging to work in Cyprus,” she says. “There are not that many people who understand what we are doing and why we are doing it.” Aside from a dearth of contemporary art spaces, there was no fine-arts degree program until very recently.

Similarly, Point Centre for Contemporary Art, established by Andre Zivanari as a not-for-profit space in 2012—following on a program supporting Cypriot artists for the Künstlerhaus Bethanien residency—commissions original work from artists for solo exhibitions. The recent show, “Completely Something Else,” curated by Jacopo Crivelli Visconti, brought together a mix of foreign and Cypriot artists, including Epaminonda, Phanos Kyriacou, and Christodoulos Panayiotou, to convey how relationships between physical objects, repeated and juxtaposed, generate new and universal meanings in different contexts, often as shadows of other places and times. Artists Victor Costales, Julia Rometti, and Maria Loboda stayed for more than a month to explore what they perceived as the island’s “charged landscape,” highlighting how space is constructed through experience, memory, and history.

Phanos Kyriacou’s upcoming exhibition there, “Exhaustion,” will comprise an installation of 36 drawings and a small sculpture in an attempt to evoke the tension between representation and reality through the repetitive depiction of an object, its planes accumulating finally to suggest its form but not its substance.

In fact, Kyriacou’s now-defunct project space Midget Factory (2003-12) anticipated the current proliferation of artist-run spaces, many of which alternate as sort of open studios: located in the red-light district of Nicosia’s old town, it was “open” 24/7 through the use of movement-detection lights and attained a cult following by the time of its demise, when the building was finally demolished. Other precedents were Stoa Aeschylou, directed by Demetris Neokleous and Panikos Tembriotis, andApotheke, run by Demetris Taliotis in a post-industrial space in the city center until 2012. A multidisciplinary node for innovative happenings, it nurtured a network for many of the young artists practicing now, including Kyriacou, Maria Toumazou, and the director’s brother, Constantinos Taliotis.