10 Top Spots for Contemporary Culture in Cologne

Having spent a year in Cologne Germany here is a list that I have compiled of the city’s top spots for contemporary culture, as featured on The Local Germany:

http://www.thelocal.de/20150819/fake-your-way-to-being-a-cologne-culture-vulture

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Interview with Jinhee Choi of Gallery Choi & Lager on ‘Have A Good Day Mr.Kim!’

Choi & Lager is one of the few galleries in Cologne to strongly focus on Korean art. It was founded in 2006 by Jari Lager and sisters Sunhee and Jinhee Choi who having been working together for over a decade to promote Korean artists within Europe. Their latest exhibition is their most ambitious to date, currently on view in the Michael Horbach Foundation, ‘Have A Good Day Mr Kim!’, features 15 Korean contemporary artists who have all caught the eye of the gallery team at some point during the last ten years. The show presents a wealth of talent from both established and emerging Korean artists, pushing to the forefront a nation whose art scene is still striving for international status.

I spoke to Gallery Director and Manager Jinhee Choi about the show:

Frederica Miller: Why is it important for Choi & Lager to promote contemporary Korean art within Europe?

Jinhee Choi: Because we, I mean Jari Lager, Sunhee Choi and I, are firm believers in the quality of Korean contemporary art and the sad reality is that there is still little opportunity for Korean artists to gain international recognition. Since 2002 we have come across a wealth of Korean contemporary artists however there are still few galleries or institutions that support and promote them in The West. That is  the reason why we decided to show so many artists in this latest exhibition, we even had to narrow the numbers down from the original list. Having been brought up in Korea and now living in Europe Sunhee and I feel a duty to promote these artists and together with Jari,  who has a deep interest and passion for Korean art, we aim to bridge the gap between Korea and Europe.

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Frederica Miller:  The exhibition’s title ‘Have A Good Day, Mr. Kim!’ suggests a sense of ironic self-reflectivity, would you say that this is a common attitude amongst current Korean artists?

Jinhee Choi: Of course it is an ironic title that contains a lot of interpretations. Hyungkoo Lee is a good example of an artist that deals with this theme of self-reflectivity, his work ‘Ridicularis’  that we have included in the show was inspired by the time that he spent studying in The States. Coming to The US from Korea he was immediately struck by how animated people were; their body language and gestures were larger than he was used to. Feeling shy and overwhelmed his initial reaction was to make himself a pair of oversized hands to wear, like a cartoon. He then began to consider what cartoons would look like if they had human or animal anatomy which is how he began his ‘Animatus’ series. This piece was shown in the Korean pavilion at the 2007 Venice Biennale and it’s a good example of a Korean artist reflecting on the culture shock that he and many Koreans experience when working or studying abroad.

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Frederica Miller: Going back to the title why did you choose  Xooang Choi’s  sculpture as the main image for the exhibition?

Jinhee Choi: We chose this sculpture because it fits precisely to the title and concept of the exhibition.The sculpture looks exactly like ‘Mr Kim’ that is to say the everyday Korean businessman; the man that you see on the subway or in the street. The figure’s blurred face and the tense body language symbolises the kind of anonymity, that comes from living in a big metropole and working hard. Korea is one of the hardest working countries in the OECD ranking, so the tension that you see in his hands is very real. Korea has developed at an unbelievable speed over the last years and every Korean individual is somehow suffering the consequences of this rapid development. We chose this sculpture because whilst it represents the everyday reality of Koreans it simultaneously represents all people suffering under societal pressures regardless as to where they live.

Frederica Miller: What kind of social problems are people in Korea currently experiencing?

Jinhee Choi: There is a lot of competition amongst people, it begins from childhood upwards; you have to be polite to your parents, you have to get good grades at school, and then you have to get a good position at work. There are a lot of traditional duties as well as social pressure from modern society. A common problem is that you have to work so much that you seldom have free time for yourself. So you are in a very strained society but you have no time to yourself to think about it.

Frederica Miller:  And how do artists fit into this ‘strained society’?

Jinhee Choi: I would say that they have a particular role and a particular reputation in Korea. Artists are very respected people. Although there is also definitely a strong sense of competition amongst Korean artists. In terms of society artists have an important role, the Korean people don’t generally have time to reflect on their life or their circumstances, whereas artists always pose the questions: What’s going on? What are you doing? What is the meaning of your life? And because of this it’s especially important to have those artists in Korea.

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Frederica Miller: The exhibition represents a mix of artists; some have studied in Korea and others in Europe, seeing as the show includes artists working from both these places, do you see a difference in the practice and concerns of the artists depending on where they are based?

Jinhee Choi: Firstly there are a lot of Korean artists in Europe and because we are located here we got to know them more easily than Korean artists based only in Korea. That said, we strongly believe that such artists can produce really interesting work because they have experienced several identities. They have grown up in Korea but they have accepted and adapted to European culture. Although in many ways they are not different from contemporary European artists there is still something inherently Korean about their work.

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Frederica Miller: Could you explain to me the work of Paris-based artist Stella Sujun within this context?

Jinhee Choi: Stella Sujun is one of the youngest artists in this show and has a lot of potential to grow. Her watercolour series ‘The Sick Rose’ is an immediate reference to European culture as it takes its title from a William Blake poem. The medium of watercolour is also not a Korean tradition. On the other hand there is a meticulousness to her work that could be understood as distinctly Korean. She worked on this project daily, producing 200 watercolours in total, so the ones that you see here are the selected few. Furthermore her pictures contain a mix of self-made symbols and mythologies that seem to be influenced by both Eastern and Western cultures. She also deals with anatomy, sickness and surgery, themes linked to a car crash that she experienced as a child.

One of the reasons that we have chosen to promote Korean artists like Stella is that they work very precisely. As you can see the finish to the works on display here are almost perfect and that is important for Korean artists. The interesting thing about artists like Stella who have studied outside of Korea is that as well as being concerned with perfect presentation they have also accepted a free European style of painting or drawing, and therefore they possess a powerful mix of influences from these two cultures.

Frederica Miller: The relationship between North and South Korea is notoriously tense, a tension that artist Seahyun Lee seems to explore in his bright red landscape paintings, please can you explain the process behind these works?

Jinhee Choi: Every man Korea has to do two years of military service, and Seahyun Lee did his at the border between North and South Korea. Every night it was his duty to keep watch on the border with infrared-binoculars. He found the landscape so beautiful and so calm in the infrared light, that despite  the official war between North and South Korea this untouched zone made him nostalgic for the countryside that he had grown up in. After his military service he began to paint the landscape that he had seen whilst on duty. Although the mountains of North and South Korea are idyllically depicted  in his paintings the remarkable red adds an aspect of critical disquiet to the works.

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Frederica Miller: As someone dealing with Korean artists what do you know, if anything, about the existence of an art scene in North Korea?

Jinhee Choi: It is extremely difficult to say what is going on in North Korea, especially in the art scene. There was an exhibition of North Korean artists in Vienna a couple years ago and the works were all propaganda about the North Korean dictator or ideology. I doubt that there exists so-called  ‘contemporary art’ there. I believe that people in North Korea would understand something completely different by the word ‘art.’

Frederica Miller: Where do you see ‘Have a good day Mr.Kim!’ going? Are you hoping to take the exhibition elsewhere in the future?

Jinhee Choi: Yes. We are very proud to say that ‘Have a good day Mr.Kim!’ will be on view at Vestfossen Kunstmuseum, Norway in an extended scale next year. We are keen to promote these artists as much as possible across Europe, and in the future we also hope to be able to show it at a German Kunstverein.

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The exhibition is on view at The Michael Horbach Foundation until August 21st 2015

Featured Artists:

bekgin, Hyungkoo Lee, Ji In Park, Jinyoung Yu, Jukhee Kwon, Seahyun Lee, Soonhak Kwon, Xooang Choi, Yongbaek Lee, Yoonsuk Choi, Younghun Kim, Stella Sujin, Sungpil Chae, Meekyoung Shin, Leenam Lee

Photos: Courtesy of Gallery Choi & Lager

Nina Beier at The Kölnischer Kunstverein

Last night mixed-media artist of the moment Nina Beier spoke about her practice at The Kölnischer Kunstverein. Born in 1975, the Dane began her career in London and is now based in Berlin. Since 2010 her work has been lauded for it’s aesthetically fluent yet thought-provoking nature.

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A fan of the found object Beier has employed everything from Persian rugs to banknote beach towels in order to confront the theme of time in her work. Beier eloquently spoke about taking inspiration from internet stock images, the anonymity and agelessness of which have prompted her to realise them in her art, giving physical substance to things that might have otherwise been lost or forgotten in our self-deleting digital age.

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Beier reproduces these stock images in various formats. In her earlier work she printed them as large, simplistic images, dipped them in glue and draped them across everyday objects such as radiators, to dry. Recently she has taken a more 3D approach, using real items to recreate the images themselves and then dropping them into water. Suspending a mundane object such as a white mug with copper coins pouring out of it, in an oversized, apparently full, cocktail glass, she creates a sense of movement, a trait employed by stock image creators in order to set their image apart from competitors.

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The artist explained how her fascination for the history of the object and the image is something that she continues to explore in her latest work. We were given a brief preview of a piece from ‘Cash For Gold’, which opens at the Kunstverein Hamburg next week. A painted porcelain figure of a dog is positioned next to a to a vase. Whilst both are made from the same material and in a similar style one was produced in China and the other in Italy. Each of the items have bite-shaped sections removed from them. The missing pieces create visual threads that link the two together.

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The work of Nina Beier is in many ways difficult to fault. Carefully conceived and elegantly executed it is bolstered by philosophical thought and critical social comment that strive to make it relevant in a disorientated era. An archetype of the art of our time: whilst the work looks and sounds theoretically good, the repeated use of readymade aspects make it ultimately feel anonymous.

Are you series?

Last week ‘Are you series?’ opened at Philara Düsseldorf, displaying over a hundred works from 28 artists all in one room, the exhibition is aptly named. The featured artists are students of Professor Johannes Wohnseifer at the Kunsthochschule für Medien Köln (KHM.) Together they have created a show that turns the notion of serial art on its head.

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Whilst each of the artists have produced a series of works these are displayed in a far from traditional manner. Rather than showing each series as a unit the works have been separated and spread across the room to intermingle with one another.Treating the output of 28 artists as a uniform series could have gone seriously wrong, especially when such a range of techniques and materials have been used. However ‘Are you series?’ skilfully juxtaposes a huge variety of works in order to highlight their individual strengths.

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Take the work of Lukas Johannes Heerich’s who has stretched large pieces of beige fabric over frames so that they each feature a single fold. Whilst their minimal elegance allows them to stand alone they are surrounded by other works that add to their aesthetic appeal. The grafitti-inspired pictures of Severin Humboldt which flank one of Heerich’s canvases could not be further from their neighbour’s simplistic style; created from a mix of digital mediums Humbodt’s colourful inkjet-printed pictures feature images of brick walls with slogans such as ‘Smoke some weed’ sprayed upon them. Although the juxtaposition is obvious it is not intrusive, the contrast in styles serves to highlight the strong points of each.

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Looking about the room one is confronted by a conscious interruption of artistic techniques, this frenetic display is nonetheless united by the high-quality of the pieces on show as well as the overriding sense of humour that accompanies them. The show’s irony is summed up by the decision to place one of Julius Metzger’s sloganized doormats which reads ‘Calm down all these years’ parallel to Hermes Villena’s photograph of a debauched man swinging around a pole over which is written: ‘The only thing that is going to survive in a depression is a good time.’

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‘Are you series? avoids over-crowding by establishing key focal points throughout the room. The gallery space is a white-washed warehouse whose pillars, rather than obstructing the perspective have been incorporated into the layout in order to orientate the viewer. At the centre of the room are Roman Hahlbrock’s ‘Shritte’, a set of see-through, 3D-printed steps which suspended from the ceiling, act as an abstract view-finder through which the rest of the exhibition can be observed.

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By challenging visitors to piece together the deconstructed series themselves ‘Are you series?’ demands  engagement. The show overcomes its size with an arresting layout and a sharp sense of wit that leave the viewer feeling refreshed rather than overwhelmed.

‘Are you series?’ is on at Philara Düsseldorf until 10th May.

Photographs courtesy of Jan Höhe

Kunstakademie Düsseldorf Rundgang 2015

I am willing to contradict the tagline of this blog in order to discuss this year´s Kunstakademie Düsseldorf Rundgang which took place last week.

Düsseldorf Art Academy has long since been considered one of Europe’s foremost Art Schools, the likes of Paul Klee have taught there and amongst its alumni it boasts Joseph Bueys and Gerhard Richter to note just a couple. This being the case it is not surprising that the institution’s degree show or ‘Rundgang’ is one of the most observed events on the German arts calendar.

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At Düsseldorf the professors pick their students. This means that the each room at the degree show (which takes up the entire three floors of the art school building) is dedicated to a specific professor’s class, or the works that said professor has chosen to represent his class. As for the ‘unselected’ students their work is left, perhaps unfairly, to line the corridors between each of the showrooms. Discrimination aside, with Peter Doig and Andreas Gurksy as current professors it was with a sense of anticipation that I first stepped through the academy’s doors.

Sadly what came next, as seems to be the case with most large degree shows, was disappointing. Of course one can put this down to probability, with so many artworks on display it is inevitable that only a few will stand out in the end. The pieces that shone did so for the personality behind them. Take Katharina Beilstein’s ‘Platforms’; a range of brightly coloured sculptures, precisely crafted from wood and plastic to take the form of outlandish platform shoes. Although one could argue that they are more fashion design than fine art, the quality of the pieces themselves as well as their clear character made a refreshing change from the foggy mass of almost-anonymous art.

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I believe that Art Schools play a pivotal role in helping students to find their ‘artistic identity’ and I do not wish to undermine this process for a second. However I myself belonging to a generation whose identity has been dwarfed by the internet, couldn’t help feeling disheartened by the lack of creative autonomy on display. Internet MEEMS reproduced in various mediums alongside an over-prevalence of frankly past-it 90’s themes worked together to give the impression of a bunch of people that had spent too much time on Instagram.

But perhaps that was the point, perhaps it was this precise feeling of living in an identity-less digital age that the students wished to relay. However if this was the case then I  can’t help feeling that they could have done so with more humour. There was one example which can be upheld as managing both of these things and that was one student’s identical recreation of Gerhard Richter’s ‘Betty,’  a clear middle-finger to the anonymity of our age, at least it made me laugh.

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‘Inside Surface’ A project by Johanna Von Monkiewitsch and Hila Laviv at Jagla Ausstellungsraum

‘Inside Surface’ is the outcome of a collaborative project between Cologne-based artist Johanna Von Monkiewitsch and Israeli artist Hila Laviv. The pair first came together last year in Tel Aviv where they worked on a joint exhibition for ‘Fresh Paint 7’ art fair. It was this shared creative experience that led them to produce ‘Inside Surface’ a show now on at Jagla Ausstellungsraum, Köln (January 17 – February 27, 2015.)

Whilst both artists describe themselves as sculptors it is their mutual interest in working with ‘non-materials’ that forms the crux of the exhibition. ‘Inside Surface’ focuses on how gently altering the interplay between space, light and surface can transform our perception of everyday objects.

For Laviv’s ‘My Rainy Day Book’  she has reconstructed a children’s handbook written by her grandmother from cut-outs. Not only does this process change the book’s visual format from 2D to 3D, but by folding pages and cutting-out scenes she alters the object’s very narrative.

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Von Monkiewitsch further plays with form and perception in her prints. She has precisely folded and framed the works to give them the appearance of open books. The strongly coloured prints replicate a books’ exposed pages and it is only on closer inspection that the viewer can discern otherwise.

Through their subtle alterations of ‘non-materials’ Laviv and Von Monkiewitsch lead us to reconsider our relationship to everyday matter. ‘Inside Surface’ not only focuses our perception but it causes us to question the power of the mundane.

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Chris Hipkiss: ‘For Us My Cuts’ at Galerie Susanne Zander

‘Chris Hipkiss’ is the pseudonym of British creative duo Alpha and Chris Mason. Married since 1986 the two have been collaborating from the moment that they first met at the age of 18. Chris is a self-taught draftsman who claims that ‘4B pencils are the only thing to use’ and Alpha is a writer whose words and ideas form an integral part of her husband’s artistic execution.

The intensely detailed pencil drawings that the couple produce humorously deal with a range of universal and political themes: as self-proclaimed ‘feminists’ gender is often addressed in their work.

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‘For Us My Cuts’, on show at Galerie Susanne Zander until 21. November,  is a series of drawings that depict a warped symbiosis of industrial and rural landscapes, strewn with strange insects, machinery and naked human forms. Whilst to speak of, such subjects seem oblique, there is an undeniable intimacy to the drawings, one that pushes the viewer to crack a smile; it is as if we are allowed in on their own private joke.

The personal warmth of Hipkiss’s work is what makes it so intriguing. ‘For Us My Cuts’ is an outlandish mishmash of words and images that confront global issues whilst offering a refreshing glance into the creative world of this extraordinary couple.

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