Flash News! Turner Prize – Zao Wou Ki – Sterling Ruby – Paper Positions


Turner Prize 2018 – political art?

The momentum of London’s Contemporary art scene is largely driven by the Turner Prize organized by the Tate Britain and rewarding a Contemporary British artist once a year. Since its inception in 1984, the award has always taken a distinctly forward-looking approach, boldly nominating conceptual artists, visual artists or New Media artists many of whom have since become stars of the UK’s Contemporary art scene including Tony Cragg, Gilbert & George, Damien Hirst and Elisabeth Price amongst others. The event attracts a lot of media attention in the UK and the public can now propose an artist and vote for him or her. Those shortlisted generally receive some kind of media and/or economic benefits from their nomination.

Form this point of view, the 2018 edition is no exception; however discussions around the nominees have been more heated than ever because for the first time ever there are no sculptures or paintings among the works: the jurors of the Prize have selected only video artists. No artworks on the walls of the museum for the exhibition… just projection rooms. The works of Forensic Architecture, Naeem Mohaiemen, Charlotte Prodger and Luke Willis Thompson are all highly political. Their films of varying lengths address humanitarian and political issues around the world. Forensic Architecture is a multidisciplinary collective that investigates war crimes and traces left by State violence. His film The Long Duration of Split Second documents a police raid on a village in southern Israel. Naeem Mohaiemen explores in his two installations, each of about 100 minutes, the socialist policies of the post-war period, the post-colonial legacy and the revisionism of political utopias. Bridgit, by Charlotte Prodger, examines the temporal relations between feminine identity, body, language and landscape. Luke Willis Thompson focuses on the violent history of social and racial inequality.

Whatever the outcome, the jury’s decision in December will undoubtedly elicit strong reactions. While the Guardian celebrates the courageous choice of the jurors, the BBC wonders if the Turner Prize is still worth winning, since it is so far removed from the generally perceived notion of Art. The Independent goes even further saying The Turner Prize in 2018 is a miserable, tedious, poker-faced display. A London-based gay girls group calling itself BBZ has even protested against the participation of Luke Willis Thompson, accusing him of taking advantage of the marginalization of the black population. The Turner Prize derives its name from J.M.W. Turner, a major 19th-century British artist whose work was once considered by a critic as the product of a sick eye and a reckless hand. It seems the question of Art’s modernity – that the Turner Prize has always explored since its creation is once again back in the limelight.

A painting that elicit lots of superlatives…

By the massive new auction record it has just set… by its size… by its provenance… and of course by the hand which composed it, June-October 1985 definitely deserves a place in the global pantheon of artworks. Ieoh Ming Pei met ZAO Wou-Ki in 1952 in Paris. Their shared history formed the basis of a friendship that lasted until Zao’s death in 2013. The work Juin-Octobre 1985 was commissioned by Ieoh Ming Pei to decorate the grand lobby of the Raffle City Hotel in Singapore. Exhibited with other works by Ellsworth KELLY and Kenneth NOLAND, these pieces would become part of Singapore’s largest public Contemporary Art collection. In Zao’s œuvre, this huge triptych (measuring 10m x 2.8m) occupies a very special place: among the 20 large-format works that the artist painted in 40 years, it is the one that best concentrates the artist’s numerous identities, especially considering that in Europe the triptych is associated with the religious dimension of Renaissance polyptychs. June-October 1985 is the cornerstone of Zao’s Infinite period, imbued with solemnity and Asian spirituality while showing distinct correspondences with Abstract Expressionism which the ‘most American’ of the Franco-Chinese artists was exposed to during his long stay in New York.

On 30 September last, this masterpiece was offered for sale by Sotheby’s in Hong Kong where it set a stunning new record for the artist at over $65 million, i.e. 28 times its purchase price by a Taiwanese collector in 2005. The result buries his previous auction record of nearly $25 million obtained in 2017 for 29/01/64. It is also a new auction record for an Asian oil-on-canvas. At the same sale – which generated the best-ever evening sales total in Hong Kong ($200 million) – no less than eight other Asian artists reached new auction highs, including the Taiwanese artist LIN Richard (1933-2011) the Chinese artists HAO Liang (1983) and WANG Xingwei (1969), all attracting bids above the million-dollar threshold.

Indeed, Hong Kong’s market vitality seems to be accelerating with, for example, the five highest results for works by Zao Wou-ki all being hammered there over the last 18 months. The artist’s market was originally constructed by Taiwanese and Chinese collectors living in the West. His most spectacular paintings are now offered in Asia. Hong Kong is one of the most attractive cities for a wide range of Asian art collectors because it offers a very high-end market focused on 20th century Chinese artists. The city is also Asia’s most international art market hub with major international dealers and auction houses. Paris, where Zao Wou-ki lived most of his life and where he was supported and exhibited, remains an influential marketplace, especially in terms of supply. France continues to pay tribute to Zao Wou Ki, especially to his spectacular large-format works: after the 2003 Jeu de Paumé retrospective, the Museum of Modern Art of the City of Paris has united some forty polyptychs and large paintings that can be seen until January 2019. The artist, who liked the idea that people can “walk around in my works… just as I do”, seemed predestined to reach unprecedented heights: in Chinese, the name Wou-ki means “without limit ”…

Sterling Ruby… not just provocative

Born in 1972 in Bitburg, Germany, Sterling RUBY lives and works in Los Angeles. For roughly fifteen years he has been developing a body of work thatunder its generally trashy surface – allows an extremely lucid and critical reading of American society with plenty of references to the major artistic currents of the second half of the 20th century. But when Ruby “quotes” Minimalism (especially Donald Judd) or other emblematic movements (like Anti-Form), he does so in a way that modifies, even perverts, them. His Big Grid / DB Deth (2008) is a good example: a monolithic block that clearly suggests the forms of Minimal art, but that Ruby covers with dirt or graffiti to undermine the formal aesthetics, and in doing so, draws attention to the violence and the perversity of his intervention.

Sterling Rubys work is multifaceted: it includes varnished biomorphic ceramics, large spray-painted canvases, expanded urethane sculptures, nail polish drawings, collages and hypnotic videos. The artist draws on a variety of sources ranging from modernist architecture to street culture and bodybuilding aesthetics. This eclecticism nevertheless seems directed towards a common objective: to highlight the excesses of American society and, more generally, to make hard statements about the world we live in. Last September, at the 11th Brussels Gallery weekend, Xavier Hufkens presented his DRFTRS & WIDW, two sets of complementary works that perfectly reflect his primary concerns (socio-cultural changes, pop culture and violence) and show his intense relationship to materials via explosive paintings with sharp contrasts between energy and inertia.

In 2008, the New York Times saw him as the most promising emerging artist of the era. Ten years later, aged 46, his work has been exhibited all over the world and has been acquired by many of the world’s most prestigious museums: New York’s MoMA and Guggenheim, the LACMA, the London Tate, the Centre Pompidou in Paris and the MBAM in Montreal. The artist has also achieved an undeniable success on the auction market, primarily Anglo-Saxon. Over the last ten years, 40% of his works have sold between $500,000 and $1 million. Christies generated his auction record with two large-format canvases: SP231 and SP220, each fetching nearly $2 million, the first in New York in 2013 and the second in London in 2014.

Paper Positions, Munich

At a time of the year when major international fairs are in the spotlight, Paper Positions stands out in the German artistic landscape as the only meeting devoted exclusively to works on paper.

After its success in Berlin and then Basel, the fair moves to Munich’s Alte Bayerische Staatsbank for this new edition from 18 – 21 October where it will occupy 1,200 m2 at the city centre near the Kunsthalle, an ideal place to host the event. As selective as the previous edition, the fair brings together 39 mainly German galleries who share the space in a deliberately open-plan exhibition format so that works and galleries can interact with each other. The hanging is as dynamic as the diversity of proposals which includes drawings, collages and engravings, but also objects, sculptures and installations. Paper Positions offers an opportunity to apprehend the richness of the paper medium; its very specific qualities and its inherent fragility open up a whole range of artistic possibilities. Old Master landscapes by Theodor ALT (1846-1937) at H.W. Fichter Kunsthandel gallery rub shoulders with the colorful constructions made of cut, glued and/or woven materials by the Contemporary artist Beat ZODERER (1955) presented by Thomas Taubert. The Fribourg gallerist Marek Kralewski is presenting works by the Swiss artist René Charles ACHT (1920-1998) and the young artist Bettina Bosch (1970). On the stand of the Markus Doebele gallery you can also admire abstract compositions by the famous German painter Max ACKERMANN (1887-1975) about ten of whose works are included in auction sales during October.

Paper Positions is a fair on a human scale that is not only highly accessible because of its superb open-plan format, but also for the prices proposed, ranging from €150 to €4,000. Competing with Highlights (Munich’s major international art fair) and Various Others (the first edition of a cooperation between Munich’s galleries, off spaces and museums), Paper Positions has established itself as an unavoidable rendez-vous in its medium. However, its remains to be seen if the fans of the major fairs will also be seduced.