Meer Magazine, June 21, 2017

There is a background for Flair, which includes President Trump. Also the Republican-dominated congress (it seems that every day brings at least one and sometimes several jaw-dropping outrages from Washington); Putin striving to be a new tsar; Erdogan in Turkey angling to be an autocratic new sultan; Brexit with its hunker down, us-against-them, island mentality, and Marine Le Pen in France gussying up a quasi-fascist, anti-immigrant party with virulent anti-Semitic roots. All of this, and a whole climate of resurgent nationalism, populism, racism, sexism, and hostility to others who might look and think differently than “us.”


That’s the political and cultural context for Flair, yet this is not an overtly political exhibition, in the sense of presenting artworks that address this or that issue, no matter how pressing and important. It is, however, deeply political in its emphatic belief that art matters a great deal—always—but especially now, when so much of what seems so very good and nutritive is under assault. In this time, when powerful forces are seeking to mold, manipulate, and define culture and consciousness altogether, art and artists (who habitually deal in radical freedom) can indeed be a bulwark and a cathartic inspiration. That’s the premise of Flair: gorgeous, wonderfully idiosyncratic art, confident about its own importance in an era of platitudes, self- serving power, and divisive fear-mongering; art full of risk and driving ideas in this exceedingly difficult time, art chock-full of flair.


Whereas President Trump’s outlook is fundamentally nativist and nationalistic—America first, make America great again, keep out the immigrants, especially Muslims and Mexicans—Flair is open to the world. All of the artists in Flair are—a very conscious decision on the part of the curator—from elsewhere. All are highly acclaimed artists who have exhibited widely in their home countries and abroad, but only one (German artist Karin Sander) has exhibited extensively in New York.


Ayse Erkmen, who divides her time between Istanbul and Berlin, is widely recognized as one of Turkey’s foremost artists. Her impressive exhibition record includes representing Turkey in the 2011 Venice Biennale, a major one-person exhibition at Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin (2008/09), repeat participation in Sculpture Projects Münster (1997 and 2017), and her one-person exhibition at SculptureCenter in Queens in 2005. For Flair, Erkmen exhibits novel, and altogether delightful, bronze sculptures in very specific colors. She made these works by digging holes in a sandbox, and filling them with molten bronze; because the shape of the holes differed, each sculpture is unique. Patina techniques yielded mesmerizing colors: rose, grayish violet, mandarin orange, blue, yellow.


Pascale Marthine Tayou (Cameroon/Belgium) has also exhibited extensively, including his show-stopping African village/world, made from sundry local materials, in the Arsenale at the 2009 Venice Biennale, and his 2015 solo show at the Serpentine Galleries in London. For Flair Tayou exhibits three of his Poupées (or dolls), small figurative sculptures fashioned from crystal and mixed materials. These are wonderfully hybrid sculptures, fusing European and African elements. Crystal connects with the long history of glassmaking (as well as issues of class) in Europe, while the mixed materials and the look of these sculptures connect with different kinds of African sculptures. Each of Tayou’s Poupées has personality, drama, an almost talismanic force, and real flair.


German artist Karin Sander has had several one-person exhibitions in New York at D’Amelio Terras Gallery and she recently participated in the Serialities exhibition at Hauser and Wirth in New York. She has also exhibited extensively in galleries and museums throughout the world. For Flair Sander exhibits small glass sculptures from a new body of work that jettisons the most basic methodology associated with glassmaking. Instead of fashioning exquisite objects from molten glass, Sander lets the glass do what it wants, so to speak, flowing, spilling, and hardening into shapes (some clear and some colored) that look abstract but also geologic and organic. They are slight, but powerful, and frankly stunning: small sculptures made by worldshaping forces of heating and cooling, flowing and congealing.


New York-based Israeli sculptor Reuven Israel is the one artist in Flair represented by Fridman Gallery. His impressive debut exhibition at the gallery was in 2014 followed by solo exhibitions in Los Angeles and Tel Aviv. Israel’s sculptures are largely made from simple MDF (medium-density fiberboard), a commonplace and generally lowbrow particle board. Using this workaday material, Israel cuts, shapes, and sculpts his signature forms, which look simultaneously familiar and completely odd (maybe even like parts of futuristic science fiction machines). He then lavishes attention on them: sanding and polishing them, making their surfaces as smooth and precise as possible, and painting them, in carefully chosen colors, in a uniform way with a spray gun. Israel’s two, quietly marvelous sculptures in Flair feature MDF forms, upright copper tubes, and, with one, two lacquered wood balls on top which also suggest remote planets.


Margrét H. Blöndal is increasingly recognized as one of Iceland’s top artists, and she has recently had acclaimed solo exhibitions in Reykjavik and Berlin. She is known for understated yet inventive and enthralling sculptures, typically made from scraps and pieces of fabric, plastic, string, rubber, and other materials. She is also known for spare, yet vivid, sensitive, and oftentimes magical drawings made with watercolor, pencil and olive oil (from some perspectives the olive oil has a pronounced sheen, while from others it is almost invisible.) Five of Blöndal’s drawings are exhibited in Flair and they are altogether absorbing and compelling. When things seem most desolate and whopping problems seem most intractable, art really can provide not only pleasure, but also sustenance and invigoration. That’s what Flair seeks, with eclectic works, full of flair, by five exceptional international artists.