The best exhibitions in Palma de Mallorca – ending the year with a bang.

Exclusive to genius-online by our roving correspondent Jonathan Turner

Looking at Gilbert & George, Astrid Colomar, Joana Vasconcelos, Susy Gómez, Reproductibilitat 1.0 and Black Label.

Contemporary art in Palma de Mallorca appears to be on a healthy diet. Currently there are large-scale solo shows by such international figureheads as Gilbert & George at Casal Solleric museum, Portuguese artist Joana Vasconcelos at Galeria Horrach Moya, geometric paintings and sculptures by Japanese/Spanish artist Mitsuo Miura at Galeria Maior and Tony Cragg sculptures at La Llotja, as well as three impressive exhibitions by three of the best women artists living and working in Mallorca – Susy Gómez at Horrach Moyah Workshop, Astrid Colomar at Casal Solleric museum and Francesca Martí at Gerhardt Braun Gallery (see review – http://www.genius-online.it/2013/09/25/francesca-marti-droplet-in-gerhardt-braun-gallery/ ). Add to this list a group show called Reproductibilitat 1.0 dedicated to highlights from the photography collection of Es Baluard Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, a thematic exhibition called Black Label of dark, monochrome paintings by important contemporary artists at Galeria Altair, and such annual events as the Nit de ‘Art (Art Night) and the Palma City/Antoni Gelabert Visual Art Prize, and it is clear that the Palma art scene is on a definite high.

GILBERT & GEORGE

Taking over the entire piano nobile of the Casal Solleric contemporary art museum (Fondació Palma Espai d’Art) in the city centre, Gilbert & George’s recent series of LONDON PICTURES consist of 292 separate photo-based works made up from a total of 3,712 newspaper posters, stolen or retrieved by the artist duo over a six-year period. The posters have been sorted and classified by the artists according to such subjects as cash, crime, sexual fetish, family members or even “cyclists”, with a postage-stamp portrait of Queen Elizabeth II printed in the bottom right-hand corner of each group. Hanging from floor-to-ceiling, the works become a mosaic of highly emotional “wallpaper” installed at the museum between ornate doorways and carved stone fireplaces. The red letters of the newspaper headlines match the baroque, scarlet-hued parlour at the Casal Solleric. In fact, Gilbert & George told me that they had never seen their 2011 series “looking so good, in such a perfect setting.”

The artists themselves, neat in their matching, drab-coloured suits, stood side-by-side at the exhibition opening in Palma, glasses of red wine in hand, smiling demurely. They have been working together since 1967, producing imagery inspired by graffiti, homeless youth and the Union Jack, exploring such opposing themes as liberty versus religious oppression, sexuality versus sensuality, conservative politics versus excessive human behaviour. Their non-confrontational demeanour at the opening clashed with the angry headlines printed behind them, berating murderers, pedophiles, thugs, whores, drunken drivers and rude aunts.

Most of the LONDON PICTURES tackle violent, bad-tempered subjects, but they sometimes also display dry humour, social absurdity and suburban immorality. Against back-grounds of soft-focus photographs portraying the artist duo posed in dull street-scapes, the headlines often feature such highly-charged words as KILLING, FURY, DEATH, SHOOTING, STABBED, KNIFE, GUILTY. The faces of the artists are reflected in car windscreens and parlour windows. These works promote the same knee-jerk jargon used by the British tabloids, rich in racism, homophobia and intolerance, always inciting a strong response.

The scare-mongering tactics of tabloid journalism undeniably relate back to the more unattractive aspects of contemporary society and daily life. An aggressive atmosphere permeates Gilbert & George’s landscapes. The seedy tone reminds us of coal-mine strikes, post-war rationing and the smell of cabbage cooking in cheap bed-sits. Or as art critic Georgina Sas summarized in the headline to her review published in Diario de Mallorca “Sex, Money, Race and Religion”. All the sensationalism helps to create a sensory overload in the viewer. The effect is both blunt and impulsive.

According to critic Michael Bracewell: “In their epic and relentless extent, simultaneously Dickensian and ultra-modern, the LONDON PICTURES comprise a great visual novel, revealing without judgement the ceaseless relay of urban drama, in all its gradations of hope and suffering, a doorway into an amazing world of misery, unhappiness and shame.”

LONDON PICTURES – curated by Walter Smerling & Pilar Ribal, Casal Solleric – Fondació Palma Espai d’Art, through January 5, 2014

ASTRID COLOMAR

Astrid Colomar (born in Palma, 1970) creates domestic-scaled sculptures, incorporating images and collages from our romantic, nostalgic past. Transformation in Red is the name of her solo show in the stone-carved basement at the Casal Solleric Museum, with many disparate elements which have been literally stitched together using red thread. Colomar’s intimate installations are made from such household items as bedside tables, desk-lamps, glass figurines, kitchen utensils, a metal birdcage and even the stuffed trophy of the head of a small deer. On the walls, intricate collages are made from pages from 19th Century German and English books, botanical and anatomical studies, antique photographs, atlases, French lithographs and velvet brocade. Detailed illustrations of butterflies, cage-birds and human body-parts are linked by red-embroidery. The artist maps out a forgotten, disappearing world of personal memory and physical loss. One work includes a small neon EXIT sign.

Colomar’s recurring themes focus on aspects of femininity, maternity and fragility. The consequences of humanity, philosophy and social change are represented through such subtle means as comparing pages from an 1870 edition of Paradise Lost by John Milton, to an illustrated manual on how to grow Favourite Flowers of Garden and Greenhouse from the same era. Vast literary intuition is brought down to a manageable, suburban scale. It is as though Colomar merges esoteric concepts with practical handicrafts.

In the age of the industrial revolution, man desired to tame nature, and womenfolk were often relegated to purely decorative purposes. With cautious hindsight, Colomar explores this sense of inequality. Her refined needle-work – considered to be an intrinsically feminine past-time – also functions as a symbolic representation of blood vessels and veins, a life-force providing a pulse between her separate elements. The red threads can be seen as providing cultural, scientific and social transfusions between the artist’s spiritual and physical concerns. By using a domestic, visual language to study profound and universal topics, Astrid Colomar subverts the norm. Hers is an aesthetic discourse reviewing historical arguments about the importance of the natural world versus the artificial world, and how such issues are still relevant today.

Transformation in Red – curated by Carlos Jover & Asun Clar at Casal Solleric, through January 5, 2014

JOANA VASCONCELOS

This exhibition of recent work by Joana Vasconcelos at the brand new space of Galeria Horrach Moya does not so much inhabit the building as invade it. Installed in the central staircase, a huge, writhing series of serpentine forms fills the void. Made from printed fabrics, knitted panels, fringes, baubles, gauze, frills, crystal beads and fake pearls, Vasconcelos’ massive rainbow-coloured construction resembles the twisted silhouette of a flying Chinese dragon, or wild vines in a jungle as they slowly strangle an abandoned temple.

In the rooms of the upper two floors of this classical Mallorcan palace complete with decorative painted tiles, other sculptures are made from solid geometric forms, interwoven with parts made from floppy stalactites and drooping stalagmites. Tiled blocks are covered with tentacles of soft crochet. The suspended organic forms are sewn together, interacting with the architectural elements as though they are crawling and creeping. This rich ornateness is purposely exaggerated. Sometimes it is as though the imposing sculptures themselves are explosions of calorie-enriched, soft jewellery.

The vibrant, clashing colours create a trippy sort of surreal camouflage. Her mixture of patterns, lace and metallic fabrics produces overtly tactile objects, creating a handmade avalanche of labour-intensive craftwork which sometimes conversely appears to belong to Mother Nature. This is all part of the artist’s subversive research into such issues as the role of women, class differences and national identity.

At the 2013 Venice Biennale, Joana Vasconcelos represented Portugal with her floating pavilion remodelled from a Lisbon ferryboat, moored to the quay just outside the Giardini. The boat had been clad in hand-painted azulejos, the blue-and-white tiles typical of Lisbon, showing maritime landscapes of the port city. Inside, the ferry was lavishly upholstered in Vasconcelos’ blue-and-white padded textiles, wrapped in strands of fairy lights. Elsewhere in Venice, at the Glasstress exhibition at the Palazzo Cavalli Franchetti on the Grand Canal, her knitted tubes wove themselves through an oversized chandelier made from Murano glass. As ever, the lush work of Joan Vasconcelos exists in a fascinating world between feminine softness and hard-edged geometry, between vivid colour and gentle pastels, between comfortable tradition and radical innovation, between monumental overload and refined detail.

Joana Vasconcelos, Galeria Horrach Moya, Palma www.horachmoya.com

SUSY GOMEZ

Functioning as a work-in-progress, this solo show of recent installations by Susy Gómez takes place in the new Horrach Moya Workshop, a project gallery in a factory-scaled space in the shopping precinct of the city centre in Palma. Housed in a former motor-repair shop which had been abandoned for 30 years, it is an oil-stained garage still retaining its vintage illuminated signs for Lambretta scooters and painted advertisements for motor oils. The “grungy” open-plan Workshop provides a brilliant contrast to Gómez’s life-sized, domestic set-ups.

The visitor is greeted by a typical suburban dining suite. An extended wooden table with six chairs is arranged normally, except that the dining chairs on either end are suspended, their legs hovering above the floor. They have been screwed into the underside of the table-top. The scene has been set for an awkward family dinner.

Two wooden doors in their timber surrounds stand upright and detached. They balance on floor-beams and tiles extracted from an early 20th Century building. It is a raised corridor leading to nowhere. Similarly, a staircase paved with decorative Mallorcan tiles, detached from the same restoration project, stands in solitary isolation. It now proudly exists beyond its previous functional purpose.

“We are used to paying too much attention to forms and disregarding the space between them,” writes Susy Gómez. “Our culture is designed to steal our attention. Here, space is part of a process of deconstruction and re-accommodation invoked by the body itself.”

Elsewhere in the space in Palma, dozens of plastic crates from the markets have been neatly stacked on top of two old-style single beds. The twin towers of fruit boxes have been exposed to 250-degree temperatures, so that the crates on top are deformed and partly melted. Gómez’s surreal mix of intimacy and monumentality, presenting domestic objects on an industrial scope, is also evident in the largest installation at the Workshop. Sitting in a shallow, circular pool of water, 28 white porcelain toilets form a perfect ring. They face each other, arranged as though ready for a damp-footed public conference or a round-table meeting for the incontinent.

As such, Gómez plays games with the concept of comfortable bourgeoisie. Her work evolves from a careful study of how social action interacts with identity. She explores the hidden values of found objects, traces of human activity, and how to transform fragmented elements into potent social commentary. “Some of the works are still undergoing transformation,” she said to me. “It’s about change over time, and making new interventions.”

Three old-fashioned, white metal hospital beds are installed side-by-side. Hanging from the ceiling beams above them is a series of indeterminate machine parts, shaped like cisterns or cleaning tanks. Given their proximity to the stained sick-beds, they immediately remind the viewer of outsized intravenous drips. These heavy objects, dangling dangerously above the hospital beds, lend a feeling of precariousness, a recurring sensation in the installations and sculptures of Susy Gómez. The spiritual strength of her work lies in that it is simultaneously timeless and ephemeral.

Susy Gómez – Horrach Moya Workshop, (Ramon I Cajal 12, Palma, by appointment only) through January 24, 2014

Reproductibilitat 1.0

Leading up to the museum’s 10th anniversary in 2014, Reproductibilitat 1.0 is a striking selection of portraits, landscapes and conceptual imagery from the collection of Es Baluard Museu d’Art Modern i Contemporani de Palma, staged in collaboration with international photographers and collectors. The show includes early daguerreotypes, folkloristic mementos and mid-19th Century prints, as well as modern cult images, videos and works using experimental photographic techniques. A dramatic panorama showcasing photo-based works by 42 artists including Marina Abramović, Pilar Albarracín, Per Barclay, Toni Catany, Diana Coca, Erró, Francesc Fiol Amengual, Roland Fischer, Susy Gómez, Pierre Gonnord, Alfredo Jaar, Man Ray, Robert Mapplethorpe, Francesca Martí, Joan Miró, Shirin Neshat, Thomas Ruff and Sean Scully, this curatorial project has been brought together by Es Baluard director Nekane Aramburu. The exhibition proposes a historical perspective particularly focused on life on the island of Mallorca, while also providing sharp references to more recent social change.

“Sometimes my work can be about imprisonment, being restricted, literally being tied-up,” says Spanish artist Francesca Martí, whose work is represented in the group show by Prosper I (2001), pictured above right. “The story of Prosper is very dramatic. He was a road-worker in Mallorca. When I first spoke to him he was polite and cultivated, and I asked him to model for me. He was quite serious, not talkative. But he told me his story. In Nigeria, he and his family had a tough life, and fearful for her children’s future, his mother asked Prosper and his two brothers to move far away. They settled in Spain, and Prosper is now a successful businessman.”

Left photo: Roland Fischer, Zhu Zhu #4088 from the series Chinese Pool Portraits (2007). Both works are from the permanent collection of Es Baluard Museu d’Art Modern I Contemporani de Palma.

Reproductibilitat 0.1 Es Baluard Museum – through March 16, 2014. www.esbaluard.org

BLACK LABEL

As Palma’s most important, historic private gallery devoted to the best international modern and contemporary art since 1982, Galeria Altair presents a conceptually crisp, thematic show in which artists from around the globe have reduced their language to creating images using the limited palette of black. The result is BLACK LABEL, a coherent group of works as smooth as aged scotch, produced from 1962 to 2010 by Miquel Barceló, Erwin Bechtold, Hans Hartung, Manuel Millares, Joan Miró, Ernesto Neto, Antonio Saura, Richard Serra and Antoní Tapies. Passion and innovation are potent forces in this selection of primarily abstract works on canvas and paper, both minimal and expressionistic.

Left: Antonio SauraCrucifixion (1984)  and right: Miquel BarcelóPlaque Marigot (2010)

Black Label – through January 14, 2014. Galeria Altair, Sant Jaume 15, Palma. www.galeriaaltair.com