At the Russian Federation Pavilion in Venice, the American writer and artist Alice Bucknell’s film Swamp City imagines the Florida Everglades as a luxury nature resort for high-tech eco-tourism in a near future reality of severe climate disruption.
Matthew Lutz-Kinoy’s Windows to the Clouds
at Museum Frieder Burda, Berlin
Words by Drew Zeiba
In his new exhibition Windows to the Clouds at Museum Frieder Burda’s Salon Berlin, the Paris-based artist Matthew Lutz-Kinoy creates portals onto not-quite-other worlds: scenes, landscapes or events tied to our present or past, but reimagined such that we might reimagine them ourselves. There are paintings of the traditional sort, and of the more unusual, for example, on the ceiling. Ceramics, resembling pillows and plates, are in part references to ongoing practice of staging elaborately-orchestrated dinners. And everywhere there are pompoms: falling in strings, filling hallways like so many dots on a grid, lying on plinths.
Blushes and reds and occasional browns and blues, rows of descending pompoms and pink carpets, such beauty belies its own cruelties: In ‘Thunberg Greets The Nations, 23 September 2019’, looming and leering figures circle about a child, her back to us, vulnerable to our eyes too. The titles often tether these paintings that might otherwise seem fantastical to ‘real’ people, historical images and events, or places—including locations hard hit by Covid-19, like Lombardy, in ‘Lombardy Capriccio’, which references not only that city, but also the legacy of imaginative landscape painting, quoting here Francesco Guardi’s Fantastic Landscape. Such references accumulate: Dante, François Boucher, Rodin, Burle Marx. Windows to the Clouds reframes not only our seeing the present, but our relation to the history of seeing that’s formed it.
For A Magazine Curated By, Lutz-Kinoy discusses the evolution of his practice, his relationship to space and architecture, and his hopes that exhibition-making might stage ways for us to envision something and somewhere else for ourselves — even if just for a moment.
Spatiality seems to be a large part of this exhibition—the pompom curtains, the pink carpet, the painting on the ceiling.
How were you thinking of engaging space when you were putting Windows to the Clouds together?
I can’t remember another time when I chose a decorative element like carpeting or something as a way to define space. I’ve always relied on paintings and more traditional art objects. But this is happening on a lot of different works in the show — the pompom curtains and the ceiling painting — but even those plates are also doing it; they’re hung up as this kind of border on the wall. I think the thing that provoked me to work in that way was that the series of paintings that I had been making — which all have a focal point in a central composition — are like vortexes or portals. They act as frames and windows, and the paintings provoked me to push this and to play with all these different formats.
And I enjoy working in very large formats, which I was able to with the ceiling. I like to play with systems of affect in color and I was curious how it would change the atmosphere and the environment to have this color that totally changed the room, even the reflection on the walls, which the carpet allowed me to do. Maybe this thing about space is that it makes you question when something begins and ends. With the pompoms, for example, the textile is enveloping you. Your feet are touching this carpet and maybe that makes you think then about the materiality of the painted surface. These other elements help the audience question their proximity to the things that they’re looking at and give various entry points.
There’s also an element then of asking the viewer’s body to do something, or at least thinking about how they’re negotiating the museum in a more concrete way than if there were just works on wall. Do you think your background in performance shaped this show?
There is that idea at least in my very early pieces. I didn’t really do any paintings, and I didn’t want to engage in painting history. I was much more interested in new materials, I was making a lot of live performance and videos. I was doing printmaking. But I was also doing a lot of backdrop paintings for dance performances. I got more and more interested in technique. I just had a lot of pleasure in making paintings, and I started to investigate it more and more. Still, I always stop as the paintings get smaller than a human form. I have a hard time understanding how a painting is linked to those original ideas if it’s smaller scale. I always link the paintings’ origin point with a very conscious performance-based universe.
Does your not wanting to go small have something to do with wanting to maintain that ‘backdrop’ quality, or that direct relation to the human body?
That’s important, but there are also interesting things with scale, because when you engage with larger scales you engage with other types of infrastructure and tangible things about dealing with institution or the space or the gallery. All of those questions become like slightly more complex because you have to really engage with like a the physical realities of a location and the people organizing it. There is something inherently linked to a type of engagement, a kind of active engagement with people in space that is heavily influenced by performance practices. I think the reason I keep returning to José Esteban Muñoz’s ‘Cruising Utopia’, 2009, in part because of this chapter where he talks about stages and the idea of horizons and spaces of potentiality. I do think that there’s a possibility to flirt with exhibition spaces containing a type of ideological space, or maybe artists can flirt with the idea of an ideal situation or creating the ideal space to stage a viewing situation inside of. In his text, of course, Muñoz talks about gay bars and DIY spaces and queer collective spaces and punk venues, which I understand. But on a personal level, I think it’s possible to have those same feelings about exhibition-making. I used to think, in a very literal way, I would always have to perform inside the shows in order to maintain that idea. Because then you are obviously activating the space with this queer performance within your set-design-déco-environment. But those ideas are foundational for me so it doesn’t bother me that I’m not in the museum performing. I think you still can use an environment to guide someone to a fragmented moment of potential where everything comes together.
Thinking of this exhibition, its spatial and performative aspects, and this conversation around idealism or utopia—are you trying to gesture towards any particular ways of thinking towards an ideal, or is it an open question?
It’s a playground of ideas. I think it’s a floating world.
Matthew Lutz-Kinoy Windows to the Clouds at the Museum Frieder Burda‘s Salon Berlin, Berlin, runs through June 5th, 2021
Photography by Thomas Bruns
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