At Hauser & Wirth Menorca, Rashid Johnson challenges beauty with truth
Opened in July 2021 for an abbreviated summer season, the new Hauser & Wirth Menorca – the art gallery’s 16th location in 30 years – occupies 16,000 square feet on Illa del Rei, a 10-acre island in a Menorca cove , the Spanish Balearic island. Accessible only by boat and occupying the eastern region of the island, opposite what was once an 18th-century naval hospital, the new space helps give the small island the same newfound luster that Bilbao received when it was built. of a Guggenheim museum designed by Frank Gehry. there in 1997.
Pale in size and activity compared to Spain’s more popular Balearics, close to Ibiza and Majorca, Menorca has remained a quiet and less developed point in the Mediterranean. Still sleepy, pristine and local-run, the shine of a name like Hauser & Wirth could easily be a distraction from the setting and the art displayed in the space, but the balance between a compelling site and selective shows could no longer be balanced. (Founders Iwan and Manuela Wirth have a home in Menorca and have been volunteering with a group of locals since 2016 to help restore Illa del Rei’s original structures, which were crumbling.)
Surrounded by a coastline dotted with ferries, dinghies, sailboats and bowriders, the island is intrinsically linked to watercraft. After seeing this when he visited in 2017, artist Rashid Johnson had the image of a simple rowboat in his head when he worked on his first show at Hauser & Wirth Menorca, ‘Sodade’, to be seen until to November 13. The exhibition includes nine Seascape paintings, created using Johnson’s signature wiping method, but for the first time, working with oil. The south-facing gallery exhibits these works, in which textured tones of Neutral White or Prussian Blue stand out from their canvases. Serene, cohesive and striking in their simplicity, the pieces were created over the course of two years during the pandemic, where the artist spent his time in the Hamptons, and also reflect the sense that we are all constantly moving but going nowhere. leaves, floating like boats in the sea on an endless journey. The title of the show comes from a Cape Verdean song from the 1950s about melancholy and desire.
A more literal version of this is seen in his four cast bronze boat sculptures. Heavy, dark and substantial, they line the gallery’s light skin-toned terrazzo floors, parallel to each other as if anchored. Close inspection reveals items like VHS tapes, radio transponder, CB radio, books infused into them like a time capsule. There are also oyster shells, which Johnson says reference Zora Neale Hurston’s 1928 essay, “How It Feels To Be Colored,” and resemble funeral pyres. Inspiration and references to the slave trade and the Black Lives Matter movement run throughout Johnson’s work. Against the backdrop of this now idyllic Mediterranean retreat, the viewer is challenged to reflect on the tumultuous history of the island, which saw wars, religious crusades and slavery on its shores throughout the 19th century. .
In the adjacent north-facing gallery, the exhibition continues with the next evolution of his Anxious Man series, with five Surrender paintings created on raw linen with Titanium White oil paint and three Bruise paintings in Black & Blue , with the variation of blue tones coming from layers and layers of a single color. The anxiety and unease in them contrasts with the seascapes, but in such a peaceful and storied setting, they are grounded nonetheless.
Experiencing the works in New York or Los Angeles would not be the same. The Menorca space is flooded with natural light while glass doors allow exterior views – not just the sea, but the gallery grounds, landscaped with both sustainable gardens by Piet Oudolf, as well as old rowboats, stacked and displayed like sculptures outdoors. It’s all about beauty here, and it’s impossible to remove that context when viewing art.
Hauser & Wirth understands that once you get to Menorca and then Illa del Rei, you might want to linger. Coming out of the Johnson show, one steps out onto land overlooking the sea. A series of butterfly chairs are lined up just above the coast, angled directly to view the water where boats are moored beneath stunning holiday homes nestled in the cliffs. Head out to the pier after dark with a glass of Menorcan wine (the gallery is open until 9:00 p.m. and the restaurant until 11:30 p.m. during the summer), look back and Martin Creed’s Structure n° 3667 WATER is neon lit.
Elsewhere on the site there is an outdoor sculpture trail with works by Franz West, Louise Bourgeois and Eduardo Chillida. The Cantina Restaurant serves local farm-to-table dishes with an emphasis on seasonal vegetables as well as local catches. And for those looking for a stronger keepsake just an Instagram post, there’s the gallery’s gift shop, offering a variety of site-specific items, including frameable silk scarves featuring an Illa del Rei design, ceramics from local manufacturer Blanca Madruga and a fragrance from Fueguia created for Hauser & Wirth called Manuela.
Visit Hauser & Wirth Menorca
Ferries to the island are operated by the gallery and depart from Mahon every hour. They come back every hour on the half hour. (The island also accepts private craft.) If you’re staying in Menorca, skip the small hotels on Mahon and opt for one of the island’s idyllic resorts. The quirky Menorca Experimental opened in 2019 and is set on 75 acres, with 43 rooms housed in a former 19th century finca. At Torralbenc, which opened in 2013, the atmosphere is classic luxury. Its clusters of 19th- and 20th-century whitewashed farmhouses house a range of contemporary rooms (many with sea views), while lush gardens, an expansive swimming pool and an award-winning restaurant give the impression of they could be picked directly from the south of France. .
On the other side of the island, near the marina and the chic, medieval Ciutadella, is the Faustino Gran, an ever-expanding Relais & Château property, which has recently added two more bed and breakfast buildings to its chic city offer. Swim in a pool adjacent to the 13th-century cathedral; charter one of the hotel’s three boats to explore the island’s pristine undeveloped beaches, or spend the day at their “country club,” a private 37-acre oasis in a biosphere featuring a pool, sun deck, a restaurant, farm, and ocean access for snorkeling, kayaking, and paddleboarding.
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