(Berlin.) Apart from all the events, institutional openings and art fairs (no link, as not worthy a critique), autumn brings some great new shows to Berlin’s commercial galleries. We decided to commence our tour with Hans-Peter Feldmann at Mehdi Chouakri Gallery.
The German artist once more shows art “on time”, i.e. images of the past he makes a present of to the future. It may happen in the form of the grandma’s saying Oh My (German: Oh je) engraved on sandstone, but much more so in oil paintings. For those who are not familiar with HPF: These portraits are either found/bought somewhere, or reproduced to Feldmann’s orders who never touches a brush himself. Authorship, authenticity, and a world of images, you know the story. Continuing the concept, the gallery offers no text, but a leaflet with more reproductions instead.
Fake old master portraits feature genuinely “out-dated” faces, and thus illustrate the relations between art history and fashion; perspective, clothes, colours, haircut, and face expression all belong equally to a bygone era. Or so it seems, as it’s actually hard to pin down what exactly is creating the illusion of a past. The faces stare at the bare behinds of similar classical figures on the opposing wall. Shame on us but we could only identify one of those as cropped from Ingrès’ The Valpinçon Bather (1808), the rest is probably taken from equally important works. Reproducing details of an image is not essentially different to cutting out a person’s (picture’s) eyes like Hans-Peter Feldmann does in other works. And when the artist adds red noses to a historic interior scene, does he indeed “add”, or once again cut away and cover something?
More historic paintings are left intrinsically unaltered, yet converted by absorption in a new context. Small format landscapes that still bear the original signature are framed by installation in a new compound, the individual work is reduced to an element of a style and a time (kind of like what happens to humans in a society of 7 billions). Imagine art history as a giant puzzle, and Hans-Peter Feldmann taking out pieces that don’t necessarily correspond to finite artworks. In other words, he mixes and remixes the existent imagery. Or maybe he imitates an art collector who curates his collection in the old fashioned way.
Sculptural works making use of obsolete objects of male fashion – hats and collars - are complemented with a legion of high heels facing a wall, to summon a past when humanity was still divided into male and female. But the exhibition’s highlight, and in itself a sufficient reason to visit, is an on-table installation projecting a shadow play on a small screen (after a gallery assistant has plugged it in, which they will do should they notice you; there are not many visitors around.) A probably intended imperfection in the mechanism emits a monotonous rustling at every turn of this vanity fair populated with household goods, toy people, animals and landmarks. A magnificent panorama and a dance through life and time, it gives great occasion to utter idealistic Plat(on)itudes.
Now, time also plays a role in the works of at least one artist at Koenig Galerie (not long ago the dealer still operated under his full name Johann König, but either because that he shares with a decidedly unfunny German TV comedian, or because the prince finally had his coronation, it’s now simply König – i.e. King - Gallery). We trust you’re familiar with the clan connections that make the gallery thrive, from the perhaps even more successful brother dealing in New York to their curator daddy and the publisher uncle. Berlin’s König Galerie a few years ago moved into a deconsecrated church in the city’s south. Entering the erstwhile holy halls, we witnessed a Last Supper scene re-enacted by the gallery staff (would not a round table suit them better?), the food replaced with computers. Much intimidated, we turned aside to search for the art. This is not an easy task, as the building is really f... - no, we won’t curse in a, albeit former, church - big.
They’ve announced a show of Matthias Weischer’s, another German painter of the Leipzig school. The first works we see though, are monochrome drawings in different forms, one resembling a sorcerer’s hat, another an angel’s wing. More art is lost in the vast halls: A sculpture made from belts. A framed graffiti (of Gerhard Richter’s Fuji series?!?). The first doubts arise: Is all this the work of only one artist, is Matthias Weischer that versatile? Or should it be a group show? But then, there’s no information, no labels, nothing. What if we carried a suitcase of money with us that we absolutely needed to spend, spell: launder, on the spot? Do they really despise us that much to let us get completely lost? Would they laugh, if we asked for that Weischer bronze over there, behind the 22nd column on the right (okay, it’s not that many, yet much too many)? Between the children’s table for the interns and a door leading to more offices, storage rooms, or the crypt, we find a basket with potentially artificial fruits and wine bottles in a brown paper carton. A nice installation, actually. Yet, not what we would’ve expected from Weischer either.
Much confused we returned to the entrance, but before we could gather up enough courage to disturb the sacred group, we discovered a side room with a collection of pretty paintings in it. On the gallery’s website we later identified these - and these only - as Matthias Weischer’s works (we also identified some of the art in the unannounced group show). And once more we thought of time ticking away. Weischer mixes Roman helmets and amphorae with semi-abstract colour forms. One canvas features half a deer in cave painting style and that sort of colour palette photographers and graphic designers use for something (calibration?). His open interiors include many such references to art history and present. You cannot deny these paintings a certain naivety in style, they remotely remind of illustrations for children’s books. The exhibition is really not that bad that it would need to be hidden away. Yet, the main event at König Galerie, the show Berlin is talking about, is taking place on the upper floor: Camille Henrot’s The Pale Fox.
On top of the stairs, we paused to contemplate a warning: “This installation is video monitored” – are people truly stealing that much from art galleries? - and to overhear a conversation around the large table that was now directly beneath us (the ceiling is rather thin). Finally, we focused on the immense cube in front, white with brighter colour stripes running down the walls. Surrounding it on a narrow path feels distantly like that death strip between the two Berlins, yet there is also a touch of Hadj to it. Blue Light falls from an entrance. Inside there’s more of the blues, blue floor, blue walls and many objects lying, standing, hanging all around under the watchful eyes of a screaming baby portrait. Indeed: “What does the fox say?”
'Abandon all hope for order and understanding, ye who enter here'. The cacophony of impressions includes sculptures, photographs, books, cut out ads and articles, a fake drilling machine, a snake on the floor, analogue telephones on a heap of garbage, empty boxes of Apple products, blank papers in line, a jalousie with a face on the one side and a Miró-ic pattern on the other, etc.
It’s great, in a “WTF” sense.
The gallery tells about a pale fox called Ogo, a notorious troublemaker in African Dogon beliefs, and about European ethnology’s misled interpretations. It suits the artist’s interest in ethnology on which she’s built her career. (Her choice of a “bluer shade of pale” as the dominant colour is rather not influenced by Franz Marc’s painting The Blue Fox, nor by the stereotypes of FOX TV network, although the French artist resides in New York).
Some titles of the books? Here you go: “The Urantia Book. Indexed Edition.” (What is a "Urantia", and is there an non-indexed edition? The binding is blue.) “Museums of the world, 7th edition” (long out-dated), a “Bulletin of the International String Figure Association, edition 7/2000” (the number 7 seems to be a favourite with the artist), “Disorders of Menstruation by Edward Jenks, 1833-1903”, “The Genealogy of the English Racehorse”. The artist got balls, or ostrich eggs at least, placed on a shelf. The shelves are curbed waves, actually. And it gets even better, still in the same spirit: Calligraphies, heaps of Le Monde newspaper issues, an empty packing of Woolford Cashmere Silk ties, more bronzes some of which serve as book stands. The March 1993 issue of The Watchtower both in American and Brazilian versions, and the artist wants to talk about god with you. In different emanations, particularly Hindu figurines are hidden here and there.
Suddenly we tripped over a large sculpture that we never noticed before, and when we discovered Siamese twins in terracotta - surely sacred to someone -, we felt sure to have seen a photo or painting (drawing?) of Siamese twins before, but it has vanished. The chaos is complete, and surpasses our attention.
The gallery says each wall were dedicated to “another element of nature, another phase of life, cardinal direction and concept in the philosophy of Leibniz”, which sounds like a retrospective justification.
The installation is also a panorama of the world, life, and a map of the artist’s mind. Trying to master the chaos that is the world, or a multitude of worlds endlessly besieging us. The compulsion to interpret is basic human behaviour, everyone did, do, and will do it. They fail. We do. We got it. The whole experience is accompanied by spherical music that seems quite unnecessary. Back on the outside, we took another turn around the cube and found cables coming up through a hole in the floor to vanish behind a hidden door. If somebody pulled the plug, the sound would cease and potentially the lights go out in a non-metaphorical sense. Remembering that warning sign, we did not do it.
The consciousness mirrored by this installation will eventually black out, yet something will remain, just as the documents and artefacts that form the complex whole, even elements of a culture like the Dogon’s.
Hans-Peter Feldmann, 16 September-30 October 2015, Mehdi Chouakri Gallery
Matthias Weischer, 17 September-24 October 2015, König Gallery
Camille Henrot, The Pale Fox, 5 September-1 November 2015, König Gallery