The 20-something Berlin-based artist Jonathan Meese has somehow managed to make himself ubiquitous. He was first in Berlin, for the 1998 Berlin Biennale, and then in New York, for "Generation Z" at P.S.1. Most recently he turned up in Cologne, where he filled the window of Walter Koenig's famous art bookstore with his trademark conglomeration of pop detritus, including posters for Stanley Kubrick movies and John and Yoko in their famous "bed in," white crosses, helmets, big books of newspaper clippings and Xeroxes, little books with price tags (650 DM) and portraits of the artist as the young man that he is. The title of the installation, "War Library Meese," seems to relate to Kosovo, but it looks like all his other installations. I wonder if he'll ever be more than the flavor of the month in the youth oriented art scene.
In any case, Meese represented the flavor of youth for "Premierentage," the traditional spring openings of the Cologne galleries. As always, there was some interesting and beautiful work, however unexciting most of the exhibitions were. Some of the work was rather playful.
Four galleries presented works by artists who use computers in the production of paintings or sculptures. At Galerie Berndt was "Reflex -- Positions in Contemporary Painting," a thoughtful but somehow cool presentation of work by the American Joseph Nechvatal (b. 1951), Cologne artist Matthias Groebel (b. 1958) and conceptual painter Endre Tót (b. 1937).
Nechvatal's three "computer-robotic assisted acrylic" paintings (the largest measuring 180 by 245 cm and priced at 16,500 DM) are made from drawings that are scanned into a computer, combined, and painted on canvas by a machine. The pixelated result is somewhat psychedelic and suggestive of muscle tissue seen through a microscope. Nechvatal's work reflects a skeptical approach to generating and destroying images, but is beautiful all the same.
Matthias Groebel starts with TV images that he projects digitally onto canvas and "paints" with a homemade airbrush. The paintings have the roughness of the TV screen and show close-ups of people who look lost and confused. The viewer dives into a melancholic underwater cosmos. The works are priced between 7,000 DM and 18,000 DM.
Endre Tót's conceptual paintings are indeed painted, but there is not much to see. They refer to works by Duchamp, Moholy-Nagy, Otto Dix, Kandinsky and Rousseau. His acrylics, on paper or canvas, begin with a painted black rectangle of the same size as the work he's referencing. Next to it he jots down some brief information about technique and material. Rather dry, but beautiful, they're priced between 3,500 DM and 14,500 DM.
Computer photographs and paintings
Rudolf Bonvie's computer generated photographs are beautiful, fragile and poetic, with the charm of Japanese woodcuts, though they are much larger. Maximilian Krips Galerie shows five C prints in which the Cologne-based artist (b. 1947) is working with images of the St. Victoire mountain made so famous by Paul Cézanne. One piece reflects the vertical stripes of Barnett Newman. Bonvie told me that he uses Adobe Photoshop to transfer the allover structure of painting into photography, and to develop a pictorial language of his own. The Cézanne St. Victoire series (seven in total) took him one and a half years. Some prints are originals (between 22,000 DM and 30,000 DM) and some are editions of five (7,000 DM).
"Survivors," is what Galerie Christian Nagel and artist Merlin Carpenter call their presentation of 13 recent oil paintings and a brand new Mercedes-Benz full-suspension mountain bike (objet trouvé) called "David's Soul." The paintings all vibrate; there are zigzags like disruptions on a TV screen, and the Pop portraits of models Kate Moss and Trish Goff, who are the focus of most of the works, are made with dots and splatters. The images are designed with a computer program for amateurs, and then painted with oil in a way that seems to push the computer esthetics aside. The works are not very convincing and I doubt that they'll last. Their price, depending on size, is between 5,000 DM and 10,000 DM.
Computer generated sculpture
At first glance Galerie Otto Schweins' show of computer generated plastic sculpture and digital prints by Elke Baulig (b. 1968) looks like a lot of fun. But on closer inspection, the tiny, white comic strip candle men and green rubber grass all over the floor recall the abject. The little brown houses in the photos could be made of excrement. The blue sky and the green ground suddenly become unpleasant and strange, with an air of artificiality and cyberspace. The artist's strange, fairy-tale cosmos irritates, attracts and disgusts. The sculptures are 1,800 DM, the photographs between 1,000 DM and 2,000 DM.
Gabriele Rivet's gallery featured the American Charles Worthen (b. 1958), who lives in Cologne. His recent sculptures look like colorful, functionless toys. They are made from plastic, vinyl and rubber, and sometimes wood and cardboard. His little objects feel simultaneously strange and appealing to the touch. They're priced between 900 DM and 5,500 DM.
Baselitz's dogs, Bourgeois' spiders
Georg Baselitz's two attack dogs (mastiffs) are apparently not dangerous. Someone broke into his house one night and didn't interrupt their sleep for one second. In 1998 Baselitz did sensitive ink and watercolor drawings of the peaceful sleeping dogs, and now four of them are on view at Galerie Joachim Blueher. They all measure 70 by 50 cm, and cost 32,000 DM each. Blueher's show "Celeste," which means blue in Italian, also includes works on paper by Jörg Immendorf, Peter Roetsch, Barbara Tucholski, Per Kirkeby, Peter Boemmels, Markus Luepertz, Dirk Sommer and Saskia Niehaus. Barbara Tucholski´s fragile new pencil drawings with a blue bucket impress with their raw beauty. They're 24 by 32 cm, and cost 1,600 DM. The young artist Saskia Niehaus creates a strong poetic cosmos in her gouache and pencil drawings with animals, priced at 1,300 DM.
At Karsten Greve there is an excellent presentation of unpleasant but beautiful animals. To be precise, watercolors of spiders by Louise Bourgeois. The show features 28 drawings, one etching and five sculptures by the American artist. The frail 1947-49 bronze Friendly Evidence ($220,000) welcomes visitors at the entrance. A large range of Bourgeois' work is on view, from abstracts from the '40s to a little 26-cm figure ($16,500) from the '90s. Her recent drawings, like the subtle Untitled (Mirror) (1994), shift between the surreal and the literal. The white gouache on black paper, with its reduced form and strong atmosphere, suggests an event in a lady's boudoir.
Americans: Stockholder, Condo, Lawler
At Rolf Ricke, Jessica Stockholder continued her sculptural exploration of the possibilities of painting with five monotypes and eight new installation pieces. The colorful show filled the gallery with a friendly, maybe even happy spirit. Lamps, plastic funnels and umbrellas dance forward into the space -- two pieces use umbrellas either as a spot of color or as ground for paint. Bed Spot, made of linoleum, lumber, hardware, red plastic molding and oil paint (38,000 DM) flows from the wall like a river with red plastic pieces, and is quite beautiful and thoughtful. Stockholder's collage-like monotypes use paint, wool and carpet and sell for 6,000 DM each. Her work relates to artists like Schwitters and Rauschenberg. It has an interesting, playful note and is at the same time very clear. Full-scale installations are priced between 27,000 DM and 48,000 DM.
Monika Sprüth showed works by George Condo and Louise Lawler in different rooms of her gallery. Condo's new silk-screens and paintings use the esthetics of record covers of the '50s and '60s to reflect on the music of Miles Davis, Jimi Hendrix and John Coltrane, among others. These strong works breathe music and rhythm and refer to painters like Jackson Pollock and Franz Kline. Condo has clearly thought long and hard about creating images with different levels of meaning. Prices range from $25,000 to $67,000.
Louise Lawler calls her new series of photographs, taken in the Jackson Pollock show at the Museum of Modern Art, "Photos by Hans Namuth." Lawler's picture shows MoMA's reconstruction of Pollock´s studio with the famous Namuth photos of Pollock in action. In contrast to Pollock's actual studio, which is located in the Springs in Easthampton, Long Island, the floor of the replica shows no traces of dripped color. Lawler provides a sharp, critical interpretation of this attempt to recreate the aura of an American hero. The images are $7,000 in an edition of five. Another Lawler photograph, titled Painting and Sculpture, shows in two parts two paintings by Gerhard Richter combined with Rauschenberg´s famous goat. They are $16,000 in an edition of five.
Galerie Schüppenhauer offers an interesting trip into the world of letters. The silent but exciting show, which could well have been organized for a museum, includes 84 works involving text and the alphabet. There are famous artists, like Ian Hamilton Finlay, Alighiero Boëtti, Al Hansen, Ben Vautier and George Brecht, and lesser-known artists, like Alexander Braun and Gia Edzgveradze. Better bring your reading glasses. The show is time consuming, but is definitely worth it.
BARBARA WEIDLE is a art historian and journalist who lives in Bonn.
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