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by Erik Bakke
Rupert Goldsworthy’s new paintings loom over the viewer like shadows in a dark alley, bewildering, threatening, flickers of images from the spectacle of the Berlin street, where an architecture of Baroque Prussian militarism is overlaid by emblems of Muslim and Berber immigration and penetrated by the dark secrets of Germany’s 20th-century. Working on brown paper in an illustrator’s hand, Goldsworthy gives his signs a neoclassical poise, as if marking a threshold between a dystopian past and an alien future.

Like many contemporary artists, Goldsworthy understands the mad allure of the criminal, the nihilist, the dictator -- a latter-day Romanticism that matches freedom with fascism. "I am interested in wild, charismatic male leaders," he says in an interview, "and the way that they can draw power to themselves and become the centers of cults." Goldsworthy’s painting Mindfucker engages just this question, featuring a representation of a German military grave for "heroes" of the country’s African campaigns juxtaposed with Arabic signage from a Berlin bakery. Homoerotic subtexts affect both military and religious cults, Goldsworthy notes, citing Wilhelm Reich’s Mass Psychology of Fascism.

Goldsworthy is a peripatetic polymath who has run galleries in New York and Berlin, worked as an academic in England and Germany, and has recently completed his PhD at NYU in New York. He has also published two books on mass visual culture, most recently Consuming / Terror: Images of the Baader-Meinhof (Dr. Muller Verlag). His artistic enthusiasm for these contradictory street signs is tempered, then, by distance; he clearly puts himself in the position of a consumer (a natural critic), as opposed to that of a producer.

In Leather Angel the juxtapositions are clear if hermetic. Set into an Islamic design crowning the painting is the text "Mai 1968." A burly, hairy-chested man -- something of a B&D icon -- is depicted mostly nude from the waist up except for a pair of gauntlet style gloves, some leather straps, a small leather hat, and a pair of angel wings. A blue sunburst is positioned behind him. He is flanked by Chinese characters and Arabic text runs along the bottom of the work.

The variety of characters ruptures the work’s easy continuity, prompting the viewer to retreat into estheticizing. "In Leather Angel," Goldsworthy says, "I was specifically interested in how someone might one day try to hijack history and propose that there had also been a militant gay movement in Islamic countries in May 1968."

Another large work, BOMBart 1, was made in collaboration with the famous musicians, Mark Stewart and Angie Reed. Complex rococo patternings, quickly brushed on, provide both a frame (in gray) and a central image (in white). Scattered across this design are handwritten notes in marker, written in all caps: GHOSTS OF THE FUTURE, LILITH, LUCIFERIAN CONSCIOUSNESS, MOZART, BOHEMIAN GROVE. In another section appears the phrase "I am chaos I shall be given form."

Many of the texts are connected by lines, giving the effect of a map or a plan. MOSCOW, ENCOUNTER GROUP, SECRET VAULTS OF THE VATICAN, COUNCIL OF NICEA. The references run the gamut from mythical gods (Hermes Trismegistus) to modern mysticism (Madame Blavatsky) and political crime (Carlos the Jackal). The galaxy of references in this work map a kind of mass-cultural madness that knows no limits other than the universally human.

"Rupert Goldsworthy," June 26-Aug. 28, 2010, at Ritter/Zamet, Unit 8, 80A Ashfield Street, London, E1 2BJ England. The works are £4,000 each.

ERIK BAKKE is an editor for Aftershock magazine.