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"In difficult situations art can be really powerful" - The "Artist of the Year," Imran Qureshi, in an interview
Auratic Cabinet of Curiosities - Rosemarie Trockel's Art Cosmos at the New Museum
Viaggio in Italia - Photography in the Deutsche Bank Collection in Milan
"Disguising the Obvious" - Amy Cutler's Enigmatic Drawings
Imran Qureshi, Deutsche Bank´s “Artist of the Year” 2013
"If everyone likes it, then I´ve done something wrong." - Anselm Reyle at Deichtorhallen in Hamburg


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Auratic Cabinet of Curiosities
Rosemarie Trockel’s Art Cosmos at the New Museum

Rosemarie Trockel’s oeuvre defies all categorization. The important German contemporary artist works with every conceivable medium and style. Numerous works on paper by the artist are in the Deutsche Bank Collection, and she created an exclusive edition for the bank in 1993. Her knitted work Who will be in in ’99? has been on view in the Städel Museum in Frankfurt on permanent loan from the Collection since 2011. Now, the New Museum in New York presents a show of her work that resembles a cabinet of curiosities. Trockel’s retrospective combines her work with the objects, personalities, and works of art that inspire her. Cheryl Kaplan on one of the exhibition highlights of recent years.

A short man with whiskey flasks strapped to his legs like holsters has two black plumes sticking out of his head. He looks like some wacko bandit or 17th-century French grenadier stuck in a glass cage, staring at a row of decoy ducks and fake pistols. Just another day at the New Museum? Hardly. Rosemarie Trockel is in town, and she hasn’t come alone — she’s brought an entire universe with her of works and things that define her world. And if the title of this bandit is any clue, we might just have to “Kiss [Her] Aura."

From the get-go, curator Lynne Cooke knew that a “standard retrospective wouldn’t be of much interest to the artist.” Why would it be? Trockel has spent the last 30 years like a rogue operative in the art world: as soon as she’s been identified with one signature style, she drops it. Think about her knit paintings in the ’80s, a genre Trockel invented that used wool instead of canvas. This work propelled the artist to international stardom, emerging as she did from Cologne, then the epicenter of one of the most important art scenes in post-War Europe and the world. Trockel’s now iconic series of multiple knit ski masks and leggings used industrial machines to create patterns ranging from a Playboy bunny logo to swastikas and a hammer and sickle. While it used the very methodology that had confined women for centuries, handicraft such as knitting and sewing, to drive home a political and social point, it also perplexed the public with its unwillingness to stick to one art historical genre, such as Feminism, Modernism, or Minimalism. Just as Trockel hit her stride, she went headlong into a new identity as filmmaker, then sculptor, painter, and book-maker.

For most of her career, the artist has been accused by critics of being enigmatic, evasive, or elusive in exhibitions such as the recent documenta, or earlier at the 1999 Biennale di Venezia, where she represented Germany. Trockel may be the ultimate trickster, but her latest and most significant contribution to the art world, on view in New York, is likely to stop you in your tracks. Rosemarie Trockel: A Comos is a stunning and disturbing exhibition that began in Madrid at the Reina Sofia and travels next to the Serpentine in London before concluding at the Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland in Bonn.
Riddled with misfits and outcasts, beauty and violence, bawdy humor and a “peculiar realism,” as Cooke puts it, the show is a Wunderkammer or cabinet of curiosities: “a forerunner of the museum as we know it in the West.” Though Trockel is at the fulcrum of the show, it also includes work by fourteen other artists coming from several countries, centuries, and disciplines including natural history, fashion, and art. The beautifully vivid flora and fauna drawings by the 17th-century naturalist and illustrator, Maria Sibylla Merian — “likely the first person to go anywhere on a purely scientific exploration at the time” — stand opposite Trockel’s own weirdo memento mori case titled Picnic, 2012 on the second floor that contains a rotting hand, some dead flowers, and twigs.   There are also breathtakingly detailed glass replicas of sea anemones, jellyfish and other invertebrate sea life by the 19th-century father/son duo of Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka, first created for the Harvard Botanical Museum and natural history museums worldwide. These objects, models, and artifacts require time to observe, significantly slowing down the usual breakneck pace at which we view contemporary art.
But it’s the harsh, cold neon light oozing out of the entrance and exit to a small, white tiled room nearly hidden from view in an otherwise dark-walled expanse on the second floor that feels the most peculiar. The room is disquieting; it has the look and feel of an interrogation chamber or a butcher shop (according to Trockel), or a mad laboratory. An upside-down fake palm tree hangs from the ceiling. Next to it, a tarantula, that large hairy American spider, sits on top of a woman’s pubic hair like a codpiece or toupee. This bawdy digital print, called Replace Me, 2011, is Trockel’s version of Gustave Courbet’s famously scandalous painting, Origin of the World, 1866. In using the tarantula, Trockel not only opts for rude double entendres, but invites purposeful ambiguity that not only references the genitals as the place where the spinning of the world starts, but the classic male accusation of women as vicious spinners of tales or gossips.
As Cooke sees it: “In some ways, the white ceramic tile room is the heart of the show: things radiate out from there chronologically and conceptually. We had what we can say in retrospect were two lynchpins for the show related to Natural History (botany and zoology) and an interest in maverick figures who were either outsiders or less recognized artists. In some ways, we built around that.” Cooke continues: “We didn’t ever sit back and analyze the project, it was done in the way Rosemarie usually works: by trial and error… I proposed that Rosemarie think about a cosmos — an imaginary universe of things she felt strongly about or that made a picture of an imaginary world she identified with. Obviously that was very open-ended.”

While other exhibitions have used the Wunderkammer as a thematic foothold — for instance Andy Warhol’s 1969 RISD Museum show Raid the Icebox, where he raided the museum’s basement to display bins of 18th-century shoes, unknown paintings from the 1920s, and contemporary oddities, or MoMA’s 2008 show Wunderkammer: A Century of Curiosities that included prints and book art by Louise Bourgeois, Damien Hirst, Otto Dix, and James Ensor. Lee Miller in Hitler’s bathtub, a text work by Lawrence Weiner, ancient Afghan princess sculptures: even the “brain” of the last documenta, in which curator Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev brought together a wide range of epochs and movements in a cabinet of curiosities, shows how popular art historical references are on the current scene.

Rarely, however, has the Wunderkammer gone beyond its original concept as a collection of curiosities to challenge and reanimate contemporary art. What we see in A Cosmos is not just Trockel’s “trial and error” sampling system, but a project aimed at revamping the very act of how we see art in a museum. Is A Cosmos a new prototype to stop that time-honored search for the next best, hottest, youngest, outrageous artist? Let’s hope so, even if we don’t know what to call this phenomenon. Cooke says: “It’s the porousness between the fine arts and the applied arts or the fine arts and craft that’s of interest in order to make a sharper critique and at the same time a playful one.”

Museum chief curator Massimiliano Gioni has called A Cosmos “an autobiography in images.” But this exhibition is not simply a compilation of odd-ball objects and artifacts organized to express Trockel’s personal mythologies, strange as they are in works like Fly Me to the Moon, 2012, Trockel’s first collaboration with German artist Gunter Weseler. Here, a baby with a fly on its cheek is swaddled in a Snoopy dog astronaut outfit in a string net crib. A very surreal-looking black, white, and grey stuffed animal is tucked next to the baby’s chin, surreptitiously inflating and deflating, causing this cute furry blob to breathe on its own and make us jump mid-air. A phantom lullaby drifts in and out of the second floor. It’s not clear where the sound is coming from, because there’s no mobile hanging over the bassinet, just an empty hook (poor baby).
At times, Trockel’s show is like a fairground showcasing outsiders, for instance the Idaho-born deaf/mute artist James Castle and his decoy ducks, or Judith Scott, also deaf and born with Down Syndrome, and her obsessively wrapped yarn objects. There are also exotic attractions, like Cedric, a gigantic lobster caught and cooked in 1964, on view in New York as the understudy to Salvador Dali’s surreal Aphrodisiac Telephone, 1936. Dali’s phone used a lobster body as the receiver and was seen in the Madrid exhibition. In Lucky Devil, 2012, a crab lays prone on a stack of wool remnants that are actually the original industrially knit works that brought Trockel early fame. There are also three paintings by Tilda, an orangutan whose lyrical abstract canvases Trockel has collected.
The 1912 stop-action animation The Cameraman’s Revenge is Wladyslaw Starewicz’s super-surreal and morbidly charming love fest of two beetles and a grasshopper dashing in out of hotels and after-hours clubs, escaping up chimneys, having knock-down, drag-out fights, only to fall back into each others’ arms (or claws?).   Trockel frequently features animals in her work. With Carsten Höller, Trockel created a House for Pigs and People for documenta X. (Höller once described the project as “a monument of incomprehensibility.”) So don’t bother placing any art historical harnesses on Trockel. She’ll defy them every time.

The third floor suddenly shifts to Modernism, housing mostly wool hand-knit paintings. These largely blue monochromatic works, such as Sky, 2012 and Kind of Blue, 2012 are reminiscent of Malevich or Yves Klein. But other work in wool riffs Agnes Martin’s minimalist paintings. Cooke observes: “The monochrome is the quintessential abstract format of 20th-century painting with all its aspirations, as in Malevich or Mondrian, where it became transcendental. Trockel’s big wool paintings deliberately avoid the natural heroics that scale often implies. They’re amusing and wry. They’re made with thick wool, as though for a very cold climate. The paintings have these slightly tacky-looking borders that are gorgeous and funny.”

Trockel’s works in the Deutsche Bank Collection are good examples of the artist’s early interest in embracing and upending Modernism, mastering and mimicking its form in order to create her own idiosyncratic language. Her 1988 knitted picture Who will be in in 99? is on view in the Städel Museum’s new annex, where it hovers above the main hall, hung in a corner like a Russian icon in an homage to Malevich’s Black Square. On the silk scarf Trockel made in 1993 as an edition for the Deutsche Bank Collection are her own Schizo Pullovers with their dual neck holes as well as geometric forms typical for Constructivist art. The edition’s color scheme, reduced to black, white, and red, also frames a reference to the Russian avant-garde.

The fourth floor   presents book drafts using the formal language of Constructivism, as well as Trockel’s quirky and beautifully awkward ceramics. The ceramics are like live mutations with an eerie, anthropomorphic vibrancy. Cooke reveals: “Trockel literally throws clay onto a surface to get these strange aquatic structures that are like coral or sea creatures, while other ceramics are strictly formed and tabulated casts of meat organized into a grid. Her world is made up of this movement between order and disorder.”

Trockel’s not only raided the icebox, she’s also filled it back up with worlds immense and trivial, tragic and humorous, sacred and perverse, colliding the real and the surreal. Her misfits and outcasts offer a peculiar realism that might just teach us how to see or at least recognize one of the most unique auras we’ve come across in a long time.

Rosemarie Trockel: A Cosmos
New Museum, New York

02/13 – 04/07/2013
Serpentine Gallery, London

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