July 2009, Stephane Pencreac'h @ FRISCH

Stéphane Pencréac’h; courtesy FRISCH

Stéphane Pencréac’h; courtesy FRISCH
Stéphane Pencréac’h: Katharsis for the Masses at FRISCH
Halle am Wasser
Invalidenstr. 50-51
10557 Berlin
June 19 through August 1, 2009
At first glance, there is something strangely invigorating about Stéphane Pencréac’h’s work, despite its callousness. The question then becomes whether the paintings and sculptures in his latest solo exhibition stand up to repeat viewings. It’s a question that compelled me to visit the show several times since it opened late last month.
His excavation of the macabre at FRISCH is a dystopic series of wolves, angels, and zombie-like figures. Pencréac’h employs thick brushstrokes and globs of paint in a cartoon expressionism that often feels heavy-handed, unschooled. You see it in the broad, swarthy strokes of paint that layer every canvas, the crudity of the objects he attaches to them – Halloween masks, mannequin parts, dead flowers – and the holes he punctures for added effect. It’s what they call a gothic sensibility, if only stereotypically so.
Nature Morte (2009) is all blacks and yellows, a painted mannequin arm adorned horizontally in the lower half of the canvas; what rests above it could be some sort of platter with rotten morsels of meat and a skull perched on top. Perhaps the thick lines of yellow streaming down vertically in the upper half of the canvas are meant to be curtains letting in the outer day. You get the feeling that the ambiguity is rooted in the artist’s uncertainty. With a painter coming out of a similar sensibility, such as Martin Eder, you get a strong sense of what his obsessions are; Pencréac’h doesn’t seem to have any. His art seems more gestural, rooted in a childlike desire to displease, to theatricalize his naïve conceits of Evil.
Zukunft (2009) is reminiscent of Julian Schnabel at his worst. Instead of broken plates, we get a wolf made out of a store-bought Halloween mask and some sculpted cloth. The wolf is angrily biting on to an actual stick that is being wielded by the painted figure of a naked man whose crotch is covered by an actual piece of cloth inserted into the painting by a hole cut in the canvas. The picture is framed with garish red painted curtains – as though the theatricality of the image really needed to be emphasized further. 
One can only ponder the affect the artist was aiming for in this and the similar works on view in “Katharsis for the Masses.” Are we supposed to take Pencréac’h seriously as an archeologist of the macabre, of darkness and despair, perhaps the latest agent from the land of existential anguish? If so, then the works fail. What’s even more troubling is the absence of humor – despite all the Halloween signifiers. The sculptures fare slightly better in this regard – though I’m not completely convinced that the humor in Der Ritt (2006), a bronze sculpture of a skeletal figure perched on a screw gun, is intentional. 

One ultimately gets the feeling that Pencréac’h is well aware of what he’s doing. At the same time, he fails to convince us that his work is rooted in genuine convictions, rather than mere style.


Travis Jeppesen

Travis Jeppesen's novels include The Suiciders, Wolf at the Door, and Victims. He is the recipient of a 2013 Arts Writers grant from Creative Capital/the Warhol Foundation. In 2014, his object-oriented writing was featured in the 2014 Whitney Biennial and in a solo exhibition at Wilkinson Gallery in London. A collection of novellas, All Fall, is forthcoming from Publication Studio. 

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