In Memoriam Jason Rhoades
Works From the Freidrich Christian Flick Collection at The Hamburger Banhof
May 5th through August 19th, 2007
The Hamburger Banhof was surprisingly still for an opening night. So still, in fact, that my friends and I had a difficult time finding the show. We weaved through a seemingly interminable network of hallways until we arrived at a room of tastefully installed Dieter Roth works. Still no people. We went through at least four more rooms until we found the whirling, zinging, neon heart of the exhibition which revolved around A Few Free Years- an installation by Jason Rhoades that combines a bank of video games with scaffolding and Gustav Klimt reproductions. The room was filled with frenetic energy as art-goers swilled wine, chattered amongst themselves and played video games until they were (repeatedly) asked to leave. A Few Free Years is indicative of the tenor of the exhibition- There is Never a Stop and Never a Finish is a sprawling and ambitious show that manages to explore dense themes such as empire, fantasy, decadence and consumer capitalism without being over bearing and didactic.
The exhibition is in memory of Los Angeles artist Jason Rhoades who died in 2006 from heart failure at the age of 41. Rhoades was a frequent collaborator with Paul McCarthy and is best known for his poppy, subversive neon works and installation pieces. Like Kurt Schwitters, his installations create exuberant "total" environments bursting at the seams with referents- an exercise as compulsive as it is intellectual and aesthetic. Elements of the fantastical, child-like, and grotesque run throughout the exhibition and are primarily expressed through the creation of self contained alternative universes.
Isa Genzken's impressive installation Empire Vampire/Who Kills Death consists of 22 futuristic tableau fashioned from old shoes, camouflage clothing, small plastic toys, reflective material/mirrors, wine glasses, and stale painted bread. Genzken transforms these sundry elements into fantastical futuristic urban battle grounds that are both foreboding and comical. Andreas Hofer smushes his influences into an art historical/pop cultural stew that indiscriminately samples from video game and toy design, science fiction, "outsider art," and African folklore. Reich is a massive wrinkle-faced crab man rendered in clean, elegant lines inspired by contemporary toy manufacturing. His salon wall of paintings and drawings with names like New Africa, Robot Emperor and Star Wings have mythic undertones reminiscent of outsider artist Euegene Von Bruenchenhein.
The grotesque and dreamlike finds fuller expression in the works of Cindy Sherman, Paul McCarthy, and Otto Muehl. Sherman's large scale photographs depict rotting food and genitalia with oozing pustules in slick, glossy colors. Otto Muehl, a leading member of the Viennese Actionists of the early 1960s, opens an eerie interstice between waking and dream life. His photographs depict food and wayward limbs fashioned into still lives, otherworldly renegade knights covered in paint, and contortionists covered in food and various fluids. The body is treated both as a sculptural form and a space for action. The body itself does not act, but is acted upon.
The exhibition reaches its claustrophobic, decadent pinnacle with Paul McCarthy's Santa's Workshop. Santa and his elves cover themselves in chocolate and other foods, dress and undress, and crawl about their workshop with no apparent aim. It is neither Santa's nudity, nor his phallic plastic nose that is the most disturbing part of the piece. Rather it is the complete failure of language- the loud, grunting, fumbling clatter of Santa and his pals obsessively enacting compulsive rituals.
Jesi Khadivi is a curator and art critic based in Berlin. She regularly contributes writing about art, film, architecture and pop culture to Dazed and Confused and SOMA, among many other publications. She is also the director of Golden Parachutes, a contemporary art gallery in the Kreuzberg.