Artists Anonymous, Beach Party, 2007 installation view, AA Galleries, Berlin
Death Throws A Party and Hitler Takes A Nap
Artists Anonymous @ AA Galleries
The Gunslinger: And Other True Stories, on view until December 29th
This past September, Artists Anonymous opened their Berlin gallery in the ever-burgeoning arts district on Heidestrasse, now home to Haunch of Venison’s massive project space and Spielhaus Morrison. Coinciding with Art Forum, AA Galleries’ inaugural opening didn’t end until around 7am, and the party detritus remains-- an impromptu addition to the first floor installation, a tribute to death, heaven, hell and purgatory.
The front door of the gallery opens into “hell”, a passage covered entirely in fake white fur and illuminated by a single red light. The heat is blasting, the effect is disorienting, and the message is clear-- this is not your standard white cube gallery. Entering from the back door, through “heaven”, is just as discombobulating. The door opens to a frosted icebox, colder than the harsh Berlin winter outside and blindingly white. As the corridor grows increasingly narrow, a la Alice in Wonderland, the viewer is forced to duck down before opening a white door and stepping into “purgatory”, the literal interim between heaven and hell.
The first floor windows have all been blacked out, the ground blanketed with black sand and the walls are covered with an amazing assortment of trash and blinking lights, the stuff of garage sales, the junk hoarded by crazed children consumers. Scattered televisions loop inane advertisements, the socially acceptable sedative for the masses. Here, purgatory equates to abject indulgence: materialism, drugs, a party guest who has overstayed his welcome or an addict in limbo between two escape routes-- rehab or overdose.
When the Talking Heads described Heaven, they sang, “There is a party, everyone is there. Everyone will leave at exactly the same time.” In this scenario, however, you, the visitor, are clearly too late. All that remains of the party is a stale stench, dozens of empty or spilled beer bottles, overflowing ashtrays, and the implication of impurity. The addictions, hangovers and one-night-stands, the highs and lows that define a drug-induced temporality, remain in the residue and stank of the scene, now more than a month after the fact.
Completing the installation in the opposite corner, isolated in a desert of black sand, is The Gunslinger, Death himself; a full-body portrait rendered in a classical pose, but hung in a glowing chamber, a beacon of ironic light. Propped up against an adjacent wall is his “after-image”, an inverse photograph of the original painting. All of AA’s paintings are composed in a negative palette, so that when photographed, the figurative imagery is revealed as painstakingly photorealistic, against a surreal, abstract background. Here, the after-image is exhibited on a light-box, a variation on the theme of Death and illumination.
The Gunslinger's altar allows outsiders to see in, but stepping inside the chamber reveals the walls to be one-sided reflective panels, creating a mirrored box around the negative painting. The viewer is thus confronted with death alone, as we all are, and his/her own image. In this implied cage fight, Death is invariably triumphant, and we, rendered mere mortals, have no other choice but to return to purgatory and exit the gallery via heaven or hell.
As gallerists, Artists Anonymous represent artists faced with the familiar obstacles of commercial art world success. They’re too old. Their C.V.s are too short. They are…Marilyn Manson. In addition to the downstairs installation, AA Galleries mounted a group exhibition of their represented artists on the second floor. Never content to just hang pictures on the wall, AA turned their upstairs exhibition room into Hitler’s nap room, where History’s most notorious fascist could rest his eyes, and reconsider his psychotic plan for world-domination.
Marilyn Manson’s portrait of the dictator, complete with swastika flags, hangs above a Victorian style daybed in one corner of the room. Additional paintings, photographs and drawings by AA-galleries’ artists adorn the walls, one of which is still wallpapered in traditional GDR style. Entitled Hitler takes a nap…, the installation refers to the historical tradition of dictators taking 7 minutes to contemplate war; however, without any exposition, the uninformed visitor could assume that he’s stumbled into some anti-Semitic, Hitler-friendly holdover from the Third Reich, but the insinuation is ironic and the ultimate effect is provocative, politically incorrect and darkly comedic, in typical AA style.
The Gunslinger is the second-to-last installment in Artists Anonymous’ on-going series entitled The Apocalyptic Warriors. One of six super villains (the others are Virus, Hunger, Pollution and Overpopulation, War and Drugs), The Gunslinger (aka Death) and the Warriors play the protagonists in a complex fictional narrative, an anti-superhero epoch, for which the artists lend themselves as altar-egos in the comic book tradition of Clark Kent to Superman. The final installment, Virus, will be exhibited at Haunch of Venison in Zurich this January. http://www.aa-galleries.com/AAGallBerlExhibitUpcom.htm