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October 2011: Silke Thoss @ Galerie Crystal Ball, Berlin

  Silke Thoss, All the Gallerists I've Slept With, oil on canvas


The title of Silke Thoss’s solo exhibition, “All the Gallerists I Slept With,” may be a bitchslap homage to Tracey Emin’s brand of self exploitation, but the show is the type of gleeful headfuckery that Berliners in-the-know have come to expect from that anti-institution known as Galerie Crystal Ball, whose celebration of all those things that fall outside of the acceptable in the current art world is either a welcome relief or a gaping eyesore, depending on your position and level of tolerance. I, for one, like a bit of sugar in my grapefruit, and would like to suggest that this tiny realm, which is ruled by market concerns on one hand and institutional rigidity on the other, could use a good dose of fun. Thankfully, there are artists like Thoss around to show us where it’s at.

Like many of the artists Crystal Ball has shown, Thoss is also a musician, specializing in country, 50s rock and rockabilly – decidedly “low” genres designed to appeal to the physical rather than the cerebral. Her painting style mines a similar kitsch aesthetic that is more likely to remind viewers of a certain age of circus posters than the austere, signature-heavy visual statements favored by white cube galleries. Of course, the message becomes more loaded when you stop to take in the subject matter, which ridicules art clichés as well as the even more ridiculous mechanics of the art business.

The painting the exhibition takes its title from centers the artist in a red-and-white striped bathing suit. She emerges from a Boschian landscape that could have been painted by a perved-out Norman Rockwell: naked male figures and a few women, most of which have grotesque animal faces, crawl around in horny desperation, a penis with bat wings overlooks the flesh-polluted scene, as Thoss’s latest catches – a monkey, a dummy, and a clown – compete for her attention. In the lower left hand corner, the painting is branded with the Ringling Brothers motto: “The Greatest Show on Earth.”

Elsewhere, Thoss’s frequent depiction of herself with a long, phallic nose calls to mind both Pinocchio and the acerbic porno-meets-Third Reich paintings of Blalla W. Hallman. For, of course, any artist who makes the slightest effort to participate in this mayhem must be as deceitful as the very system that she is unable to escape from, so why should Thoss be any different? As much as we may indulge our romantic reveries, there simply is no outside.

I’m not about to argue that Thoss’s jibes are particularly clever, new, or even witty. But then, that’s not really the point. If there is a startling idea at work here, it’s the suggestion that being a designated loser in the art game gives you the freedom to have a lot of fun in determining how you go about declaiming your zero status. Maybe the question we all should ask ourselves is: When was the last time you had a genuinely good time in front of a work of art?
 

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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