Paul Branca

FRANKFURT AM MAIN
Wildenbruchstraße 15
April 26–May 24

View of “Paul Branca: Piggish,” 2015.

Visitors to Paul Branca’s second solo exhibition in Berlin are welcomed with a press release printed on wax paper and garnished with a slice of mortadella (Press Release, all works 2015). After exhibiting a series of paintings in Bologna, Italy, last year that depict linked sausages, the artist here continues his painterly research into sausage-like forms and their potential meanings.

In the center of “Piggish” are four oil paintings, Untitled (glyph #1–4). On each, one finds an elegant composition of one or more sausages against a white background accompanied by a monochrome shadow. The sausages vary in their laxity and are made with stipples of luminous colors. Staged as letterforms or symbols, the works illustrate Branca’s interest in the connections between language and object. Understanding sausages as simple stuffed containers in an ambivalent state between hard and soft, they can also be read as a metaphor for the human body. Moreover, they might provide a metaphor for the phallic, enigmatic condominiums currently being built in New York, where the artist is based. In tandem, Branca here also slyly nods to Sigmar Polke’s “Wurstbilder” series from the 1960s and its ironic comment on the trivial consumption during Germany’s economic miracle.

Two paintings made with stretched canvas tote bags (Tote bag painting [nose] and Tote bag painting [palette press]) build another link. The fact that this gallery’s neighborhood, Neukölln, is a paradise not only for hipsters but also for people who like sausages allows visitors to enjoy a humorous local correlation.

Barbara Buchmaier

Dieter Roth

HAMBURGER BAHNHOF
Invalidenstraße 50-51
March 14–August 16

Dieter Roth, Silent Relief, 1984–88, broken violin, glue, acrylic paint, markers, painting materials, plywood, drawing materials, waste in violin case in plexiglass box, 21 x 24 x 5 1/2".

The fascination around Dieter Roth is not so much about the work he produced but the model of artist and making that he put forth, which I have come to think of as one of “vehicularity.” For Roth was an automatist in the true sense of the word—an artist who was always working at every waking hour, fueled by a seemingly limitless source of energy. Automatism is relegated by a vicious self-programming of the body-mind machine, wherein body yearns to take precedence over mind in a privileging of motion and making over cerebral stasis. For Roth, this yielded a joyously and intentionally bad art that was a by-product of his vehicle’s constant movement, whether it be across a canvas or the landscape of Europe, where he kept several studios.

This exhibition, which focuses largely on the role of music in Roth’s output, is fittingly massive, taking up an entire wing of this institution. Like his visual art, Roth’s music was cacophonous and improvised. He took music lessons when young but resisted virtuosity and sought a space of total freedom via noise and intensive duration, often in collaboration with his children or other artists on a full range of instruments. In addition to rare as well as more widely released recordings of music played on headphones, player piano, and speakers, a visitor can observe an assortment of notebooks, works on paper, video recordings of selected Roth concerts, and sculptures incorporating music or musical instruments—as in Cellar Duet, 1980–89, made in collaboration with his son Björn. A messy wall-mounted sculpture that incorporates synthesizers, violins, cables, and audio cassettes, the excess of it all is very much in keeping with the artist’s forward momentum.

Travis Jeppesen

Greer Lankton

BETWEEN BRIDGES
Keithstrasse 15
April 11–May 23

Greer Lankton, Albino Hermaphrodite in a Baby Carriage, 1984, paper, wire, glass, acrylic, 12 x 8 x 14".

Serving as a sort of sequel to or continuation of her celebrated retrospective last year at Participant Inc., in New York, Greer Lankton’s European premiere consists largely of documentation of her work in an array of formats such as Polaroids, contemporaneous magazine articles, black-and-white photos, and postcards, as well as a smattering of her original dolls, which include likenesses of Divine and Jackie Kennedy. My favorite is Albino Hermaphrodite in a Baby Carriage, 1984, modeled after a hermaphroditic demigod from Fellini Satyricon (1969) but resembling nothing so much as a baby transvestite junkie with a huge erection in a miniature stroller—the perfect gift for an expectant mother. Lankton’s raggedy and abused-looking dolls are lovingly constructed with a dark humor that blatantly defies our era’s fascist protocols of political correctness, which have sadly imposed a standardized reading of her work as melancholy projections of her own transsexual corpus. There’s a morphology here that is far more intriguing than what such an interpretation suggests, and this even comes through in the documentation.

Often becoming works of art in themselves—whether Lankton intended this or not—six untitled photos from 1983 use the restrictions of black-and-white to reduce the dolls’ beings to their starkest contrasts: some are sprawled on the floor, others are propped up in the fading light of day; some look half dead, others long expired, still others merely demented. They could almost be crime scene photos à la documentation of Ed Gein’s own handiwork.

Travis Jeppesen

“Artfan”

ORACLE
Lichtenrader Str. 49
April 11–May 10

Linda Bilda and Ariane Müller, Zu Zweit nach Vorn (Getting Ahead Together), 1995, VHS video transfered to DVD, color, sound, 23 minutes 44 seconds.

From 1991 to ’95 in Vienna, the artists Linda Bilda and Ariane Müller published the zine Artfan for thirteen xeroxed and stapled issues, each in an edition of eight hundred. Their intention was to give artists a voice, including in long-form interviews with the likes of Jutta Koether, Martin Kippenberger, Andrea Fraser, and Fareed Armaly, who were all based around Cologne and New York at that time. The seemingly unedited dialogues were also accompanied by hand-drawn illustrations, photo stories, and reviews.

Situated in an unfurnished apartment, this exhibition gives a retrospective and somewhat nostalgic insight into the making of Artfan. Mainly displayed on dark panels or simple frames mounted on walls are master plans for the layouts, original texts and pictures, covers, a draft of the logo, as well as documenting photos, letters—including one addressed to Isabelle Graw from Texte zur Kunst—and other testimonials to their enterprise’s communication and promotion. The show also includes two videos, the subtle commercial Artfan Production, 1991, which documents, in the style of an educational film, the manufacturing of the magazine, and Zu Zweit nach Vorn (Getting Ahead Together), 1995, which was recorded at the bookstore and publishing house b_books in Berlin. The latter shows a slapstick performance by Bilda and Müller discussing their collaboration on the zine that ends with a cake fight, hinting at the challenging responsibility for such an ambitious project and its effects on handling personal interests and relationships before the Internet, desktop publishing, and network capitalism started to set new standards. Seen from today, it’s not a surprise that the issues of Artfan went on to become valuable collectors’ items.

Barbara Buchmaier

James Benning

KUNSTVEREIN IN HAMBURG
Klosterwall 23
February 14–May 10

View of “James Benning: Decoding Fear,” 2015.

With its white walls, this latest installation of “Decoding Fear” seems the negative image of the show’s first iteration at Kunsthaus Graz, where sundry objects, texts, and projections were displayed in a dark space. In either iteration, the gallery spaces have felt as sepulchral as the immaculately white, minimally furnished twin cabins at the heart of the show. These simplified, abstract reproductions of the hermitical dwellings that Henry David Thoreau and the “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski constructed at Walden Pond and Stemple Pass, Montana, respectively, are an essay in contrasts, for all their outward similarities.

The inspired, provocative pairing of these two reclusive figures, who both embody attempts at self-sufficient living, plays throughout. Practically every item on display is confronted with its double, starting with a handwritten page copied from Thoreau’s 1854 Walden and one from Kaczynski’s journals, placed at the exhibition’s entrance. In the video Stemple Pass, 2012, four static, half-hour shots of a lush mountain valley in the Sierra Nevada across the seasons, with a replica of Kaczynski’s log cabin built by Benning in the foreground, have their exact counterparts—right down to the videos’ duration—in the lingering shots of a faithful copy of Thoreau’s cabin, in Benning’s first showing of Concord Woods, 2014.

Are Kaczynski’s antitechnological writings, by turns lucid and chilling, the flip side of Thoreau’s dream of self-reliance? By emphasizing the similarities between these two figures—one worshipped, one reviled—Benning appears to suggest that their games of survival stem from the same anarchic and very American impulse.

Agnieszka Gratza