Wiebke Siem

Esther Schipper
Potsdamer Strasse 81E
November 4–December 16

View of “Wiebke Siem: Damenskulptur” (Lady Sculpture), 2017.

Celery sticks, green beans, vibrant lemons, rotund tomatoes: All come to mind when one thinks through Wiebke Siem’s exhibition “Damenskulptur (Lady Sculpture).” Neither fruits nor vegetables actually appear in the German artist’s seven sculptures (all works untitled, 2017), in which cartoonish, languid, humanoid shapes made from wool felt hang from the gallery’s darkened ceiling, but the show is a deft exercise in material transmogrification, wherein basic shapes and materials exceed their common reputations.

Siem’s singular achievement here is in letting both the stick figure—one of the first images inscribed by toddlers—and a material freighted with stereotypes of some essentialist, folksy femininity, become strange once more. Siem’s soft objects hold their ground as fascinating entities in and of themselves. But in so doing, they operate less as tropes than as conduits for a raft of bizarre associations. Owing to their dark, theatrical setting, the sculptures could be less existentially weighted cousins to the colorful wanderers in Samuel Beckett’s 1981 television play, Quad.

One of the aforementioned string beans, arms hanging downward like drooping sprouts, sports a noodley bow-tie: a standout of the few accoutrements afforded to this group, along with the red winter cap, mittens, and shoes on another corpus. Nearby, multiple pencil and colored-pencil drawings suggest how the vibrant, limpid sculptures might be used as scarves. Owing to their size, though, you get the impression that a wearer’s neck would be left with a permanent kink. Like the artist’s show in general, this suggestion of utility is pleasantly absurd.

— Mitch Speed