Critics’ Picks

Vorwärts, 2001.

Berlin

Florian Merkel

Wohnmaschine
Tucholskystr. 35
June 20, 2013–March 17, 2002

Who’s the hero of the leisure class? For Florian Merkel, it’s the tourist. In a series of large hand-painted photographs of tourist sites in Berlin, he populates these iconic landscapes with sharply dressed individuals executing what appear to be contemporary dance moves. In Vorwärts (Forward), 2001, two men—fake tourists—perform a back flip in front of the Reichstag, a few steps away from some real tourists in anoraks. The dancing tourists may cut preposterous figures, but their exaggerated, theatricalized gestures highlight the banality of the well-worn and now unquestioned rituals of tourism: standing in line, viewing buildings, snapping pictures. Painted in bright hues, the image possesses both the quaintness of a hand-painted postcard and the immediacy of a work choreographed by Pina Bausch. The entire series, appropriately titled “Berlin Ballett,” (Berlin ballet), 2001, is part of Merkel’s exploration of gestures that belong to consumer society and its service economy. In the context of German reunification, it underscores the transformation of the capital city—and its inhabitants—into spectacle. In another series “Aspekte demokratischen Zusammenlebens” (Aspects of communal democratic life), 2001, Merkel offers spare drawings of human figures traced from photographs. The exaggerated bodily gestures in these have the didactic quality of a children’s book while showing the stormy exchanges of adult couples. Like a latter-day Lavater, Merkel traces the physiognomy of the human body in the age of spectacular capital.