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Dieter Roth

Hamburger Bahnhof
Invalidenstra▀e 50-51
March 14, 2015–August 16, 2015

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 Bj÷rn. 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