Critics’ Picks

Martin Dammann, Soldier Studies (Fahne; Flagg), 2007, light-jet print on Dibond with aluminum frame, 30 1/4 x 20 9/16".

Los Angeles


Ghebaly Gallery
2245 E Washington Blvd.
September 8–October 13

How German Is It. The title of Walter Abish’s 1979 novel seems a fitting declaration for this exhibition, curated by Ellen Blumenstein, comprising six young, male, Berlin-based artists. Germany’s bellicose history and its attendant guilt have proven essential fodder for all manner of artists, with monumental results from Anselm Kiefer and more subtle ones from Gerhard Richter. But the artists in “Männerphantasien” are less interested in historical gravity and more in life inside a national cultural imaginary, using place, history, and subjective perceptions as material for collage. Martin Dammann appropriates WWII snapshots, from a beatific drag queen dancing with a Nazi flag to a couple of Wehrmacht soldiers leaning in for a kiss. On view in the office (though not officially part of the show), Damien Deroubaix’s goose-stepping, marauding infantrymen and their blindfolded victims—finely rendered in comic-book ink—juxtapose visual humor with a horrific subject. While the ink drawings evince a dynamic simplicity, Deroubaix’s large painting on paper falls apart in a noisy, surrealist mishmash of dense German iconography. The white feathers and red candies of Rommelo Yu’s piñata, which hangs suspended from the ceiling, smashed like a bird exploded in midflight, present another manifestation of violent play. One might argue that this exhibition, with its regular employment of swastikas and other Nazi-era imagery, is another case of fascinating fascism, but the artists’ playfulness with the tattered remnants of German identity is a step beyond both Richter’s ethereal photorealism and W. G. Sebald’s poetic-amnesiac rememberings. As Abish wrote: “Is it possible for anyone in Germany, nowadays, to raise his right hand for whatever reason, and not be flooded by the memory of a dream to end all dreams?” While this exhibition suggests that it isn't yet possible, the artists in “Männerphantasien” do manage to shape those dreams to their own imaginative ends.