Critics’ Picks

View of “Manuel Graf,” 2010.

Berlin

Manuel Graf

JOHANN KÖNIG
Dessauer Str. 6-7
January 15 - March 6

What is work? Today’s art world isn’t good at drawing a clear line between professional, social, and personal activities or interchanges. In “Buchtipp 2,” Manuel Graf’s deceptively casual installation for his third solo exhibition at this gallery, the artist succeeds in exposing tensions and confusions among different forms of art, work, and play, which might be reason enough to applaud his effort.

For the show, Graf has arranged two large, flat yellow sofas around a small wooden coffee table, which faces a television that plays a video of couples discussing sections of Rudolf Steiner’s 1919 lecture series on education, work, and identity. The table also offers an arrangement of Polaroids that show pretty, hip young women cheerfully posing while wearing unusual laced-up platform wedges. These colorful, attractive shoes are bespoke art objects produced by Graf after he trained with shoemakers in Istanbul’s Galata Beyoglu artisan’s quarter. Though the shoes are unrealistic everyday wear, the Polaroids are evidence that they have the playful allure of fashion pieces produced specially for photo shoots, as well as for rare, brief presentations.

Because they are one-off objects shown in an art gallery and made with an artisan’s techniques, Graf’s shoes blur some of the divisions between art, craft, and high fashion. However, these themes are not new. Where “Buchtipp 2” becomes particularly engaging is Graf’s introduction of Steiner’s still-controversial ideas about the role of play in children’s intellectual and social development. The casual, intimate setting that the artist creates here encourages viewers to relax and develop their own intellectual discourse. Yet whether this is work, art, learning, or all three remains an open question.