Critics’ Picks

Nina Könnemann, What’s New, 2015, HD video, color, silent, 3 minutes 43 seconds.

Paris

Nina Könnemann

High Art
1 rue Fromentin
September 12–October 10, 2015

Nina Könnemann’s ethnography of micro gestures and marginal spaces continues with the video What’s New, 2015. Projected silently and clocking in at three minutes and forty-three seconds, it’s calibrated to YouTube-era attention spans. But such brevity belies the extended observation undergirding its absorbing ends. The video surveys a single street-level billboard in Berlin over an indeterminate period of time, its posters changing along with the seasons. Variously framed to either show the whole display or focus on salient details, footage of the site is intercut with shots of concerts, a museum, a gas station, and a barbecue—each of which, we eventually realize, is promoted in the posters. The colorful, banal images of urban consumer experience compose a kaleidoscopic montage. None of this, after all, is terribly exceptional, and only as new as modernity itself.

One bill promoting late-night hours at the Gemäldegalerie for the cool-hunting crowd features Caravaggio’s Amor Vincit Omnia, 1602. A buckling seam between panels of the reproduction ruptures the painting. But shifting attention from this eruption of the real across the folds of painted flesh, a figure slips behind the billboard. Hands repeatedly grasp the post framing the advertisements as men duck out of sight, presumably for a piss, a tryst, or a puff. These adaptive behaviors make use of the display as a shield, which is redoubled by the projection screen. Könnemann captures such gestures at the threshold of the permissible. Against the incursion of spectacle into every aspect of administered life, to which the billboards testify, these urban passersby answering bodily urges might be understood allegorically. Their transgression, if it is such, is modest, but the artist manages to convey vitality in their moments of private sanctuary found in what was once called the public sphere.