Critics’ Picks

Peter Wächtler, Untitled (Clouds), 2018, HD video, color, silent, 10 minutes 36 seconds.

Peter Wächtler, Untitled (Clouds), 2018, HD video, color, silent, 10 minutes 36 seconds.

Norwich

Peter Wächtler

Josey
15a Willow Lane
December 14, 2019–January 25, 2020

Much has been made of Peter Wächtler’s skilled handicraft and anachronistic registers. The title of his latest exhibition, “The Datum Trail,” refers to the now-obsolete singular form of data, the premise from which inferences are drawn. Although three of the four works here were displayed earlier last year as part of Wächtler’s solo show at Bergen Kunsthall, Josey’s domestic Georgian galleries—furnished, at the opening, with a pair of blazing coal fires—offer his mannerist fancies a befitting interiority.

In the rear gallery, the flame’s crackling lent an uncanny soundtrack to a stop-motion video short, Untitled (Clouds), in which a tar-and-wire dragon in an Asian conical hat presides over a scorched habitus. Its face bears more than a passing resemblance to Bernini’s captain of the fire brigade—a seventeenth-century drawing that Ernst Kris used to illustrate his influential essay “The Principles of Caricature” (1938). Six heteronymic, Diane Williams–esque subtitles shown mid-screen disjointedly poeticize on the postapocalyptic loneliness of an empty nest. “Jesus, I miss the kids,” the monster muses. “Is a call really much to ask?” Despite no rational connection between these disappointments and the creature, we fall into the trap, fill in the gaps: empathize. This, for Wächtler, is strange magic.

As if extruded from the animation, a bronze cloaked Bat, 2018, tips its Edwardian boater in a gesture of greeting or hiding in the adjoining gallery. Next to it is Untitled (Fur), 2019, a coy bronze troll covering its face. Tacked to the wall, a watercolor done up in Jörg Immendorff’s “Cafe Deutschland” style, Untitled (Street Scene), 2019, depicts a longhaired youth in contemplative isolation tying their shoes on a bustling street (note the spiraling vortex at the crotch). What’s tendered here of Wächtler is only a datum, and while the artist’s approach is fluently referential, his art is that of a singular and often ugly imagination, constitutive of fictional worlds.