PRINT January 1999

World Report

Rosemarie Trockel

When it comes to the German Pavilion at the VENICE BIENNALE, I think of Hans Haacke’s Teutonic pile of rubble, Germania, from 1993, or Gerhard Merz’s splendidly empty and inhospitable neon space from two years ago, Venedig—outsize, immodest, even overbearing works of art. But knitting? With the announcement that Rosemarie Trockel has been selected to represent Germany at the next biennial, we might expect to see this unexpected medium on view at Venice the summer.

Then again, with Trockel, one never knows. While the forty-six-year-old artist is most strongly associated with her memorable knitted paintings featuring logos of all sorts, from swastikas to Playboy bunnies, she may be even better known for her refusal of a signature style. Over the years she’s shown photographic work, sculptures, and drawings; exhibited cast skeletons in glass vitrines; and displayed various forms of clothing. And if the last five years of her output have been largely dominated by video, she surprised everyone with her collaborative contribution (with Carsten Höller) to Documenta X in 1997: a sty complete with sow and a farrow of little piglets.

If the sight of the charming porcine family caught some viewers off guard, it was by no means the first time Trockel has turned to the animal kingdom in her work. My first serious encounter with the artist, a 1993 show at Anders Tornberg Galleri in Lund, Sweden, with the Beuysian title “Every Animal Is a Female Artist,” included videos in which insects performed abstract dances and photos of spiderwebs produced by arachnids under the influence of a wide range of pharmaceuticals. What made the show most memorable, though, was an unexpected addition to the proceedings: The night before the opening a drunk smashed one of the gallery windows, producing an inadvertent “spiderweb” across the glass. Rather than panic, Trockel serendipitously took a photo of the shattered pane and added the image to the show, naming the piece—in accordance with the titles of the other webs—“Anonymous Beast on Alcohol.”

Some years ago, in her brutal (if humorous) video work Continental Divide, 1994, Trockel was shown sitting on a simple wooden chair, punished by a relentless inquisitor each time she was unable to answer the simple question, “Who is the best artist?” (a send-up of the “Trendbarometer,” an annual ranking of artists published in the German magazine Focus). Now that Venice has been added to Trockel’s résumé, when she next takes a look at that notorious list, she may find a more-than-familiar name at the top.

Daniel Birnbaum