PRINT January 2005

Julian Göthe

Julian Göthe likes to cut. A recurring theme when he muses about his work is the tender yet aggressive restiveness of the drawings, collages, and sculptures he produces. Perhaps owing to his enthusiasm for the bleeding edge, his works take on a certain air of danger, giving rise to almost visceral sensations. At the same time––and this is not to be considered contradictory at all––Göthe’s hybrid creations are utterly sexual and seductive, at least for an observer capable of taking pleasure in the sight of such uncannily edgy, masculine shapes.

The pleasurable dissonance becomes even deeper when one learns about the peculiar references and predilections Göthe brings to the game. “Living with Design,” the artist’s autumn 2004 solo show at Cabinet in London, took its name from a popular book by ’60s interior designer David Hicks. Notwithstanding the nature of this vintage manual for combining antique-store finds and fashionable items of contemporary design––what could it possibly mean to “live” with design? And when does design-enhanced dwelling turn into a “design for living”?

Göthe’s installation seems to point toward a strategy for survival by means of a perverse kind of “as if” furniture that radiates both jouissance and threat. Dominating the gallery space was Darkness Has Reached Its End, 2004, a monstrous, insectlike scaffold made of metal and topped by a metal structure that resembles a crossing of throne and obelisk. Shrouded in black chiffon, the sculpture auto- matically evokes death and ritual (the black widow), while the “legs” of the work seem to have been derived from ’50s horror films. Diversifying matters even more, the ensemble bears features of the cast-iron sculpture-furniture of Gilbert Poillerat, the maître ferronnier whose pseudoarchaic pomp was rediscovered by Karl Lagerfeld, formerly a fervent collector of these eccentricities.

Göthe also takes inspiration from an interior designer from the 1940s and ’50s, Jean Royer, and his oddly curved metal tables and seats, similar to the bizarre stil novo of the ’50s represented most prominently by the idiosyncratic, postfunctional designs of Renzo Zavanella. The artist, who also works as an illustrator on animated films, explores the margins of design history, where bourgeois interiors can no longer be distinguished from movie sets and where furniture loses almost any use value and becomes instead an instrument of sublime torture, taking on a fantastic, surrealistic life of its own.

Accordingly, the monumental folded-paper and metal sculpture Painted White in a Spirit of Rebellion, 2003, originally installed in the window of Daniel Buchholz’s antiquarian bookstore in Cologne, has been rightly described as an homage to the “Big White Sets” of leading Art Deco–inspired Hollywood designers like Cedric Gibbons, Van Nest Polglase, Hobe Erwin, and Frederic Hope. Here, with this carefully illuminated stand-up relief landscape, the glamorizing functions of display and set design have been displaced in favor of a special brand of meta- or ultraglamour.

While activating a wide range of historical references and drawing on a long-standing interest in the intersection of bodybuilding and design as a means to plumb the social and aesthetic correspondences between ultramodernist stylistics and homosexual lifestyles, Göthe also cherishes the inherent anthropomorphic or zoomorphic qualities of his sculptures. The various elements of his shows seem to interact with each other, like creatures watching other creatures as they revel in the limelight of the white cube. The sculpture-creature in “Living with Design” seemed to look at the two objects on the wall: the friezelike Soft Furnishing Crisis, 2004, where abstract drawings rendered in purple ink merge with the photo silk screens of a bodybuilder’s abs and pecs; and the fleece-like, fabric-on-painted-board collage Oochy Koochy, 2004. The latent, rapturous joy of the latter all-but-innocent still life is hinted at by the title, linking the shrieking sounds of a 1988 Baby Ford acid-house track with Göthe’s sharpened shapes—and in the process, fostering an idea of relentless celebration while everything is frozen in pleasure.

Tom Holert is a writer based in Berlin. Recently he cocurated (with Heike Munder) “The Future Has a Silver Lining: Genealogies of Glamour” at the Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Zürich.