Basel

Jonathan Borofsky

Kunsthalle

This exhibition, with over 250 drawings from the years 1963–83, presented a systematic overview of an oeuvre, and permitted an ideal immersion in Jonathan Borofsky’s ideas. The great part of the work here referred emphatically to the process character of Borofsky’s art, within which the finished pictures or installations seem like ultra-real manifestations in the manner of dream images. The process is not to be understood as a forward-thrusting, linear movement; it is more a form of pulsation, forward and backward, to and from up and down. It consists in movement from a center, yet this center is not static but is in a state of permanent motion, of disintegration into its parts. These latter, tumbling and whirling about among themselves, reunite to form a whole; and this whole dances like the creature in one of Borofsky’s videos, a metamorphosis of human being and rabbit, sometimes appearing in black on white, sometimes in white on black, pulsating and constantly dissolving only to reconstitute itself anew.

This hectic movement, which even dominates the “I Dreamed a Dog Was Walking a Tightrope” images, is juxtaposed with the quietly sedate back-and-forth motion of the “Hammering Man” works. The motion has something meditative about it, putting the viewer in the mood for the dream quality of Berlin Dream at 2,789,103, which portrays a dog roaming around in a garden of “static birds” and holding a bird in its mouth. In these two kinds of movement it is possible to recognize, in a metaphorical sense, two different conceptions of time—earthly, measured time and infinite, cosmic time. With this as a starting point it is possible to glimpse the whole range of feeling between a rational and an emotional view of the world.

In many ways, these two levels overlap and pervade the drawings. A recent drawing may be placed as a commentary or extension over an older drawing, and the drawings are often accompanied by texts ranging from utterly everyday phrases to notations referring directly to them; everywhere are traces of Borofsky’s counting, the imaginary line along which his quest for form and meaning moves. With a rational zeal which in its results repeatedly turns into its opposite, he labors at a vision—namely; the formulation of a new spirituality. At issue is nothing more nor less than the reconciliation of man with the cosmos, a quest carried out in full awareness of the earthly potential for aggression and of the insanity of the arms race, a subject Borofsky often discusses. And in this enterprise, the sketch or the note on an old envelope or scrap of newspaper has as much meaning as the finished drawing; for this is an art that is not beholden to esthetic categories but that seeks contact with the viewer with utter intensity.

“Reality is not what you think it is,” the inscription on Drawing at 2,736,661, is perhaps a key sentence, for Borofsky can make images that, despite any degree of unreality, appear as valid as images of the so-called real world. When he portrays himself as Flying Man, floating high up, surrounded by rubies, one understands his message with an absolutely painful obviousness: the task is to live the dream, to take the dream seriously, and, despite any danger of crashing, to try to realize it. The alternative is to remain eternally stuck with the dreadful reality; if we do so our dancing will continue to be nothing but stupefaction.

Max Wechsler

Translated from the German by Martha Humphreys.