Cologne

Thomas Virnich

Galerie Reckermann

Thomas Virnich’s objects, displayed in glass cabinets along the wall or freely scattered about the floor, are capable of being disturbing. It’s not that they are loudly provocative, or emit the flash of genius, but that they mingle the childlike delight in playing with trash with the legacy of sculpture in our century. Virnich’s lapidary frivolities provide an insistent counterpoint to the occasionally unbearable pathos with which the post-Modern spirit moves forward. For him, everything—cars, airplanes, ships—lends itself to being rebuilt, with a light touch—not perfectly, not so as to impart the strength of newness, but so as to be unsuited for use and to accord with the somewhat confused construction plans drawn up by protagonists of Modern Art.

It’s difficult to say whether or not Virnich intends it that way; he deals with his objects so unabashedly that it probably doesn’t matter to him whether or not viewers are reminded of Cubists, Dadaists, or neo-realists. Whether he is making a village landscape with a church, in cheap materials and constructed in a crate; musical instruments, usually stringed, with or without cases, assembled in an extremely flimsy way out of more or less separate, more or less valuable components; a skyscraper; or a garage—in all the work a delight in play combines with an anxious fragility. Many of the pieces are accompanied by the request that gallery visitors play with them, but pleasure is obstructed by the simultaneously coarse and fragile qualities of Virnich’s toys. And besides: what is the sense of carrying away the separate levels of an architectonic trash heap called Grosse Kiste (Big chest, 1981–83)? It might perhaps be fun, but somehow even the play impulse is being tinkered with.

The works show the natural sensuous charm of simple construction materials, wood and tin, for example, and the suitability of these media for simple, easily comprehensible compositions. Virnich manipulates them spontaneously, randomly, until an object comes into being that either is or could be something—a car, an airplane. Like relics of a lost era, these objects in inexpensive media have their own value, however, evoking the secrets that have been lost in the making of modern products, or recollections of childhood games, or of archaic cultures in which necessity determined the forms of objects which were nevertheless perfect. Yet those interested in luxuriating in nostalgia will hardly be comfortable with Virnich’s trash works. Even the alternative culture, the “build your house from trash” people, will have difficulty with his Panzer tank.

Virnich might be a nihilist young anarchist who has managed to fool everyone. But the fact is that it’s not really that simple. The recollections he evokes liberate visions; his play with symbols of creation and destruction is thought-provoking. And that the transitoriness, the fleetingness of artistic structure is so toughly described lends the works an open esthetic energy beyond the pleasure of their innovative facades.

Annelie Pohlen

Translated from the German by Martha Humphreys.