Stefan Karlsson

Galleri Engstrom

Not only is the art of Stefan Karlsson hard to pin down, but the artist himself is quite elusive. He does not appear under his own name, but takes cover behind a fictitious enterprise called Paperpool International Corporation (PIC). Or perhaps fictitious is not the right word. It may be more accurate to say that Karlsson operates in a gray zone between fiction and reality. This allows him to criticize and satirize both the art world and the socio-political, corporate context surrounding art.

In this show PIC presents its latest range of products. The works’ exposed structure and boxlike format, replete with corporate logos, decals, and other symbols, recalls the sculptures of Ashley Bickerton. But unlike Bickerton’s, these objects are functional, or at least semifunctional, hybrids. PIC AID, 1988, is a combination paper shredder and bar, equipped with whiskey glasses and a tray. It is perhaps less than a coincidence that this contraption is called the North De Luxe model, after that notorious paper shredder and patriot Oliver North.

Like Robert Gober, Karlsson makes his objects himself, or at least he gives them their final form. And like Gober’s sinks, urinals, and skewed cribs, the PIC products display a perfect, professional finish. But unlike Gober, Karlsson does not make imitation readymades. He designs and builds a wooden, Formica-covered framework around his readymades. His objects are not reproduced versions of everyday objects; rather they are hybridized assemblages: bar/barbecue grill, telephone/electric pencil sharpener, etc.

A distinctive feature of the PIC products is their playful, often humorous resistance to unequivocal classification. Eager to be of use, they evoke a feeling of pragmatic optimism, a corporate and competitive spirit that puts the autonomy and isolation of art into question. To some extent these objects represent a corporate invasion of the art gallery. If works of art have become commodities, Karlsson seems to be saying, the next logical step would be to hand over their production to industry. But Karlsson’s target is not only the complacent art world. He also mocks the corporate world’s eagerness to feed off of the bodies of art and culture. Most PIC products bear the label P.I.C.A.S.S.O. (Paperpool International Corporation All Safe and Sound Objects). The PIC logos’ ubiquitous presence foreshadows the ultimate phase of sponsoring: corporate signs and values as substitutes of art itself.

Lars O. Ericsson