Thomas Bernstein

Galerie Johlen & Schottle

According to Jörg Johnen, who wrote a pamphlet that accompanies this show, Thomas Bernstein’s sculptures appeal to us because of the humor and subtlety with which the forms, colors, and materials of such objects as tulip planters, punch bowl ladles, and toilet-brush holders become erotic, friendly, or ominous images signifying gestures and relationships. Johnen accurately sums up the sculptural essence of Bernstein’s work, which reveals itself to the viewer only little by little. No doubt these sculptures exert a direct appeal, indeed attraction, that almost instantly makes these bizarre works of iron, metal, and plastic our intimate friends. Is it perhaps because of the objects’ all-toofamiliar banality? Or perhaps because of the way these objects are formally transformed and put together? And just what’s so special anyway about Gross und Klein (Big and small, 1987), which consists of two enameled metal holders, the smaller one round, the bigger one oval—looking for all the world like washing-machine tumblers, and connected by an iron pipe? They stand there like a couple chained together. And that’s just it: the allusion to the human and the physical transcending the mere object existence of these sculptures and turning them into metaphors for thoroughly familiar relationships. Frequently, it is the titles of Bernstein’s sculptures—Späher (Scout, 1987) and Der Hausgehilfe (The servant, 1987)—that establish the relationship between the object and the world of human gestures. This, in turn, restores the human dimension to these objects and materials, which are “dehumanized” because they are usually assembly-line products.

Bernstein often employs plastic, which Roland Barthes described as “a magic material that is ready for commonplace existence.” It is this dimension of functionality and practicality that makes these pieces part and parcel of the solidity and omnipresence of our commodity esthetic. Here, the material is both tersely and wittily bound up with the artistic vision. The objects evoke a cheery world of manifold allusions. Surprisingly self-confident in dealing with forms, colors, and their associative meanings and connotations, Bernstein creates sculptural objects that don’t attempt to mount a critical rejection of mass production; rather, they are a clever, almost guileless response to the commodity esthetic and its challenge to present-day art.

Noemi Smolik

Translated from the German by Joachim Neugroschel.