Wolfgang Flatz

Galerie Mosel & Tschechow

An artist can do more than create objects; he also can turn himself into objects. Wolfgang Flatz has mastered this ability to an extraordinary degree. His self-transformations, performed at great physical risk, are among the most impressive works in this retrospective covering the years from 1972 to 1989. In Handtuch (Towel, 1978), the artist, snugly wrapped up in terry cloth, made himself available to bathroom patrons for 12 hours as the only object for wiping. In Treffer (Hit, 1979), Flatz, sporting nothing but sunglasses, offered himself as a live target. At the entrance to the exhibition space, a sign read: “You will receive five hundred marks in cash if you hit the target.” (The eleventh contestant managed to hit the artist with one of the available darts and claimed the prize.) This perverted game was intended to test how far human beings would go for the sake of money. Flatz was totally at the mercy of the blood-lusting audience.

Photos and texts documenting the artist’s performances lined the walls of the gallery. The space was also used as a mini-art fair, whose booths presented Flatz’s other work chronologically. His earlier rejection of the art market has developed here into an ironically exaggerated adaptation. His sarcastic response to participating in the art business is expressed in Künstlerjäger (Artist hunter, 1977–81): 120 Polaroids, each showing Flatz with a more or less well-known artist. In each Polaroid, the featured artist—Dan Graham, Albert Oehlen, Reinhard Mucha, and Vito Acconci, for example—has autographed the frame of his picture. Flatz transforms himself not only into objects, but also into historical figures and myths. In the series “Zwei Österreicher, oder Geschichte bedingt Interpretation” (Two Austrians, or history determines interpretation, 1976–80), he imitates Adolf Hitler’s facial movements. Each piece consists of two monochrome tablets, one bearing a color photo of the artist’s head, the other with a small black and white photo of the Fuhrer’s head . This is one of the earliest examples of West German art in which photos are combined with monochrome backgrounds—a technique that was eventually used by Günther Förg, Axel Hütter, and Ulrich Horndash.

In his latest series of work, “Fliegen” (Flies, 1988), Flatz assumes the pose of Uncle Sam or Big Brother. In each piece, the artist, painted a different color, points at the viewer, and is accompanied by diverse inscriptions such as “You are the one” and “Search and destroy.” The familiar icon of the threatening patrician is drained of any specific meaning, and takes on the quality of a generalized fear.

Myths are likewise the subject of the huge series “Zeige mir einen Heiden und ich zeige Dir eine Tragödie” (Show me a hero and I’ll show you a tragedy, 1987–89). Each of the 40 works in this installation consists of two monochrome pictures: the left side of each picture shows a famous figure—Sid Vicious, Yukio Mishima, Robespierre, James Dean, et al.—as we usually remember him; the right half shows a picture of his death or place of death. Like all of Platz’s work, the pieces suggest that a hero is simply anyone who is considered a hero.

Justin Hoffmann

Translated from the German by Joachim Neugroschel.