New York

Dieter Roth

Dieter Roth is a crazy, a genuine crazy, god bless him! He comes out of the great tradition of German mystic/psychotic art that verges on the void, struggling to articulate it. Thus, in his manic Six Piccadillies, 1969–70, Roth is not making a standard Warhol-type erasure of a famous presence, but is attempting to articulate the uncanniness of a peculiar public space. Roth attempts to turn this space’s essence inside out and discovers that it has no single essence. The space is bottomlessly full, uncannily overflowing with possibilities of spatiality; protean, it spontaneously changes its mode of appearance. It is not only far from empty, but limitless in its self-disclosure. It is the space of the supernatural.

Roth plunges into the banal, and finds himself at its core, as in Löwenselbst (Self as lion, 1969). In the extraordinary Stuttgarter Selbsthase (Stuttgart self rabbit, 1978), he articulates, in a devastatingly honest fashion––one that is true to psychic reality––the incredible depth of his self-distortion. This quick study shows Roth’s power over the inarticulate; he has the capacity to give formal simplicities visionary effect. Thus, in Zwei scheissen mit den Augen (Two shit with their eyes, 1974), a neat line of yellow tape emphasizes the horizon; various energies converge upon it, giving it transcendental power.

In general, Roth’s work is about the insane convergence of separate realities––about putting an end to differentiation in a manic swirl of undifferentiation. There is an irresistible vertiginous drift towards undifferentiation––unconsciousness––in works such as Object, 1971 and Untitled, 1975–78. Untitied, 1978, makes the point clearly: latent in the color mist is a hallucinatory face––implicitly a self-portrait. Similarly, in works such as Schokoladenzwerg (Chocolate dwarf, 1969), Käserennen (Cheese race, 1970), and Tapete (Tapestry, 1987), banal things and materials are given hallucinatory import by being made delirious in appearance. One realizes such delirium not just by letting go, which only tends to show the degree to which one is possessed by clichés, but by deliberate cultivation of the uncanny. To bag that rare bird one must, like Roth, constantly be hunting oneself in the mire of one’s blindest impulses.

––Donald Kuspit