Peter Bonde

Galerie Sophia Ungers

Most people feel some slight anxiety when viewing the works of Danish artist Peter Bonde. Who wants to look at work that seems a desperate attempt to maintain a “critical” art by all sorts of antiquated means such as sculpture and painting? Bonde stubbornly (and sometimes perhaps too directly) insists that such an art must exist, and, he goes about inventing the space for it, so that the art action constitutes the core of his project.

At the same time he continues to wage a struggle for self-respect as an artist, entangling himself in his own scenarios. Puttering about in an attempt to transform the symbolic conditions in which art takes place, he fails to transform completely the ideological status quo that sustains the activity of artmaking. A sticker that says “Be Aggressive,” mounted on a painting is not so much an expansive artistic gesture with far-reaching transformative effects, as a short-lived statement that merely adumbrates the idea of a permanent intellectual effectivity or damage.

Bonde works with literally damaging materials: for instance, he uses poisons as pigments on his easel paintings, or else he references them employing the toxins at the level of idea. A suppressed aggressivity comes through not only in the objects but in the titles as well. Local Irritation (all works 1990) is the title of a huge suspended slightly Matt-Mullicanesque banner, bearing the symbols for poison. Two small, blackish-green Abstract Expressionist paintings were literally executed with poisonous mercury, while in the larger formats, Bonde used very little oil, but plenty of polyvinyl chloride. Bonde’s paintings employ all sorts of strategies to make them resistant, and hard to take. Persuasion and Demand, two aluminum-cast sculptures with stickers, hang on either side of the cloth like hovering phalluses decapitated at both ends. Think Big Prick, the pendant to the naked abstract painting Jeffrey, seems, on the other hand, a concession to the eye and light. A twisting, flickering, hoselike neon tube mounted on the piece appears to be derived from the repertoire of Minimalism, but one wonders why. His works always look like the remnants of Style as well as Content Wars. Indeed, he mines the leftover and the left-out: British Minimalism, Art & Language, Situationism, Fluxus. But his is a slightly stubborn, fundamental outsiderness, which is not directly rooted in any movement, nationality, or market, but which nevertheless tries to create its own context. Though he is in contact with diverse artistic and social fields, Bonde ultimately keeps his distance, which results in a certain neutrality. He knowingly maneuvers himself into a neutral corner in order to demonstrate the necessity of this position and to plot possible escapes. It is a dog-biting-its-own-tail game, in which the artist is both dog and tail. The pathetic, even sober “over-the-top” gestures, materials, and allusions are the devices of the hunted and the worn. It is a bizarre, in part deliberately awkward, attempt to find the point at which contemporary esthetics coincide with the practice of painting. A recent comment by Suzanne Moore on Kathy Acker’s new book could be applied to Bonde’s exhibition as well: “Never mind the novels, feel the nerve.”

What we see is an effort by an artist who knows that what changes our way of seeing the streets is more important than that which changes our way of seeing painting, to borrow a sentiment from Guy Debord. Somehow, in some as yet unexplained way, Bonde has tried to do his work, to make “art,” and in so doing, he remains dazed and trapped in his own space. For him, the gallery is a place from which something outside its confines is to be negotiated with poisons, aggression, and desperate demands.

Bonde’s is a game of good cop/bad cop that inevitably rubs us the wrong way—that manages to leave a slightly disturbing, slightly irritating trace of the ambivalences and multiplicities, carried by an idea of the artist as a special garbage dump for “critical individualism.”

Jutta Koether

Translated from the German by Joachim Neugroschel.