New York

Bernard and Anna Blume

Margarete Roeder Gallery

For more than a decade, the Cologne-based couple Bernhard and Anna Blume have collaborated on performance-based photographic works that take the mores and mishaps of the German petty bourgeoisie as their subject. In one remarkable black and white series entitled “Im Wahnzimmer” (In the room of madness, 1984), a pun on the German word for living room, the Blumes—Bernhard roly-poly in a loud sports coat, Anna blurry in a dowdy patterned dress—try to recover their sense of balance while the cheap furniture and dishes in their apartment fly madly about.

In the series the Blumes exhibited here entitled “gegenseitig” (mutual, 1987–90), began with the idea of photographing each other with a Polaroid SX-70, cutting the pictures in half vertically, and reassembling them—one half-Bernard, one half-Anna. In practice, however, they ended up putting together different-sized fragments of their faces, along with brightly colored plastic props such as bottles, funnels, and garlic presses. The results are hilarious, partly due to the disjunctive nature of the Blumes’ technique, but also because they two are both such hams. With his bulging eyes expressing comic shock or greedy glee, jowls aquiver with excitement, Bernhard tends to steal the show; Anna, usually looks more down-to-earth.

Of course, the creatures that result from these assemblages of image fragments are not the Blumes, but grotesque cartoons with squeezed and twisted faces, bulging in incongruous places, and eyes that overlap crazily. Frequently they are attacked by plastic props that surround them: a bright yellow cheese grater starts to comb through a woman’s head; a cherry-red coffeepot replaces half a face, producing a horrible living Toby mug; a green meat grinder threatens to chew up the cheek of a man who regards the prospect with comic surprise. As in an updated version of “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” here modern kitchen implements, all cheery economical efficiency, come to life to exact vengeance on their thoughtless users.

In a deeper sense, the figures in these pictures struggle to free themselves from the aggressive frame of the SX-70. In formal terms, by cutting up the square Polaroid images the Blumes free up the frame, turning it into a constantly shifting geometric shape that seems to chop and parse out space with a will of its own.

The Blumes’ images suggest a kind of cubism—but the grotesque figures seem to come less from Modern art than from medieval iconography. The marvelous, comical characters in these images are like gargoyles, fantastic and nightmarish but whacked by a slapstick sensibility. A rude humor informs these pictures, as well as a certain magic and a tone of admonition. Indeed, these moral stories suggest a version of the Grimm Brothers’ tales updated for our consumer culture.

Charles Hagen