New York

Hans-Peter Feldmann

Hans-Peter Feldmann remains virtually unknown in the United States, but he is something of a cult figure in German art circles. Between the late ’60s and late ’70s, he produced a diverse body of work—photographs, books, and found objects—that in some respects anticipated much of the “pictures” and commodity-critique art that dominated New York art in the ’80s. Feldmann broadly indulged consumer kitsch, advertising, and reproductions without originals in a manner not unlike Richard Prince, Jeff Koons, and Haim Steinbach. The crucial difference is that Feldmann always eschewed high-gloss finish. Trafficking in banality unredeemed by glamour, Feldmann produces work that is modest to a fault—more F. W. Woolworth Co. than Saks Fifth Avenue.

Coincident with the recrudescence of large-scale painting and sculpture at the end of the ’70s, Feldmann stopped making art altogether, turning his attention instead to the management of a small shop specializing in postcards and trinkets. His recent exhibition documented his return to art-making, and his preoccupations don’t seem to have changed much since the ’70s. It looked as if Feldmann took a selection of objects from his store and simply displayed them in the gallery. The show featured a series of cheap silver picture frames each containing an identical photograph of Greta Garbo and Charlie Chaplin, an array of Eiffel Tower postcards, and a display of common dinner plates. My favorite works were small color Xeroxes of washing machines and Persian carpets lifted from the advertisements that presumably provided their original context. Though they partake of the dumbness endemic to much recent art, these images are still somehow oddly touching, perhaps because they seem not to have been ennobled by their status as artworks. Feldmann doesn’t exalt banality a la Koons, but he doesn’t wallow in degradation either. Inspiring neither fetishistic adoration nor abject revulsion, Feldmann’s objects inhabit the limbo of true everydayness.

I liked this show because it suggested to me an archaic esthetic sensibility, one formed less by Tintoretto than by the gift and card shop near my childhood home. Glazed earthenware tureens, bulbous glass candlesticks, and hideous z-grade chinoiserie probably once appealed to a burgeoning sissy decorator esthetic as yet unrefined by an appreciation of money and class. I’m glad that’s all changed, but it’s okay to be reminded of humble beginnings.

David Rimanelli