Barbara Zenner

Galerie Jurgen Becker

Occasionally dispatches from the world of the department store reach the art world. This is certainly nothing new today. For decades artists have been mining consumer culture with varying results: some lead to kitsch, others to art as commodity. Some artists, among them Barbara Zenner, are attracted to the commodity world because it is more seductive than art itself.

In one piece, Zenner used a salt and pepper shaker set. Nothing unusual in that but the form: two copulating rabbits that probably are supposed to add visual spice to the contents. Zenner enlarged two other rabbits into stuffed animals reminiscent of children’s toys; the adult world with its sometimes vulgar jokes becomes childlike and naive. Another work, a clown with music and motor, together with its companion, a hippopotamus, ushers childhood imagination into the adult world.

From textiles Zenner sews, knits, and crochets her works. She has used fabric for some time, but it is only recently that she began to shape it into figures. This exhibition was like encountering a group of familiar signs: Donald Duck, Snow White, or the head of a German shepherd. Zenner forms these cartoon characters from stuffed blankets or creates batik patterns. In one work she crocheted the figure of a Pakistani flower vendor onto a white fabric so that his dark hands and the flowers shine more brilliantly. One special work, John the Baptist, 1992 was dedicated to a friend from Ghana, who appears three times in this triptych. His variegated portraits rise off the white background almost like a relief. Partially clothed in a velvet cloak in one, partly sewn into the background and surrounded with the halo of a saint in another, he looks like a holy man from a far-off continent.

Zenner also produces drawings of popular images like swans, babies, a rosy-cheeked young girl, or a young woman. In these drawings she undermines the trivial nature and kitschy quality of her subjects, for her skill transcends their banality. Zenner seems to love her subjects because they are more than just religious or profane, and because taste seems today to be an antiquated category of esthetic judgement.

Wolf Jahn

Translated from the German by Charles V. Miller.