Joep van Lieshout

Kölnischer Kunstverein

One could find everything needed to live—or at least survive—in Joep van Lieshout’s recent exhibition. The artist had filled the museum’s oblong space with a long series of objects that incorporated various household items, including everything from kitchen appliances (even one intended to be used in pig-butchering, along with dried sausages) to a water closet.

At first glance, one might assume that van Lieshout’s new works are merely symptoms of the current vogue for “furniture art.” His counters, bathtubs, and cabinets, his built-in sleep and work stations, are at once aestheticized and functional, much like certain creations of Jorge Pardo, Andrea Zittel, or Tobias Rehberger. What sets his work apart from that of other artists who deal with furniture in an artistic context, however, is his obsessive interest in sexuality. Though seen most clearly in his gigantic phalluses and oversized beds, suggestive details—the rounded corners of a vehicle made of polyester, for instance—evoke a vividly sensual, organic quality Inside the vehicle, a wide bench covered with pillows, a small refrigerator, several liquor bottles fastened to the wall, and a large bed combine to suggest the ideal setting for a tryst.

Next to this piece stood Study-Books-Skull, 1996, a compartment intended to be used as a small study space. The seclusion promised by this little cell was intensified in Bird Skulls, 1996. Once one closed the door and reclined inside this compartment—which was molded to the human form—neither light nor sound could penetrate the space. These compartments not only offer protection and privacy, but they also have a powerful emotional effect. In fact, they reference the “Orgonen” theories of the social psychologist Wilhelm Reich, who claimed to increase the sexual energy of individuals with similar devices during the ’20s.

For the past three years van Lieshout has exhibited his work, both inside or outside the art world, under the name “Atelier Van Lieshout.” In addition to the modular pieces, he produces polyester chairs, shelves, and tables (which, with their simple forms, are sometimes reminiscent of furniture from IKEA), often in unlimited numbers. The most convincing objects, however, are the ones made in response to specific spatial situations—for example, the bars and bathrooms designed for Rem Koolhaas’ Grand Palais Lille. All of van Lieshout’s constructions are highly functional, and with the catalogue that accompanied the show he went still one step further. Subtitled “A Handbook,” it provided (in addition to a recipe for sausages) building instructions to anyone who aspires to own a van Lieshout sculpture.

Yilmaz Dziewior

Translated from the German by Diana Reese.