Maike Abetz and Oliver Drescher

Gallery shows that draw parallels between music and visual art can be difficult to take, because one of the two generally seems to suffer. Pop music, for example, is much more dependent on context than artists who use it as a reference often seem to suggest. That it can still be productive to make the comparison—however flawed the results—is demonstrated by the work of the Berlin-based artists Maike Abetz and Oliver Drescher.

For their recent installation Up Against It, the team transformed the gallery into the den of an obsessed music fan. Most of the walls were papered with moire patterns, giving the space a period Op-art ambiance; against this background Abetz and Drescher displayed large canvases painted in a mod style that juxtaposed Britpop stars with older icons of soul. The remaining wall was covered with a patchwork of album covers from bands including the Shangri-las, the Buzzcocks, the Stooges, and the Velvet Underground. Some of the record jackets suggested an excavation of crossover ideas operative in art and music today (noticeable among these were the cover of the Beatles’ White Album, designed by Richard Hamilton, and Velvet Underground collaborations with Andy Warhol), while the canvases on view also mixed high and low references. A painting showing Richard Ashcroft, lead singer of the band Verve, contained an allusion to Joseph Beuys’ Blitzschlag mit Hirsch (Lightning stroke with stag). While these references might seem completely incongruous, one couldn’t help but be reminded of the singles Joseph Beuys sold in galleries—his hapless vocal stylings.

By sampling visual elements without obscuring the origins of the material, Abetz and Drescher remind us that what is fashionable in art and music today is always closely linked to the past, as well as closely linked to each other. While viewers unfamiliar with pop music might see in Abetz and Drescher’s work only a bright, trendy surface, for the initiated the innumerable references suggest a grid of ’90s influences and an unearthed index of historical consciousness. Ultimately, Up Against It had an alien feeling, because it depended heavily on the very thing that was conspicuously absent—the music fueling the images.

Harald Fricke

Translated from the German by Diana Reese.