Jonathan Meese

Immediately following his first solo exhibition—a crowded installation in which walls, floors, and even ceilings were strewn with photocopies, handwritten notes, film posters, album covers, and the ripped-out pages of books—Jonathan Meese, who was born in Tokyo in 1972 and now lives in Hamburg and Berlin, was invited to participate in the 1998 Berlin Biennale. On that occasion, he offered a slightly different version of his original piece, filling a large space with another “allover” installation. For the length of its run, the artist spent a lot of time at the exhibition—casually talking or having a drink with visitors, giving performances—and in so doing seemed to become an integral part of his own installation. A kind of Gesamtkunstwerk emerged that was closely tied to Meese’s person (an impression reinforced by the many photographic self-portraits populating the space).

Meese’s newest installation, titled Mr. Deltoid’s a.k.a. Urleandrusus’—Sonnenallee—AHOI DE ANGST—FAIR WELL Good Bye, 1999, had much in common with the Berlin piece, from the TV sets screening videos of the artist’s favorite films, including Zardoz (1973), Caligula (1980), A Clockwork Orange (1971), and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), to the loud music playing in the background. Here, however, one searched in vain for a photographic self-portrait. Instead, Meese constructed figures out of clothes and other materials—a man on a motorcycle; an allegory of death with a pickaxe—which functioned as placeholders for his person. In the past Meese’s work has been compared to that of Jason Rhoades and Dieter Roth; these stuffed figures, however, distributed throughout the space as if on a stage, recalled the installations of Paul Thek.

What in his early installations may have been taken for the untidy room of a teenager, has proven on closer observation to form an assembly of interrelated literary, (pop) musical, and cinematic references. Taking on icons from ’70s movie culture (such as Helmut Berger, Romy Schneider, Klaus Kinski, and Rainer Werner Fassbinder), as well as from the era’s general intellectual climate (reflected in this show by the inclusion of several books by Rolf Dieter Brinkmann), Meese both celebrates and invites a critical reassessment of that period. Meese’s pronounced affinity for film and for the ’70s may explain why Claus Boje and Leander Haussmann, the respective producer and director of the upcoming Sonnenallee, invited him to design the sets for that film set in ’70s East Germany and to play a minor role in it. Elements of the sets and backdrops from the movie were incorporated into the recent work.

In order to enter the installation, one had to walk through a passageway made of army camouflage netting, as if to signal that, along with the filmic and pop cultural references, a distinctly military motif was in place. Walls were covered with camouflage fabric; soldiers’ helmets and weapons built of bamboo were scattered about the space; and, to top it all off, marching music played in the background. The entire scenario was simultaneously amusing and oppressive. It could even be read ironically as an obituary on Meese’s own early fame—a prophecy belied by the strength of the exhibition.

Yilmaz Dziewior

Translated from German by Diana Reese.