Friedrich Kunath


“Welcome Home Steve Curry” was the title under which Friedrich Kunath, born in 1974, opened the new gallery BQ in Cologne's Belgian Quarter, which has again become more important in recent years as new spaces have appeared. Drawings, a small sculpture, and recent videos, several of which were created specifically for this exhibition, centered on the theme of failure. The word itself was put into play—almost as a motto for the show—in a large work (Untitled, 2002) made of black carbon paper bearing a quotation written in chalk in which Thomas Edison declares that none of his inventions were failures, but that among them were ten thousand possibilities that didn't happen to work. Accordingly, the joys of such so-called mistakes and playful experimentation were apparent in the works exhibited here. A typical example was a small sculpture lying on the floor, apparently a godchild of the Dutch Conceptualist Bas Jan Ader. Kunath's sculpture keeps to primary colors, while the materials used—red velour fabric, yellow-painted sandpaper, blue-painted wood—casually depart from any claim to “purity.” The text, which reads WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU TRY TO FAIL AND THEN SUCCEED, puts an additional ironic twist on failure, a central theme for Ader as well, who represented it as falling, not quite the opposite of success.

This pleasure in falling and in highly awkward situations that make random passersby into unwitting accomplices characterized Kunath's earlier videos After a While You Know the Style, 2000, and I Am Not Patrick Swayze, 2001. In After a While, we see Kunath strutting around the streets of Hamburg and falling down quite a bit along the way. The passersby, who react either indignantly or with horrified concern, can't be sure whether these stumbles are accidental or are meant to provoke them. This mixture of apparent coincidence and obvious theatricality is transposed into a provocative stance in I Am Not Patrick Swayze. This video shows Kunath attempting several times to climb a tree, then suddenly falling down in front of a pedestrian and either remaining there or lying down in a flower bed. I Am Not Patrick Swayze, like After a While and his most recent video, When Was the First Time You Realized the Next Time Would Be the Last Time?, 2002, appropriates the form of the music video and combines it with elements of slapstick, TV entertainment formats like the candid camera, and moments of filmic collage, such as in the new video when he focuses on the eternally idyllic details of the Melaten cemetery in Cologne. While in his early videos Kunath was acting out and thus putting himself in potentially uncontrollable situations, in When Was the First Time he provokes the passersby from a safe distance—which renders the new video, despite its greater formal resolution, rather one-dimensional.

The ambiguity of Kunath's approach, with its equally ludic and casually melancholy little pranks, becomes most pointed in his drawings, the medium he has pursued most consistently. Thus a loosely rendered watercolor drawing from 2002 of two profiles is subtitled Most People Deserve Each Other; and on an otherwise empty page he makes the lapidary note: WHEN SOMETHING NEEDS TO BE PAINTED IT LETS ME KNOW.

Astrid Wege

Translated from German by Sara Ogger