Alexej Koschkarow

Jablonka Galerie

The art of Alexej Koschkarow, a Belarussian who recently graduated from the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, is something quite out of the ordinary. Katharina Fritsch felt so challenged by Koschkarow’s baroque, kitschy images that she invited him to participate in a joint exhibition at the Kunsthalle Düsseldorf in 1999, where he erected a park landscape with hedgerows among which nestled bronze statues of strange adolescents masturbating. “What’s this supposed to be?” was a question often heard during that exhibition. In an interview, Koschkarow himself spoke of his feeling of confinement and of his dream of being lord of a castle with his own park. A year later, Koschkarow invited thirty friends to Malkasten, an upscale Düsseldorf watering hole whose name means “paint box.” Copious supplies of cream tortes were on hand, and the expected pie fight ensued. The video documentation of the event (recently on view at the Kunsthalle Zürich) shows something like the realization of childhood fantasies: cream flying into everyone’s hair, into the décolletage of elegantly dressed ladies, into the suits of the gentlemen, and of course, into their faces and beneath their feet.

And what delight did Koschkarow prepare for us this time? An odd one—a totally fake world: Ducking through a small fireplace, one entered a library, the archive of a cloister, perhaps, or of a castle—at any rate not your typical public library. The floor was marble, as was the fireplace; the heavy wooden shelves were painted black and polished with beeswax; and the coffered ceiling seemed to be made of the same wood. The shelves were stacked high with manuscripts. But, it turned out, the floor wasn’t marble at all, the ceiling was plastic, and the shelves, made of the cheapest wood, were, like the manuscripts stacked on them, only an inch and a half deep. Everything was fake, simulated, posed. Being in this room was a most disconcerting experience.

Whether art should come to us as experience or as knowledge has always been a point of contention. The prevailing opinion today, at least judging by events like the recent Documenta 11, tends to place more emphasis on knowledge in positing the idea of art. But even one of the founders of abstract painting, the Czech artist František Kupka, warned in his unjustly forgotten theoretical work Creation in the Plastic Arts (1923) against basing art on knowledge. Ideas and knowledge are constantly changing, he suggested; what stays with you forever and forms you is experience.

Ideas, which feed on knowledge, have a tendency to become self-confirming, to place themselves above the real, to make absolute claims. Ideas cannot easily be countered or shaken by other ideas. What can shake them, though, are unforeseen and unpredictable experiences. Koschkarow, with his installations and performances, provokes unexpected experiences—experiences that Fritsch has aptly characterized as horrid at first, then strange, so strange that they begin to be interesting. These experiences have something anarchic, even subversive about them—and they are too seldom to be had in art. Keep it up, Koschkarow.

Noemi Smolik

Translated from German by Sara Ogger