Nicole Wermers


With her “French Junkies 1–11,” 2002, a series of sculptures about two and a half feet high, Nicole Wermers has brought the public ashtray into the gallery as an object both useful and aesthetic. In the form of tall columns, rectangular towers, cubes stacked together like steps, or vitrines, the “French Junkies” evoke costly design objects and lifestyle accessories. Their materials—copper, aluminum, wood, plastic, glass—playfully evince the combinatorial taste of their time. Venetian blinds cloak one sculpture in an apparently regal skin, while another suggests a stylized and slender kimono. Each is topped with an orthogonal or round bowl filled with bright sand, the last resting place for the remains of cigarettes. And the gallery public overcame its fear of transgression and made use of what was supplied. Still, there are a lot of inhibitions to get past before one sticks the butt end of a fleeting enjoyment into a sculpture presented so aesthetically. Although Wermers has taken the public’s reverence for art into account, her combination of high and low is not played out as a contrast between elite and mass culture, but rather in the incomprehensible application of something manifestly elegant for use as a receptacle for trash.

Wermers gained attention with her hermetically sealed wooden boxes, sculptures that could only be looked into from above. What unfolded within them was like an image of chaos. Highly detailed models of shop interiors had seemingly been placed in the path of some immense destructive force. Mirrors, fluorescent tubes, interior appointments, and shelves looked like they had been heaved into the air by a tornado and then tossed on the floor. Still, these spaces seemed to be thought experiments, or considerations of form and content, more than sculptural snapshots of some potential occurrence.

This time, too, Wermers presents an interior. Not a store, but rather a new church (Nieuwe Kerk, 2002). And this model actually meets one’s expectations of what a model should be—that is, it suggests something to be constructed rather than destroyed. A cross, an altar, and a crossbeam in purple, the color of the Passion, all remind us of Christianity, but what is being posited here goes beyond religiosity to the now utopian idea of a noncommercial public, one made up of more than just consumers. Perhaps it is the closed nature of Wermers’s spaces, their lack of openings (i.e., doors and windows) to the outside world, that finally still undermines their model-character in the end, even in this case. Her interiors seem more like three-dimensional images than architectures intended to be realized. They occur in an inner space that posits an unbroken frame between the object and its exterior.

Another work here, Notre Dame, 2001/2002, a looped projection of a collage, picks up this inward feeling anew. Wermers cut out photos of little glass bottles from fashion and lifestyle magazines and constructed a kind of stainedglass church window from them. In its artificial light the surface appearance of the expensive and “classy” objects on view is reflected and broken up in a kaleidoscopic play whose splendor is a reflection of the expectations and wishes of a truly global congregation.

Wolf Jahn

Translated from German by Sara Ogger.