Marko Lehanka

Although Marko Lehanka considers himself a sculptor, many of his early works were computer based, and in the early ’90s he participated in exhibitions with a new-media focus. Yet you’d never suspect such beginnings from his exhibition “Schöne Gruß vom Country-Boy” (Best Regards from Country Boy): Lehanka’s scenario resembled a garage cram-packed with carved wooden objects, reliefs made of sawed-off surfboards, a few canvases done in the style of thrift-shop paintings, and even a sculpture of an Italian wine god and a standing grill. There was hardly a trace of technology; instead, an expressive disorder seems to have triumphed. In the middle of the space was a tree cut into pieces and provisionally nailed back together, while on the wall to the right hung Botticelli, von Nuschelinchen selbst gemalt (Botticelli, Painted by Nuschelinchen Herself), 2003, a naively painted copy, its frame adorned with stuffed animals, of the banquet scene from the Florentine painter’s Story of Nastagio degli Onesti, 1482–83. In a video one could watch the artist and his friends enjoying pork ribs and beer as they throw chuck onto wooden planks, arranged by Lehanka into a loose rendition of a carnival booth. In general the exhibition was a stocktaking of the joys of life in the country. Lehanka is interested in the ritualization of the everyday, without letting its objects lose their appealing roughness—deploying them in counterpoint to the subtleties of urbane distinction. On the benches distributed throughout the room, one recognizes the logos of BMW and Harley-Davidson: dream objects of the provincial youth. The only work involving computer science is Untitled, 2003, a program that generates stories out of randomly combined sentence elements. When a character name is combined in a sentence with a phrase referring to a mode of accidental death, it is dropped from the game, and when all the characters have been finished off, the game ends.

With his antiformalist approach, Lehanka follows in the tradition of Dieter Roth and Mike Kelley. In 2001, the editor of Kunstzeitung criticized his works at the Venice Biennale as shamelessly reminiscent of Kippenberger. The basis for these comments was Lehanka’s Brandenburger Tor II (Brandenburg Gate II), 1998–99, which was constructed of scrap wood and furniture dollies and was meant to counteract the monumentality of the original. Now its component parts have been packed into crates, which serve as recyclable furnishings for a barbecue area. Everything Lehanka makes grows, has an autobiographical or art-historical connection, and proliferates in the manner of Roth’s storerooms. Thus his beer bottles engraved with pub lore were on display several years ago at the Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt, while the Bacchus sculpture was built of papier-mâché as an homage to Michelangelo for the 1993 Villa Romana fellowship in Florence.

The myth of the inventor whose primitive assemblages never seem to work has come back in fashion—a new love for the artist as failure. With Lehanka, though, one finds neither the pathos of antiheroism nor heroism itself, in contrast to Jonathan Meese, for example, who celebrates the anarchy in his art like some high priest. Lehanka refuses to succumb to the very German (and very Romantic) wish to rise above the world of things, meaning not everydayness, but fetishization. At the opening, anyone who wanted could sit on the improvised benches around the grill and drink a beer—in the end, the grill area is “a central place in society,” according to Lehanka, either with or without art.

Harald Fricke

Translated from German by Sara Ogger.