The artists formerly known as Gelatin—Ali Janka, Wolfgang Gantner, Florian Reither, and Tobias Urban—have been working since 2005 under the name gelitin, probably in order to stop being confused with calves’-foot jelly and shapeless, quivering blobs. After all, this Austrian artists’ collective has historically been far more interested in mud. Take, for example, last year’s exhibition at the pristine Kunsthaus Bregenz, where visitors were invited to join in veritable mud orgies in a “Mudplex,” which became the scene of sometimes quite impassioned mud wrestling. (The sensual pleasures of gelitin’s work are typically combined with extreme sports.)

This show operated along similar lines. It marked the first exhibition at the newly renovated Galerie Meyer Kainer, a former beer hall that architect Wilfried Kühn has transformed into a solemn, windowless temple of art. The boys from gelitin adorned the space with large-format plasticine collages from their series “Guernica,” 2006. Working in the spirit of Bataille’s “informe,” the troupe demystifies matter and cultivates an appreciation for the haphazard. Monsters emerge from a brown primordial soup—hideous faces, skulls, eyeballs, gaping jaws, spectacular nostrils, and the occasional set of teeth. The modeling paste has been imaginatively handled: now worked into clumps, now spread out fl at, and sometimes squeezed through a spaghetti maker.

While the title is borrowed from Picasso, the series itself contains obvious allusions to works by Hieronymus Bosch, a nod to the exhibition’s local context: The Flemish painter’s triptych Das Weltgericht (The Last Judgment), ca. 1442, is close by at the Akademie der bildenden Künste. But while the iconography of this series has a distinguished history, the anti-hierarchical spirit of these new works points to the continuity of gelitin’s anarchic enthusiasms. Their wonderful landscapes zestfully link macrocosm and microcosm in murkily psychedelic hues. Tame monsters paddle merrily about in a pool of bubbling mud—which might remind viewers of Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood’s ’80s London store, Nostalgia of Mud, or else of Mike Kelley’s “Memory Ware Flats” assemblages with their anti-compositional surface effects made with beads, fake pearls, and plastic jewels. Gelitin treat painting as a sort of bas-relief and haptic surface. Through intensive manual work they pull out all the stops in humorous experiments with painterly and sculptural balance. The result: allegories shaken up with a pinch of psychology.

Hordes of collectors sigh in relief whenever the quartet takes a break from their water holes, human towers, and flooded galleries to produce, for once, a few comparatively traditional panels. While the group’s derisive energy is as palpable as ever in this series, it’s difficult to know for sure whom gelitin is taking aim at with it. Martin Kippenberger’s paintings, for example, were an attack on the self-indulgent Wilde Malerei (Wild Painting) of the ’80s. It’s not immediately obvious who could be considered the equivalent figures today. Still, if there are any real schools of art left, gelitin are here to ride roughshod over their aesthetics with vaudevillian antics. They turn the art market into a playful grotesquerie where the real meets the absurd, driven by the power of satire and the will to absolute exigency.

Brigitte Huck

Translated from German by Susan Bernofsky.