Marcus Geiger and Axel Huber

Engholm Engelhorn

Marcus Geiger is known as a master of understatement. A relentless antitoxin in the operating system of the art world, he does what he can to resist the principles of the marketplace and its eternal quest for increased value, to oppose the co-opting force of elitism, and to rehabilitate the ordinary and the quotidian. He uses the simplest materials, such as terry cloth and felt, with a persistent and pointed refusal of meaning. In short, Geiger regularly thumbs his nose at the art industry and the ways it assigns value.

Casually disregarding the invitation to mount a solo show—a professionally advantageous opportunity—Geiger instead invited his friend Axel Huber, an artist and curator, to join him. At the heart of this “Group Show”—as it was titled—was Geiger’s sculpture series “Portraits und Wurst” (Portraits and Sausage), 2006, which takes as its point of reference an old group photograph of members of the Vienna Secession on the occasion of their fourteenth exhibition, in 1902 (which featured Klimt’s Beethoven Frieze). The sculptures are full-body felt “casts,” their poses and gestures corresponding to those of artists in the photo. These empty shells of fluorescent pink and green, dirty yellow and gray, lounged about the gallery, looking relaxed as they strolled, sprawled, or sat. The rigid bodies, their movements frozen in time, recall the last days of Pompeii or the mummies in the Valley of Kings. The installation is highly refined from a coloristic viewpoint as well as sculpturally striking. Geiger manages to include the urban space—the street in front of the gallery—as a backdrop for the show, and the carefully arranged felt cocoons mingle with the gallery visitors to create a theatrical tableau semi-vivant.

For his part, Huber decorated the gallery walls with pictures gathered from the depths of Paris’s flea markets—all astonishing female nudes from the ’30s. They seem to gaze at the posing men, who couldn’t be less interested. And so the usual gendered opposition between active viewing and passive self-display is turned on its head. Following Geiger’s gesture of refusal, however, Huber’s own works—paintings, collages, and photos—were kept to the gallery’s back room.

Geiger’s sharp-witted body of work is characterized by a buoyant lightness and a seductive elegance: Past projects include felt carpets laid wall to wall, stacks of colorful terry-cloth towels, cardboard objects, couture for curators, Russian tanks encased in terry cloth, and a birthday paint job for the Secession Building (a slatternly “rouge vulgaire”). Geiger subverts and demystifies the concept of the artwork, gleefully thwarting the viewer’s desire to be dazzled. His message? If forms of resistance have been exhausted and revolutionary imagination has dried up, then all that’s left for the artist to do is hone his skills in restraint and subtraction. Erase, he said.

Brigitte Huck

Translated from German by Susan Bernofsky.