Sarah Ortmeyer

Figge von Rosen Galerie

For the work that lends its name to Sarah Ortmeyer’s most recent show, “SABOTAGE,” the artist filled the floor of the gallery’s front room with chopped-up shoes made of light-colored wood. The shoes were actually French sabots, peasant’s clogs—the little-known root of the word sabotage: French agricultural workers defended themselves against the mechanization of farming by tossing their sabots into the new threshing machines. In the nineteenth century, it was relatively simple to throw a wrench into the machine of the powers that be; if only it were so easy these days. In this sense, the entire gallery room made a strangely nostalgic impression. At its center stood a white pedestal on which four small matchboxes were arranged beneath a protective glass cube. Their tiny black-and-white labels show photos of people making clenched fists—that universally comprehensible symbol of resistance—with explosive force. But why does the artist place the outstretched fist of Lee Harvey Oswald, the handcuffs clearly visible on his wrists, beside the Black Power salute of runner Tommie Smith, held proudly aloft as he receives his gold medal during the 1968 Olympic Games? And what are we to make of the juxtaposition of George W. Bush greeting a young boy by bumping fists with the affectionate fist bump shared by Michelle and Barack Obama? These are parallels that aren’t actually parallel, fleeting similarities that reveal the abyss of misunderstanding and misuse that have surrounded this gesture. Who is misappropriating this gesture? Who is a true victor?

OKKUPATION KOLLABORATION RÉSISTANCE, 2008, in another room, is a work with a distinctly poetic aura—typical for Ortmeyer—that formally recalls Minimalism: A mass-produced table with steel legs is covered with a red and white–checked tablecloth, the sort used at French restaurants. At the left edge of the table, a small iron Eiffel Tower teeters. According to legend, members of what would become the French Resistance sabotaged the elevator of the tower in 1940 so that Hitler would be forced to climb the stairs when he came to Paris. Is Ortmeyer’s tower about to fall? Has it been posed so carefully that it will remain suspended? Or has it been glued in place? This is a dangerous balancing act—one that the French were forced to perform during the German occupation and the Vichy regime, always teetering between collaboration and resistance. Ortmeyer has used the simplest possible means to bring her statement to life. It’s hard to imagine a more succinct enterprise.

A group of photocollages from 2008 evinces a more romantic and even whimsical vein in Ortmeyer’s work by virtue of the title of the installation, LA LOVE, of which they are an integral part. The pieces juxtapose historical figures with the idea that they might have been lovers. And it’s not impossible, given that some of the couples portrayed here actually did meet in real life. What if Theodor W. Adorno really had developed a crush on Angela Davis? In a wooden frame, one sees Davis’s head against a red background, taken from a magazine cover; above her gaze hovers a somber Adorno. Or what if the urban terrorist Andreas Baader and the singer Nico had found love in each others’ arms? Anyone who so wishes is invited to continue the fantasy. The private lives of Bobby Fischer and Barbara Streisand, Thomas Bernhard and Glenn Gould are at our disposal, awaiting the formation of new romantic myths.

Noemi Smolik

Translated from German by Oliver E. Dryfuss.