Friedrich Kunath

Friedrich Kunath’s recent exhibition “Hello Walls” was his first at BQ since the Cologne gallery relocated earlier this year to Berlin, where gallerists Jörn Bötnagel and Yvonne Quirmbach have opted against maintaining a permanent display space in favor of an itinerant structure utilizing temporary sites around the city. On this occasion, BQ inhabited a ground-floor apartment in a prewar building just behind Humboldt University. The air of domesticity was accentuated by the inclusion of thrift-store finds such as a worn-out bed, a flip-style alarm clock, table lamps, and candles, plus wall-to-wall plush carpeting in two of the rooms. These props accompanied more than fifty works including paintings, photographs, sculpture, and a video, most of them produced by the artist in the Los Angeles home that also doubles as his studio.

One room, resembling an angst-ridden teenager’s attic hideaway, was completely draped in bolts of fabric with quirky patterns (Mexican Day of the Dead motifs, a sock monkey hanging from a giant banana in the sky, a bucolic British hunting scene) on top of which other works were hung, including a sad little bald cartoon man holding a pistol to his forehead (Untitled, 2008, silkscreen print and spray paint on paper) and a child alone in bed amid ominous blobs of yellow, blue, and brown (the painting In Your Room, 2009). In a corner a group of ceramic bats hung from the ceiling, while on the floor below them lay sculptural renditions of the discarded contents of a pocket—loose change, keys, and a matchbook with a telephone number scrawled on the inside cover (Broke Bats, 2008).

In another room, a group of framed photographs (each Untitled, 2009) depicted witty ensembles created from the extensive array of objects (figurines, toys, and other assorted consumer detritus) collected by the artist. In one, pop idol Andy Williams flashes a toothy grin on the cover of his 1974 album The Way We Were as a human cranium with Ping-Pong-ball eyes spills its teeth out in front of the supplicating gaze of a tiny raccoon. On an adjacent wall, a black ceramic cat lay expectantly on a pedestal mounted in front of a black paperboard mouse hole (After the Love Is Gone, 2009), while in the next room a boot with a roof (reminiscent of the nursery rhyme “The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe”) emitted a scarcely audible recording of Kunath puttering around his Berlin apartment as the matching boot in the pair sat uselessly on the floor. That work, Untitled, 2009, could conceivably be thought of as a self-portrait, but more conspicuously so were two large photographs of a man reading fictitious self-help books and a video that followed an individual dressed as a snowman and holding a small suitcase, vainly attempting to traverse rugged desert terrain with a sad, simple melody composed by an amateur musician sounding in the background (all Untitled, 2009). Humorously self-deprecating reflections about marginality and failure, along with the combination of pathos and violence characteristic of fairy tales, set a playful yet melancholic tone: The works managed to feel excruciatingly intimate precisely because they attempted to reinvest the utterly ubiquitous and bland vocabulary of commodity culture with an endearing and redemptive quality. It’s what pop songs sometimes do—but only in retrospect, once they have fallen from the charts and their formulaic structures have taken on the sublime value of personal memory and historical nostalgia.

Michèle Faguet