View of “Perverted Minimalism Nr. 2,” 2011.

View of “Perverted Minimalism Nr. 2,” 2011.

Perverted Minimalism Nr. 2

View of “Perverted Minimalism Nr. 2,” 2011.

If you take the phrase “Perverted Minimalism” at face value, then the four artists in this group show which they themselves initiated—Claudia Djabbari, Hedwig Eberle, Anna Friedel, and Franka Kaßner—are doing something twisted with a classic art movement. In more general terms, they are self-critically questioning an artistic practice that often gets subsumed under the general heading “formal reduction.” Djabbari’s sculptural analyses unmask the inhospitable architectural geometries of modern apartment complexes. Kaßner’s sculptures and mixed-media works, too, have clear political connotations, bringing to mind, say, the Communist raised-fist salute or the blue flower of Romanticism. At the same time, thanks to her frequent references to design and interior architecture, Kaßners use of abstraction remains rooted in the quotidian social sphere. Friedel and Eberle, on the other hand—working in sculpture and painting, respectively—wrestle with the model of a self-referential and self-reflexive abstract formalism. While confining themselves to artistic means, they, too, persistently put the virtues of ostensibly “pure” form to the test.

And so this show—or rather, the ongoing project of which it is one installment—raises the question of the relationship between form and politics and, more fundamentally, whether and how form can give art a thematic dimension in the first place. The individual works are anything but “naive” throwbacks to formalist positions: The promise of authenticity and autonomy offered by form is constantly demonstrated to be fragile and possibly even invalid. The text accompanying the exhibition, written by Friedel and art historian Jenny Mues, makes it clear that the artists wish the show to be understood in this sense: i.e., in terms of their “examination of the actual space” and “the dialogue between the four sometimes highly differing positions.” The show’s site-specific aspects and use of intercontextuality are thus invoked as guarantees that the works will not be mistaken for autonomous creations. But more radical than this still somewhat conventional suggestion of contextualization is the fact that “Perverted Minimalism” has been conceived as a constantly expanding traveling exhibition. The show first went on view at Friedel’s studio in Düsseldorf, for example, before being displayed in changed form at Galerie Jahn Baaderstrasse in Munich and then the Woodmill in London; in October it will appear in Leipzig. With each new location, the presentation is expanded to include several more works by each artist so that the number of objects on display will increase significantly during the overall run. The project’s development, then, is subject to a conceptual framing that comes down to an experimental procedure with an uncertain outcome.

The effects of this approach (which the artists describe as an area of tension caused by the “potential contrariness of . . . exaggeration and reduction”) can be seen in the poster for the show, which gets painted over each time the show is reinstalled: darkness and self-effacement, curiosity and opacity. The format of incremental expansion consciously takes into account the devaluation and undermining of the artists’ own position. Iconoclasm and implosion would thus appear to be the possible end points of a minimalism that’s gone off the straight and narrow path.

Daniela Stöppel

Translated from German by Oliver E. Dryfuss.