Cologne

View of “Jon Shelton,” 2011. Floor: Study for Brisk Tea, 2011. Wall: Brisk Tea / Dick Armey, 2011. Back room: Start Packin’ Granny, 2011.

View of “Jon Shelton,” 2011. Floor: Study for Brisk Tea, 2011. Wall: Brisk Tea / Dick Armey, 2011. Back room: Start Packin’ Granny, 2011.

Jon Shelton

View of “Jon Shelton,” 2011. Floor: Study for Brisk Tea, 2011. Wall: Brisk Tea / Dick Armey, 2011. Back room: Start Packin’ Granny, 2011.

Jon Shelton is an American but he has been part of the scenery in Cologne for years. One can usually find him at a garage space around the corner from the Hotel Chelsea (named after the famous Chelsea Hotel in New York). Patiently, he lets visitors peek into the two hundred-square-foot rooms where he creates and stores his life’s work. It is also from here that he has run his company, Oscitant Enterprises, for the past seven years. On the firm’s website, Shelton offers his services in very professional language: Oscitant both manufactures products to order and sells a line of the company’s own products. These are described just as they would be in a luxury retailer’s catalogue. The wares are divided into the departments of Production (profit-generating projects, goods, and services) and [A]Production (loss-generating ones; i.e., art).

“Production” covers everything from handcrafted wooden boxes to portable tables. Things get more interesting in the [A]Production department. One can order a working site model for Oscitant Enterprises’ new radical Conceptual art-training facilities in Libya, or a 1:10 model of the Oscitant rhizomatic transportable studio, available in a standard version or a deluxe model with its own storage box. Also available are drawings of current political and social events, created by Shelton almost daily. Apparently naive, like cheap comics, the drawings are actually shrewd observations on a society possessed by violence, hatred, environmental destruction, racism, genetic engineering, and irresponsible and dangerous financial games. Shelton offers handmade boxes for his drawings, so a high-quality, finely crafted wooden case might open to display, for instance, the grinning face of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Aside from a 2010 three-person exhibition of drawings at New York’s Tibor de Nagy Gallery, Oscitant Enterprises has not been presented in a gallery until now. This show took as one of its themes the American Tea Party movement, with the title “Gunslingers, Hoodwinkers and Tea Baggers.” On the wall of the gallery, Shelton meticulously drew the roots that nourish a few blades of grass in Grassroots, 2011. The logos of two US think tanks—the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation—appear as part of the root system: For years their aggressive patriotism and moralistic fundamentalism have plowed the fields where the Tea Party has taken root. The individual roots are linked by threads of text that looks like Arabic, the script of the purported enemy, but is really a stylized form of English.

This graphic presentation mimicked botanical illustration. Elsewhere, Shelton drew in comic-book style: images of children shooting guns, or armed members of the Taliban driving past a McDonald’s. One drawing, Brisk Tea / Dick Armey, 2011, showed the former GOP congressman of the title as a Texas cowboy, holding a cup that contains a bunch of swollen tea bags whose labels, hanging from strings, bear the logos of Armey’s lobbying customers and political affiliations—Sanofi Aventis, Philip Morris, FreedomWorks, and so on. He was as ugly, fat, and selfishly expansive as the Tea Party movement itself. Another wall drawing showed a simple, conservative grandma wielding a revolver in each hand. Created in situ during the show, the wall drawings were to be naturally be painted over afterward, leaving bare walls, a stale taste, and the hope that Oscitant Enterprises will soon offer further commentary on current events.

Noemi Smolik

Translated from German by Anne Posten.