Berlin

Yngve Holen, sensitive to detergent, Tired, 2011, front bumper, tire, detergent, handwritten Post-it notes, cotton towels, 11' 11 1/4“ x 6' 2 3/4” x 2' 7 1/2".

Yngve Holen, sensitive to detergent, Tired, 2011, front bumper, tire, detergent, handwritten Post-it notes, cotton towels, 11' 11 1/4“ x 6' 2 3/4” x 2' 7 1/2".

Yngve Holen

Autocenter Contemporary Art Berlin

Yngve Holen, sensitive to detergent, Tired, 2011, front bumper, tire, detergent, handwritten Post-it notes, cotton towels, 11' 11 1/4“ x 6' 2 3/4” x 2' 7 1/2".

Under fluorescent light, the mirror foil letters of the words SENSITIVE TO DETERGENT glimmered on a wall in a corner of Autocenter’s one-room exhibition space. Although this banner was similar in appearance to John Knight’s wall text AUTOTYPES, seen in his 2011 show at Greene Naftali in New York, any pursuit of the apparent affiliation between Knight’s work and the recent sculptural production of German- Norwegian artist Yngve Holen leads only to a dead end. The auto parts included in Holen’s exhibition may have been intended to pun on the name of Autocenter, a ten-year-old fixture among Berlin’s independent art spaces, but they did not treat it, as Knight might well have done, as a subject for critique. Instead, in the vein of contemporary assemblage sculptors such as Rachel Harrison or Isa Genzken, Holen’s work takes a position whereby the traditions of the readymade and of Minimalism find their continuation through an embodiment of––better, an enactment of––consumption.

Aligned diagonally across the space, four sculptures incorporated such materials as car bumpers and tires, the drums from a washing machine and tumble dryer, clothing, cleaning products, and other consumer goods. In the grill of a Mercedes SL500 or the face of a Swatch watch depicting an eye’s iris, viewers find more than the stuff of everyday life; we find the commodities that––in a ceaseless progression––we purchase and simultaneously employ to define our individual identities. The Mercedes’s severe, aggressive, and inky black grill represents an ideal both in the eyes of consumers and in the aesthetics of contemporary art, while its scuffed and broken form reveals that it has been in an accident. Carving dangerous lines in three-dimensional space and contrasting drastically with their modest white pedestals, the auto parts, and especially the tires on which the bumpers rest, find their complement in the pristine, reflective surfaces of the metallic drums. These circular forms connote cyclical movement, specifically high-speed rotation. Read in combination, the car parts, the clothes, and the cleaning products evoke the impermanence of even the shiniest and most expensive luxury good: They will always eventually need to be renewed and replaced. More than a commentary on consumer goods, these constructions embody considerations of consumption itself, in life as well as in art, and on the society in which this process occurs. But following connotations attached to their component pieces, the works containing black car parts and those comprising metallic washing-machine or tumble-dryer drums establish a conventional, and derogatory, gender binary.

In general, the identities that the works propose to construct are problematic. To elaborate: On the night of the opening, with the lights dim and a sound track provided by three DJs from Holen’s DJ booking agency, beastonleash.BIZ, someone, for whatever reason, keyed the Mercedes grill included in the work sensitive to detergent, Tired, 2011. Like the girls that Anna Chave once described in her 1990 essay “Minimalism and the Rhetoric of Power” as having “not only kicked, but also, however mockingly, kissed” a sculpture by Donald Judd, this anonymous visitor may have reacted to the (stereotypically masculine) authoritarianism that is incarnate in Holen’s sculpture. The work encapsulates the attitude of someone who would obsess about the condition of his expensive car and then risk a prized possession, his life, and the lives of others by driving at breakneck speeds, a “quasi-subject” (as Isabelle Graw has put it) marked by a rhetoric of power as well as one of purity.

––John Beeson