Bonn

View of “Annette Kelm and Michaela Meise,” 2011–12. From left: Michaela Meise, Observatory Crest, 2004; Annette Kelm, Magnolia #1, 2001; Michaela Meise, Iris, 2010.

View of “Annette Kelm and Michaela Meise,” 2011–12. From left: Michaela Meise, Observatory Crest, 2004; Annette Kelm, Magnolia #1, 2001; Michaela Meise, Iris, 2010.

Annette Kelm and Michaela Meise

Bonner Kunstverein

View of “Annette Kelm and Michaela Meise,” 2011–12. From left: Michaela Meise, Observatory Crest, 2004; Annette Kelm, Magnolia #1, 2001; Michaela Meise, Iris, 2010.

What would happen if a photographer known for her carefully composed still lifes collaborated with a maker of detailed, body-oriented, skillfully balanced sculptures on a joint exhibition? The result turned out to be an empty room on whose spare walls a few images were painted. That’s probably not what Christina Végh, director of the Bonner Kunstverein, had in mind when she asked photographer Annette Kelm to prepare an exhibition in dialogue with an artist of her choice, but Kelm’s collaboration with sculptor Michaela Meise could indeed be described this succinctly. This was the third such experiment Végh has presented, following projects by Ján Mančuška and Jonas Dahlberg in 2005 and Christopher Williams and Mathias Poledna in 2009.

Collaboration requires not only respect for the other artist’s work, but also trust, which must be developed. The somewhat hesitant title “Hallo aber” (Hello but) reflected this. Kelm and Meise, both Berlin-based, were already acquainted, and the two quickly agreed that in order to remain true to their respective visions, they would leave the execution of the bulk of the project to a third person: the poster artist Carsten Carstens, a gem of the Bonn scene. Kelm and Meise commissioned him to make wall paintings copying (twice) the English painter Thomas Gainsborough’s John and Henry Truman-Villebois, 1783, a portrait of the sons of his patron; two record covers; two book covers; three paisley handkerchiefs; and one of the first color photographs, by Louis Ducos du Hauron, which shows a rooster and a parakeet. Strikingly painted with simplified forms often in bright blocks of color, the images seemed like giant stamps stuck on the walls. The two versions of the Gainsborough portrait were placed next to one another, but in different sizes.

The picture painted after du Hauron’s photograph dissolves into an almost abstract frenzy. The autonomy of color seemed to be one of this show’s primary themes. As a commentary on it, the artists had the room’s four columns painted with the CMYK colors used in printing. How did this change the room, and what was the relationship between the technically reproducible colors and the ones painted with a brush? Thus the question of technical versus manual reproduction of images loomed over the exhibition. One of the painted book covers also referred to this question: It was taken from a volume by David Bailey called How to Take Better Pictures (1981), and it depicted an ancient camera with an upside-down image inside it. An image from photography’s beginnings, the records from the decade in which the two featured artists were born, and the wall-painted children of Gainsborough’s portrait were reminders that childhood itself has been one of Meise’s main themes.

One could wander associatively through the rooms, questioning the origin and status of the pictures. It was a show no student of images could have helped but enjoy. As an exhibition within the exhibition, an enclosed space in the middle of the larger room displayed individual works by the two artists. These were mostly small: Meise’s Observatory Crest, 2004, consists of two plywood triangles, one painted blue, one painted black, wedged together on the floor. Kelm’s Magnolia #1, 2011, juxtaposes two crisp images of flowers in a vase against a pink background. Like the Gainsborough paintings, the photos are of different sizes and were hung next to each other on the wall. This multiplied the questions posed by the image and made it even more complicated. What was at first glance a very sparse exhibition had this power—it was a school of associative looking.

Noemi Smolik

Translated from German by Anne Posten.