Manfred Pernice, Der 4. Roland, 2012, wood, 82 5/8 x 29 x 59 7/8".

Manfred Pernice, Der 4. Roland, 2012, wood, 82 5/8 x 29 x 59 7/8".

Manfred Pernice

Manfred Pernice, Der 4. Roland, 2012, wood, 82 5/8 x 29 x 59 7/8".

Manfred Pernice’s exhibition “blubber(t)” opened in a room filled with wooden boxes of varying sizes stacked one on top of the other like pyramids, lacquered in solid-white blocks and lines of colors such as turquoise, fluorescent lime green, and deep purple. Positioned on these were knickknacks: a brass elephant, a Captain Bluebear figurine, and a seagull ornament. Some boxes, left unpainted and unstacked, looked more like crates; others had scenes from the African plains stenciled on them, complete with animal silhouettes, trees, and sunsets. The grouping seemed to evoke civilization and imperialism, popular culture, and historical trade routes that channel the flow of goods and people.

In the next room, two sculptures, Coca Cola and K+K (2) (all works cited, 2012), looked like enlarged versions of those flattened crates in the first room, within which internal grids have been constructed with raised or lowered sections. Objects are placed within these square frames—a soda bottle in Coca Cola, for instance, or a white geometric sculpture in K+K (2). The sides of each sculpture are treated with swaths of white, brown, or gray lacquer, and, in the case of K+K (2), a text pasted from a booklet, also contained in one of the sculpture’s internal squares, about a Henry Moore sculpture, King and Queen, 1952–53 (König und Königin in German, thus the title K+K). Then there was Beratung (Debate), made from angular wooden columns and boards forming a bar on which were placed such items as a milk carton and a hairbrush suspended from an old coat hanger. This sculpture was placed in a corner just before this room’s exit, where Infotafel (Information Board) was installed: a stretch of wall painted black, on which newspaper clippings from the travel and gardening sections were pasted.

Somehow the arrangement recalled Kazimir Malevich’s Black Square, 1915, and the eternal questions raised by the representational frame. Perhaps it was the way Coca Cola and K+K (2)—those two perfectly square sculptures—contained the complexity of their material compositions within a clearly delineated space: the square, itself internally organized by a clear grid. A kind of explication for this use of abstraction came in the final room on the second floor, containing just one work, Der 4. Roland, a sleek, boxlike wooden sculpture with sections painted solidly in black or white. Pasted discreetly on the sculpture, a text recounts the history of the first and only statue in Germany of Roland—a figure from medieval history and legend, one of Charlemagne’s knights—on horseback. Roland was a popular symbol for villages, towns, and cities across Germany operating independently of noble or clerical rule. The statue is located in the city of Haldensleben, which had its own government established under the decree of King Otto I in 966, and was erected in the market square in the fifteenth century.

Like the works in the other two rooms in this precisely staged exhibition, Der 4. Roland charts a specific social history of commerce and culture mapped by both object and context. It contextualizes the white cube as a social space where artworks, abstract or otherwise, become inscribed with meanings and values that are rooted in history and ideology, just like those public monuments installed in the marketplace, where value, or lack thereof, is ultimately dictated—or projected?—by social consensus.

Stephanie Bailey