Berlin

Joachim Bandau, Der Späher (The Spy), 1974, glass-fiber-reinforced polyester, lacquer, anodized aluminum, iron wheels, 87 3/4 × 21 3/4 × 33 1/2".

Joachim Bandau, Der Späher (The Spy), 1974, glass-fiber-reinforced polyester, lacquer, anodized aluminum, iron wheels, 87 3/4 × 21 3/4 × 33 1/2".

Joachim Bandau

Galerie Thomas Fischer

Joachim Bandau, Der Späher (The Spy), 1974, glass-fiber-reinforced polyester, lacquer, anodized aluminum, iron wheels, 87 3/4 × 21 3/4 × 33 1/2".

Joachim Bandau is nearly eighty, his Berlin dealer very young by comparison. Agewise, they are not the only unlikely couple on the city’s art scene. It seems as if the younger generation has been gradually discovering elder or even recently deceased artists with hitherto modest curatorial or commercial recognition. Just recently, Daniel Marzona even opened his gallery with the work of Bernd Lohaus (1940–2010), more famous as a gallerist (Wide White Space, Antwerp) than as a sculptor.

But what motivates these alliances? Clearly not the allure of a household name. In some instances, a mature oeuvre infused by the debates and discourses of the 1960s or ’70s might just be appealingly manageable for a young curator: It comes with an art-historical label and an intellectual resolution, and the formal or conceptual issues it debates are usually pre-irony, pre-post-anything, and definitely pre-post-Internet. Other practices—and now we’re talking Bandau’s—are informed by issues and instances that still, or again, have currency today. The sculptures in “Joachim Bandau – Figuren und Geräte” (Figures and Machines), for instance, were made between 1969 and 1974, in the angst-ridden atmosphere of Cold War Germany and during an era—shortly after the moon landing and the first successful heart transplant, which, according to Bandau, deeply unsettled him—of seemingly limitless or uncontrollable technological progress.

It’s hardly a surprise, then, that Bandau’s works have an irrefutable (retro) sci-fi look and feel. Many of them sit on wheels; you almost expect them to roll up to you and creak, Obey!, even though Doctor Who and the Daleks aren’t exactly part of Germany’s cultural memory. Works such as Lenkbarer Genosse (Tractable Comrade), 1971, an antiseptically white anthropomorphic shape equipped with handles, feed on the same unease embodied by the robotic creatures stomping or rolling through so many futuristic dystopias: the fear that technology might override humanity, that we might lose control of our own inventions. Foltergerät (Torture Machine), 1970, a headless, torso-like bust with a pristine metallic shine serving as a pedestal for an aggressive iron device—originally from a printing press, recalling a giant paper cutter or even a guillotine—is just as menacing. It is obvious that the “Machine” is more metaphor than instrument, a symbol for a reign of terror, thus leaving plenty of room for (fear-induced) imagination and interpretation.

Perhaps the most timely piece in the exhibition is Der Späher (The Spy), 1974, a towering black sculpture that looks like two supersize legs morphing into a spyglass or a periscope. Even though the work was composed under the impress of the political and technological threats of the time, decades before an all-accessible Internet and the consequent violations of civil liberties by such bodies as the National Security Agency, it nonetheless evokes contemporary issues and debates around control and observation. And it is possibly this temporal distance, this ambiguity between the familiar and the unfamiliar, that makes these sculptures seem so uncanny. Even though they represent the aesthetic, cultural, technological, and political concerns of an era past, Bandau’s cyborgs have the unsettling ability to reappear as new, as stronger than before, to assimilate and incarnate the contexts and concerns we’re grappling with today.

Astrid Mania