Antwerp

Jonathan Meese, BUBBEL DE BABE, PULL PULLI-PULL-PULLSNS’ VOLLE PULLE, 2014–15, oil and acrylic on canvas, 6' 11“ × 13' 10”.

Jonathan Meese, BUBBEL DE BABE, PULL PULLI-PULL-PULLSNS’ VOLLE PULLE, 2014–15, oil and acrylic on canvas, 6' 11“ × 13' 10”.

Jonathan Meese

Tim Van Laere Gallery

Jonathan Meese, BUBBEL DE BABE, PULL PULLI-PULL-PULLSNS’ VOLLE PULLE, 2014–15, oil and acrylic on canvas, 6' 11“ × 13' 10”.

Jonathan Meese is nothing if not hyper-energetic. For his most recent exhibition, the German artist covered nearly all the available wall space with no fewer than twenty paintings, thirty-three drawings, and a thirteen-page manifesto on what art is, what it isn’t, and what it should be. What’s more, almost everything in “Spitzenmeesige Women (Schniddeldiddelson)”—the nonsense title of this exhibition, like those of many of the individual works, is untranslatable despite incorporating recognizable bits of German and English—was produced this year. This overwhelming assemblage resembled, or can be best described as, an explosion, a figurative variation on action painting. Often, the paint looks as if it was kneaded with the artist’s hands into the canvas. This method, in combination with a vivacious and broad spectrum of colors, allowed the paintings to convey the energy with which Meese produced them.

In the past, Meese’s themes have often been taken from history. This show presented a more personal side, exploring his fascination with women such as the actor Scarlett Johansson, the iconic Barbarella as played by Jane Fonda, Nabokov’s Lolita, English supermodel Cara Delevingne, and, last but not least, the artist’s mother. One of the many highlights was BUBBEL DE BABE, PULL PULLI-PULL-PULLSNS’ VOLLE PULLE, 2014–15, a huge work composed of three panels, displaying all of Meese’s current obsessions. The strawberries we see in this and some of the other paintings stand for femininity, according to Meese; blazoned across the painting in block letters are the inscriptions ERZ-PARSIFAL’S MUTTERZ (Archmother of Parsifal) and CARA DE LARGE. Meese’s fascination with Delevingne might not come as a total surprise if you know that this glamorous woman is famous for making fun of herself, just as Meese does—in her case by posing with the craziest grimaces, which go viral around the world.

The difference between the recent work and the only painting in the show that was produced a couple of years ago, DIE GEILSTE CHEFMAZONE BRÜLLT: HABT EINFACH KEINEN TRAUM, SCHMEISST EINFACH EUER MICKRIGES GESICHTSLOSES ‘ICH’ WEG UND LASST EUCH VON MIR GEILST ANSCHIMMERN, ES BRINGTS . . . , 2011—its title like a poetic anthem—was striking. Although this painting looks wild as well, it was the most balanced composition in the exhibition. In this depiction of a feral-eyed woman perkily flashing her breasts, Meese employs a motif he’s used before: a swastika. Some might see this as an easy way for a German artist to court controversy, but there’s more to it than that. By using the most abhorrent and burdened symbol of the last century in his paintings and making fun of the militaristic body language of Nazism in his performances, Meese means to undermine the apparent seriousness of politics and politicians in favor of what he calls “a total dictatorship of art.”

In his manifesto, Meese tries to be more precise about his definition of art: “Art is total love / Art is total surprise / Art is total government.” Sure, it would be great if we could be governed by loving artists in an ideal world. But a bit further on, Meese adds, “Art is total Mr. Spockism / Art is total lasagne / Art is total Richardaddy Wagner.” Maybe he’s not so serious after all. With this show of paintings that amount to a cheerful ode to woman, Meese takes a less political, more personal position than he has in previous exhibitions and performances. That’s something of a relief. Yes, we need a court jester who is free to mock our political system. But it’s worrisome when the jester wants to rule the world.

Jos Van den Bergh