Rome

Ditte Gantriis, Sexual Feeling, 2016, iron, copper, hydrochloric acid, handmade candles, handblown glass, 11' 9 3/4“ ×  6' 6 3/4”.

Ditte Gantriis, Sexual Feeling, 2016, iron, copper, hydrochloric acid, handmade candles, handblown glass, 11' 9 3/4“ × 6' 6 3/4”.

Ditte Gantriis

Frutta | Rome

Ditte Gantriis, Sexual Feeling, 2016, iron, copper, hydrochloric acid, handmade candles, handblown glass, 11' 9 3/4“ ×  6' 6 3/4”.

Ditte Gantriis’s second solo show at Frutta marked an aesthetic departure from the work the Danish artist showed at the gallery just two years ago. That earlier offering—titled “Body and Soul”—featured oversize woven baskets alongside brightly colored monochromes, evoking a sensation of voluptuousness and abundance. In contrast, the latest show, at the gallery’s recently relocated space in Rome’s Trastevere neighborhood, brought together works made of materials including wrought iron, glass, and candles to conjure an altogether darker feeling. This transition is a tribute to the artist’s ability to identify diverse populist trends in mainstream design and translate them to a contemporary art context.

Titled “Sexual Feeling,” the show was dominated by a monumental iron candelabra (also called Sexual Feeling and dated 2016, as were all the works on view) measuring nearly twelve feet in height and holding eighteen near-identical erotic candles, each featuring a couple in a nude embrace. Meanwhile, iron leaves decorate the structure, lending the look of a gothic garden. At the back of the gallery, a large velvet drape depicting moonlight falling on a lake in a hilly region (Moonlight) added a sense of kitschy sensual decadence. The digital print on polyester velvet incorporates rich shades of violet in a generic Expressionist-style landscape, the type in which one might expect to find Munch or Nietzsche languishing, on the brink of a sublime despair.

The remaining works were unique ironware tables in a similar gothic style, each laden with individually crafted glassware pieces in the form of foodstuffs. Three of these tables supported, respectively, a leek, an eggplant, and a red chili pepper, while a fourth hosted three salamis and a ripe-looking triangle of continental cheese.

One’s immediate impression was that these arrangements would not be out of place in the surrounding boutiques of Trastevere, or indeed in its bars or local trattorias. In this respect, the question Gantriis’s works asked was not so much one of desire itself, but rather: What separates contemporary art objects from the craft objects made by the vast majority of creative object-makers—those which never enter into the hallowed discourse of the official “art world.” Why, for example, should the luxuriant purple of Gantriis’s blown-glass eggplant, or the vermilion of her chili, be seen as distinct from the rich colors of the Caravaggios housed in Rome (or, indeed, from Velázquez’s Pope Innocent X, on display in the city’s Galleria Doria Pamphilj)?

While the appropriation of kitsch is nothing new (Jeff Koons, Andy Warhol, and Marcel Duchamp being the obvious, pioneering precursors), the Danish artist’s particular skill lies in her ability to create and present kitsch objects in such a way that the viewer is unable to fully distinguish contemporary art from ornamentation. The subtlety of such an approach delegates the responsibility to choose what is and what is not art to the viewer. This is in stark contrast to the appropriation of kitsch in order to elicit laughter, evident in the work of many post-internet artists. If such work tends toward a slightly condescending tone, poking fun at the masses and at the visual crudeness of the online environment, Gantriis asks that we consider, in earnest, popular culture and its detritus. Amid these ample grounds for reflection, the phallic nature of the objects presented—particularly of her burgundy salamis, cut so as to suggest violence and, inevitably, castration—conveyed a fundamental discord between us humans and the objects that share our world. We exploit objects and in turn are exploited by them, with much of this exploitation fueling or being fueled by the promise of potential sexual gratification. This observation is itself nothing new, but the muted acuity of Gantriis’s approach speaks volumes.

Mike Watson