Veit Laurent Kurz, Herba Stammtisch (Herba Regulars’ Table), 2019, mixed media, dimensions variable.

Veit Laurent Kurz, Herba Stammtisch (Herba Regulars’ Table), 2019, mixed media, dimensions variable.

Veit Laurent Kurz

“The principles of life are to be found in shit,” wrote Veit Laurent Kurz in the text that accompanied this recent exhibition “Nutrition and Drama.” Here, Kurz told of a freaky tribe of dwarfs called the Dilldapp, whose excrement was said to flow through the pipes we saw in the gallery. The pipes connecting various Styrofoam structures were filled with a grass-green liquid known as Herba-4, the cure for all sorts of ills. Present in various shapes and sizes, the Dilldapp themselves were of a crumbling plaster-white texture and opulently dressed in Biedermeier silks, though dripping sickly pus from their eyes and mouths and occasionally spotted with yellow boils. The surrounding furniture, murals, and fountains were similarly faded and overgrown with plastic moss and weeds. Kurz’s aesthetic is one that privileges not only shit, but everything shitty, with all its connotations of ugliness, abjection, and dilapidation.

Not quite entertaining, the plotlines of Dilldapps, speculative science, and archeology embedded in the works were perhaps better understood as didactic. Kurz drew on a range of references, from Pompeii to the medieval grotesque, the carnival tradition of the Rhineland to Germany’s mysteriously persistent predilection for ersatz flowers and ghastly window displays. Adding to this historical and cultural contextualization, a more contemporary concern with nature/culture collapse and the effects of digital life made “Nutrition and Drama” a cleverly crafted temporal warp: the future present in an ancient guise. Storytelling functioned as an extension of sculptural figuration, the two intertwined in one unbroken aesthetic tradition that lent the work an air of proverbial verity. This is what makes Kurz’s work so refreshing, in this show and in general: His visual paradigm is not contrived or ironic, but organic and somehow vital. Like those ancient myths that have functioned as tools for comprehension and, ultimately, survival, Kurz’s fictions can be seen as instruments for the decomprehension—decompression—of a too-reductive cosmology: a colostomy bag for the narratives that underlie our collective consciousness.

Where there’s drama there’s dramaturgy, and, as the show’s title suggested, Kurz likes to set a scene. But whether this was a stage set of a ruin, or a ruined stage set, it was as if still in storage, unarranged. Though each piece was named as a work in its own right, the narrative tendency of Kurz’s overall project seemed to require that the various objects be integrated in the space and among themselves. Yet each Styrofoam mural or bulky washbasin was self-contained and isolated in its position, so the many disparate discursive threads and visual points of reference were not convincingly tied together. The shit, simply, was too disconnected.

This insular approach has worked for Kurz in previous shows, where the dichotomy between the grisliness of the work and the whiteness of the gallery has given his sculptures a Matrix-like glitchiness, as if they were flickering in and out of view from another dimension. But when the Dilldapp in the installation Flagship (all works 2019) seemed actively present, like a barman in a pub, the way the fountain in front of him appeared so mute and unrelated to its surroundings was jarring. Likewise, in the otherwise charming Herba Stammtisch (Herba Regulars’ Table), two members of the species were seen quaffing the green drink without context. And the nearby series of “Pompeii Walls,” 2019–, recalled finds from a different archeological dig.

Although suffering even more severely than the other works from this detachment, Kurz’s small paintings, each titled Life in Pompeii, with their Weimaresque bar scenes crammed full of people brawling drunk on green juice, offered the immersion and density that the installations didn’t. That was the kind of shit I could get into.