John Beeson

Richard Kern and Nick Zedd, The Manhattan Love Suicides: Thrust in Me, 1985, 35 mm, black-and-white, 35 minutes.

FROM THE DRONING CHORDS of Sonic Youth’s 1984 “Death Valley ’69” that echoed down the pitch-black entry hall to the sinking feeling in my stomach brought on by Richard Kern’s Fingered, 1986, KW’s “You Killed Me First” kept a firm hold on me. My hesitations about the exhibition’s dutifully spray-painted walls aside, the eighteen films on view told a brilliantly fucked-up story of twentysomethings on New York’s Lower East Side in the 1980s and their spite for their parents’ generation’s counterculture-turned–dominant culture. The filmmakers’ assaults on their own bodies––complemented by plenty of makeup, masks, and posturing––intended to leave a mark on the body politic and disrupt its sense of normalcy––and did so to mine.

There’s something to the clothing designs, coffee mugs, glossy portraits, and silk scarves made by Bernadette Corporation that resides below the surface: the conjoined efforts of a social body. The corporate model and its pliant, too-clean identity is all too familiar, as is the blithe investment in high-end retail and consumption, vanity, and celebrity. Still, contemporary consumer culture felt upended within the architectonic exhibition design at Artists Space, which evoked the shops where these types of objects are typically found, but not bizarre versions like these––not without their contextualization as art or the social cachet that it brings. The multipanel history of the artistic collective weaving through the exhibition name-dropped just enough points of reference to keep readers grounded, nothing more.

Braver souls than I accepted the challenge of writing at length about Alice Creischer’s exhibition at KOW––Jenny Nachtigall on this website, Mirjam Thomann in Texte zur Kunst––but I don’t know what to make of it. The two-story installation invited viewers to blow through drinking straws into a balloon apparatus that would maybe raise and lower (or inflate?) mixed-media works suspended from the ceiling; handwritten words in French and a numerical code purported to give something like comprehensible directives for use. The remarkable, handcrafted works––mainly collages and assemblages––occupied a hallowed, Duchampian ground: Pseudo-functional and half-embroiled in a framework where their forms and associations gained increased significance, the objects reaped the benefit of the overlaps and oversights between these two narratives.

John Beeson lives in Berlin and is a regular contributor to Artforum, Spike, and Texte zur Kunst, where he is also an editor.