Had he not bowed out of the party at the age of thirty-seven from the workaholism demanded by forty feature films in fifteen years, all fueled by a toxic combination of cocaine, booze, and Valium, the filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder would have turned seventy this year. Although Berlin was not his hometown—Fassbinder was born in the more conservative city of Munich, where he shot nearly all his films—he did transform one of the city’s canonical texts, Alfred Döblin’s Berlin Alexanderplatz, (1979–80) into celluloid magic with his thirteen-part adaptation for television. This summer has seen a flurry of Fassbinder-related activities in the German capital, from screenings of his extensive oeuvre at the Kino Arsenale to a group exhibition at Egbert Baqué of artists exploring Volker Schlöndorff’s film Baal (1969), in which Fassbinder played the leading role. The pulse of all of these activities, however, has inarguably been this exhibition, “Fassbinder Now.”
It opens with excerpts from years of television interviews with the filmmaker, and from there one can choose to proceed on one of two paths through the show, though I’d recommend doing both. To the left is an excursion into Fassbinder’s archives including a selection of original costumes from the films, his infamous leather jacket, typewriter, and a dictaphone into which he recorded most of his screenplays as well as his entire treatment for Berlin Alexanderplatz. To the right are works by a handful of contemporary artists inspired by Fassbinder’s films and themes, including Runa Islam’s multichannel film installation Garden, 1998, which deconstructs the circular tracking shot employed frequently by Fassbinder as a drama-building device. Elsewhere, Ming Wong stages an uproarious drag “orientalization” of Fassbinder’s films The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972) and Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974).
Wooden planks stand at attention, held upright by basic building blocks such as clay bricks, stones, and iron. This littering of ready-made raw materials arranged as formal sculpture is dispersed throughout the gallery. Fitted triangles of black, green, and crimson are applied to the faces of the battered wooden boards like war paint or trail blazes marking the way through a forest. These are the symbols and colors of the eco-feminist anarchism flag for an organization founded by Antje Majewski.
Though she generally works in the vein of figurative painting, for her latest exhibition, “E.F.A. im Garten,” Majewski responds directly to the changing landscape of her local environment in Berlin. Turning the gallery into an intimate site of protest, the artist culled her materials from a long-standing community garden near her home that was recently subsumed by a property developer intent on repurposing the land into a self-storage center.
Tightly bound wooden handles, as in the piece Bündel (all works 2015), and rusted iron heads of pickaxes lie on the floor, alluding to Majewski’s ongoing interest in the tools of manual labor. The defunct and disused materials reveal a more somber reality, though—the incapacitation and powerlessness engendered by oncoming urban gentrification. The one painting here, from which the exhibition takes its name, becomes a backdrop for the sculptures, locating the viewer in the lush green community garden of these pieces’ origin in all its unkempt and wild undergrowth. These representative memorials and totems to Berlin’s waning autonomous cultural spaces function as a warning that we may be losing the path.
Popular music and visual art have long been partners in a mutual admiration society, with so many examples of feedback and exchange that an exhibition on the theme of their overlap could be limitless. It is all the more interesting, then, to consider what has been bracketed for inclusion here. Hajnal Nemeth’s video Imagine War, 2014–15, presents a cover band doing hippie classics with the lyrics altered to endorse violence and terror rather than peace and love: “Here Comes the Gun,” “I’ll Be Your Terror,” and “Crime is on My Side.” Ming Wong excavates footage from David Bowie’s 1983 tour of Asia and juxtaposes it with clips of the pop star’s chance encounter with a Chinese opera performer for the artist’s video Apocalyptic Pop Idol, 2015. Further in the documentary realm, an excerpt from Jörg Buttgereit’s This was the S.O.36 club - An Evening of Nostalgia, 1982, is a video transfer of Super 8 footage of a group of West Berlin No Wavers doing a noisy, nihilistic imitation of KISS at the legendary SO36 club in Kreuzberg. Elsewhere, slam-dancing at a straightedge show is turned into a slow-mo modern-dance performance by Jeremy Shaw in his meditative video Best Minds Part One, 2008. And, somewhat expectedly, there is an array of Raymond Pettibon–designed album covers for Black Flag, the Minutemen, Sonic Youth, Mike Watt, and Off! displayed—fan art or the art of fandom? Perhaps a little of both.
With the requisite anomalous art brut backstory—a box of hundreds of his obsessive pornographic drawings found in an abandoned house, their creator untraceable, now suddenly being shown by the likes of David Zwirner—William Crawford seems poised to be anointed the newest contemporary Perv Poet of the Pencil. Sketching his fantasies on whatever paper surfaces he had at his disposal (some of which are the duty rosters of a California correctional facility, suggesting that the artist was likely imprisoned for a lengthy period), the resulting untitled works, all dated to the 1990s, represent a great exercise in ideality porn: heroines rendered in graphite with strong, muscular bodies and enormous breasts crowned with succulent nipples, evoking a hetero counterpart to Tom of Finland.
Often, a man takes part in the action and it’s almost always the same one—a black guy with a feminine face and a mustache, leading some to speculate that it’s Crawford himself. “I like to be awaken [sic] with my dick being sucked and my face covered with pussy,” the man announces in a cartoon bubble in one drawing, while two female bodybuilder-types prepare to please him. In another, the gentleman is clothed in overalls, taking a perky-titted maiden with ox-strong legs from behind over a washbasin. Her tongue sticks out as if she’s dehydrated, and one foot’s tiptoes stab the tiled floor while her second leg elegantly curls around his. Chez Crawford, you can either be a buxom bitch or a donkey-donged stud. It’s all rather limited, but there’s also a certain joy in the exactitude produced by desperation.
Guy Debord’s famous slogan, Ne travaillez jamais (never work), is scrawled in Nicolás Guagnini’s painting Work No. 4, 2014, among a mishmash of intersecting T-lines and square shapes, all in varying shades of gray—an apt start to this David Rimanelli–curated extrapolation on the dick vibe that has historically, and some might say continuously, underscored so much modern painting. It is hard to be funny and critical at the same time, to get the balance just right, but this show is a rare example. Formalists will get their pickles tickled by the squares and dots bouncing off each other in paintings by Jacqueline Humphries and Dan Colen, the latter of whom uses studs instead of paint, of the kind one finds on a leather jacket, dog collar, and/or cock ring. And for those who need it spelled out for them, it’s impossible to overlook Sean Landers’s faux artist statement in the form of a painting, True Artists, 2010, which reads “TRUE ARTISTS KILL THEMSELVES AT THEIR PEAK TO PREVENT THEMSELVES FROM MAKING BAD WORK.”
The work that made me horniest is also the smallest: Rachel Harrison’s Unfinished Masterpiece Three, 2014, a portrait of Amy Winehouse covered in colorful AbEx tantrum scribbles with a bearded dude painter in the corner milking the late singer for muse material. Let’s hope this type of curatorial mise-en-scčne results in more broken dishes (and no, dudes, that’s not a Schnabel reference.)
There is no easy access to “Fire and Forget. On Violence.” Visitors have to negotiate Daniil Galkin’s Tourniquet, 2015, a labyrinth of metal turnstiles, just to enter the exhibition space. What greets them after is an exploration of violence in its various manifestations, as ordered by the curators Ellen Blumenstein and Daniel Tyradellis, along the axes of Borders, Affect, Memory/Remembrance, and Event.
“Fire and Forget” is a military term for weapons systems that are launched at a safe distance from the enemy that reach their target independently. But there is much in the exhibition that belies the clinical detachment its title implies. Scenes of domestic violence play out in Gillian Wearing’s video Sacha and Mum, 1996, and in documentation of Marina Abramović and Ulay’s performance Light/Dark, 1978. While the former dwells on the complex and often fraught relationship between mother and daughter, the latter depicts the escalation of violence between intimate partners.
Dominating the space is He Xiangyu’s Tank, 2011–13, a deflated but otherwise true-to-scale tank made of leather, and installed nearby is Clara Ianni’s Still Life or Study for Vanishing Point, 2015, which consists of a grid of nine metal plates riddled with holes created by the same ammunition used by the Berlin police department. The show, however, is not just bullets and blood, guns and gore. In Pipilotti Rist’s video Ever Is Over All, 1997, a young woman gleefully smashes the windows of parked cars with a long-stemmed flower, before continuing blithely on her way. Perhaps these scenes of violence have an insidious effect: What else could possibly explain the vicarious thrills I got blowing up “Balloon Dogs” in Hunter Jonakin’s 2011 video game Jeff Koons Must Die!!!?
Donna Huanca and Przemek Pyszczek both use a saccharine palette to demonstrate the hollowness of individuals’ and institutions’ attempts at masking bleak social realities with superficial glamour and artificial cheer. Just as candy and engineered sweeteners can be unhealthy substitutes for real sustenance, Pyszczek’s metal sculptures and the overly sweet colors in Huanca’s paintings—some made from high-end cosmetics on stretched suit wool rather than paint on canvas—signify the lack of real opportunities for personal expression, community support, and healthy play in many peoples’ lives and environments.
At the opening for their joint exhibition, Huanca invited her collaborative dance troupe to slink through Pyszczek’s welded pipes and forcefully press their naked and painted bodies against the gallery walls, leaving sherbet-colored stains. These imprints match Huanca’s paintings, such as Bruised Faux Cils. Cosmetic Painting, #8, 2015, where iridescent cosmetics against traditional suiting material represent women’s constrained struggles to express sexuality, confidence, and power in a social realm that traditionally identifies feminine forms of expression as flighty and superficial.
Pyszczek’s enormous network of sculptures replicate and reorder jungle gyms from public housing complex playgrounds in his native Poland. His Playground Structure (Grid), 2015, consists of interlocking pipes forming a series of cubes, some of which end in jagged-edged pieces at odds with their inviting pink, mint-green, yellow, and baby-blue coatings. Despite their hazards, they’re also disarmingly human with drips, schmutz, and rough edges proving their handmade origin. Positioned slightly off kilter, these structures invite play but signal danger. Climbing to the top of Pyszczek’s sculptures probably leads to a glass ceiling that is as oppressive as its presentation is pretty.
The fascination around Dieter Roth is not so much about the work he produced but the model of artist and making that he put forth, which I have come to think of as one of “vehicularity.” For Roth was an automatist in the true sense of the word—an artist who was always working at every waking hour, fueled by a seemingly limitless source of energy. Automatism is relegated by a vicious self-programming of the body-mind machine, wherein body yearns to take precedence over mind in a privileging of motion and making over cerebral stasis. For Roth, this yielded a joyously and intentionally bad art that was a by-product of his vehicle’s constant movement, whether it be across a canvas or the landscape of Europe, where he kept several studios.
This exhibition, which focuses largely on the role of music in Roth’s output, is fittingly massive, taking up an entire wing of this institution. Like his visual art, Roth’s music was cacophonous and improvised. He took music lessons when young but resisted virtuosity and sought a space of total freedom via noise and intensive duration, often in collaboration with his children or other artists on a full range of instruments. In addition to rare as well as more widely released recordings of music played on headphones, player piano, and speakers, a visitor can observe an assortment of notebooks, works on paper, video recordings of selected Roth concerts, and sculptures incorporating music or musical instruments—as in Cellar Duet, 1980–89, made in collaboration with his son Björn. A messy wall-mounted sculpture that incorporates synthesizers, violins, cables, and audio cassettes, the excess of it all is very much in keeping with the artist’s forward momentum.
Constructed with five stenciled gestures, including four taken and reified from his life’s body of work, the painting The Mirror and the Pool, 2015, is David Reed’s response to this venue’s Mies van der Rohe building. It is a new work, but one with a retrospective quality. The single piece, divided into fourteen canvases and installed as a long thin line bisecting the gallery’s space, repeats the same brushstrokes throughout in different configurations and colors, thus creating dense, graffiti-like moments in some parts and expansive, elegiac zones in others. In one area, two facing panels have marks that even mirror each other.
Inspired by a David Hockney painting of Reed’s friend in a swimming pool, Portrait of Nick Wilder, 1966, and Yves Klein’s empty white room Le Vide, 1961—situated permanently at Haus Lange—The Mirror and the Pool, as with Reed’s other paintings, creates a spatial effect through gesture, surface, and color. However, this time, his palette of mostly iridescent blacks, blues, purples, and whites creates a feeling of water, with light refracting in liquid everywhere on these acrylic, oil, and alkyd panels. Reed’s frozen gesture becomes a floating sign.
The work is cinematic in both its narrow, widescreen format and its episodic nature, but unlike most paintings that can typically be taken in at a glance, this one unfolds as much in the mind of the viewer as through the rooms of the house it’s shown in. It is this recurrence and pacing that makes Reed’s an elegant intervention.
Lukas Quietzsch’s first-ever solo show has many components: a hand-built vitrine, nine paintings, a cell-phone number printed on the exhibition invite, a puzzling press text written in collaboration with artist Philipp Simon, and a provocative title—“You Are a Pig.” Dialing the phone number, you reach a message by street performer Matthew Silver, whose proposal that “love is the answer” must necessarily be doubted. One key issue can be identified across these different media: The artist is questioning neoliberal recipes for success and the increasing demand to decide between yes and no, right and wrong, without any alternative.
The first piece is the vitrine Private Society (all works 2015), built from cardboard and glass and filled with a dirty pair of old shoes and straw, welcoming the viewer with a hint of farmyard smell. The green light of a banker’s lamp illuminates the piece, transforming it into a commodity ready for speculation. The motifs of the gouache-on-canvas paintings are derived and blown up from different genres of drawing. For instance, in Government District, Quietzsch has staged talking heads in front of a red background after a drawing by a criminal court artist. The starting point for To (Want to) Break Away from Immense Entanglements by Clumsy Means was a doodle by a prisoner. It features words like “love” and “hate,” as well as a scribble depicting a eye on a cold yellow backdrop. Due to the treatment of these canvases during production—a kind of frottage and washing of the support material—the imagery looks pale and broken by the paintings’ closely meshed net surface pattern, due to the frottage, giving them a subtle, computed style.