Goldsmiths Curatorial Critique

Jonathan Meese at Modern Art

Posted in Reviews by va801km on February 9, 2009

installation shot

installation shot

Should Scarlett Johansson be afraid?

Entering Jonathan Meese’s exhibition at Modern Art feels like walking into the lair of a psychopath, possibly dangerous, certainly obsessive, who could be back at any minute to catch you prying in the workings of his mind.

The front gallery is used like a giant pinboard or scrap book charting links between objects of fixation and scorn. Chains of collectible information cards about bacteria and viruses snake across the walls, linking large collage-paintings where images occur again and again in different contexts – lips, faces with the eyes cut out, sections of female forms, fashion magazine clippings, crosses, all proliferating like the microbes on the cards; reliefs of PVA encapsulate banknotes, pills, baby bottle teats, and other detritus. The over-painting is gestural and urgent. Semi-legible phrases in German and English emerge and recede into the mélange of materials. Hitler crops up a few times, as do Dr No and the artist himself, but none as often as Johansson, who seems to represent celebrity culture and mass media, or perhaps just women in general; in places she is identifiable only when you recognize the photograph as a defaced copy of the same image elsewhere. The titles are similarly repetitive and motif-like, creating a web of references that link forms of use and consumption with control or dictatorship: ‘Total duty put it in your mouth baby, go’; ‘The horse of tyrants with babydoll’s money of 1000 lolly-pops is riding back to mouth-city (totalprimaballerinanny)’; ‘total mouth is total art’. It gives a whole new meaning to the misquote ‘art will eat itself’.

In one corner, the lines of cards converge above a collection of military ephemera surrounding a small TV; on a looped DVD the artist sits on a toilet, humming dementedly whilst squeezing and reshaping airdry clay. When it is moulded to his satisfaction into the crude likeness of the Iron Cross, he stands up, places it carefully in the bowl, and pulls the flush. A close up provides a moment of strangely beautiful white-on-white abstraction as the water flows over it.

The back gallery is more familiar territory; paintings are framed, the wall scrawl disappears, and plinths clad in curious wood-effect laminate bear several bronze ‘busts’ recalling works by Rodin and Epstein. The recurrent themes and motifs persist nonetheless.

The press release interprets the preoccupations as ultimately benign:

‘Meese’s enthusiastic role as “Art Dictator” employs the language and intensity of despotism, while proposing something much more pure, optimistic, naïve even. Through this, Meese’s unaffected innocence is transformed into an insistent production.’

Looking at the work, however, these motives are not so apparent; there is a lingering impression of mocking and disgust, seeming to parallel (in particular) the production and circulation of culture with abjection and the single-minded pursuit of gratification. It is an exhibition full of energy, powerfully unsettling; unlike much junk-aesthetic art it superficially resembles, mostly due to its layers of moral ambiguity and its oblique stance to the system which supports it.

Jonathan Meese, ‘CASINOZ BABYMETABOLISMN (Put DR NO’s MONEY in your mouth, Baby)’

Stuart Shave / Modern Art

16 January – 21 February

www.modernart.net

image from the Modern Art site

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