Gartenschau

14 Sep 2016 — 30 Sep 2017 at König Galerie in Berlin, Germany

Gartenschau, Exhibition view. Courtesy of König Galerie
Gartenschau, Exhibition view. Courtesy of König Galerie
17 FEB 2017

König Galerie is pleased to present the group exhibition Gartenschau at its former church garden which was designed by Königliche Gartenakademie.

Visible from afar, the steeple of the Church of St. Agnes towers above the neighborhood. Its sharp-edged geometric concrete body is a forbidding, even menacing presence in the urban space. How can a garden complement it, or stand its ground next to it? The basic idea is to take up the building’s geometric forms and adapt them to the needs of garden design—to use them as the basic elements of the new garden.

Where the structural ensemble of St. Agnes’s rises upward, accurately defined areas within the garden gesture in the opposite direction. Evergreen hedgerows structure the layout, heightening the spatial effect and preventing the viewer from taking in the setting from a single vantage point. This garden wants to be discovered.

On view in the grounds of St. Agnes, Gartenschau includes works by Elmgreen & Dragset, Katharina Grosse, Jeppe Hein, Alicja Kwade, Michael Sailstorfer, Tatiana Trouvé, Erwin Wurm, and David Zink Yi. Set in the semi-private garden space that lies quietly behind the church, it focuses on each artist’s critical engagement with space-based approaches to contemporary sculpture.

Against the concrete wall of St. Agnes stands Elmgreen & Dragset’s Emerging, a bronze vulture that looms over visitors and the artworks beyond it. With a menacing stance, the creature is poised, waiting to scavenge on the weak. Aligning this ominous symbol with the figure of the theorist and art-world critic raises questions: who watches and waits to have a timely feast on the ill fate of others in the contemporary art world? Who is our metaphoric vulture?

Katharina Grosse’s otherworldly sculpture is painting as pure volume—through the artist’s electrifying and expressive layers of color, o. T. defies our ability to estimate its heft. The work seems to hover, radiating lightness despite its spatial mass. The underlying surface appears geological and yet manmade, as Grosse dissolves associative boundaries through her intensive use of color.

Jeppe Hein’s ongoing investigation of the possibilities for viewer interaction through the negotiation of architecture delineates spatial relationships between subject and object. Composed of mirror panels separated by gaps, Mirror Angle Fragments (60°) divides our own reflection and layers it within the surrounding environment and other viewers, collapsing barriers between self, other, and landscape.

With Anschauungsvorstellung, Alicja Kwade creates a feeling of the total absence of figuration using only the associative dimension, uncarved material, and equivalent proportions. A block of white Carrara marble has the volume and size of a body, suggesting a standing figure might be carved from it; rose granite hints at a seated form; a reclining figure might be imagined in a horizontal length of sandstone. Oak and aluminum steles complete the assembly of sculptural materials, in a poetic dedication to sculpture in the embryonic stages of pre-creation.

Kopf und Körper Modell Waldkirchen II appears as a cultural artifact, as Michael Sailstorfer conjures the human face and body through simple stylistic features and proportions. A timelessness is created by the balancing of concrete and a fragmented wooden beam. With this work, which seems both archaic and absolutely contemporary, the artist continues his investigation into the symbolism of masks and the defamiliarization of recognizable, fundamental forms and materials.

Waterfall by Tatiana Trouvé is a tragicomic and romantic rethinking of a classical outdoor water fountain, an otherwise common sight in public spaces. What one encounters here instead is a mattress in decline, another familiar sight in downtown alleyways and dumpsters. Cast in bronze, a preferred sculptural medium, the abject mattress appears soft as it wilts over a slab of construction concrete. The detailed casting reveals the wear, dimples, and indentations of the mattress, which seems to weep or perspire, revealing a humanlike quality to this intimate and forlorn object.

Erwin Wurm is known for his critical yet humoristic formalism. His Cucumber consists of five of these perishable vegetables cast in bronze. Enlarging this common staple of the European diet to a comical size and anthropomorphizing it with human proportions lends it the status of a work of art. Wurm presents a contemplative view of familiar objects, in particular food, and their relationships to culture and the body—while also deftly balancing on the edge of the obscene.

More familiar to boulevards and avenues in the United States, David Zink Yi’s delicate palm trees, Neusilber 2, look curiously out of place in the surrounding environment and Berlin’s typical flora. Fabricated out of stainless steel and standing at an unusually short height, they let us discover the surreal in the utterly common, as the artist misappropriates a plant that is both entirely exotic and banal for a play with its formal qualities.