The art world has long been a fertile ground for tricksters. The dividing line has been chiseled in marble and eaten deep with vitriol for at least half a millennium: the division between the artist/creator and the curator/Academy/sponsor/critic—“the authority”—on what is worthy to be exhibited/purchased/sponsored and in what context/package/language used to speak about it. Take the art out of the control of the artist and sometimes you gotta watch out. Be careful stepping into the Anton Gallery in Monterey this month.
Renaissance artists painted and carved ironic references into their masterworks; the Dutch masters hid many an oblique insult amid seemingly placid portraits of their patrons. Modern art ironists and iconoclasts are legion: Marcel Duchamp signed other people’s works as well as household items, and famously submitted a urinal to an important juried exhibition.
Later, the artists of the Fluxus movement exalted the commonplace, used everyday materials and involved non-artists in the creative process in a denunciation of the elitists tottering atop the art world, turning art into a commodity. Instead of producing “products” they involved themselves in politics, in “actions” that were not commodifiable.
In post-war Germany, Joseph Beuys was a poster boy for the Fluxus movement. He decried the pretty produced by traditional artists, and used an elaborate backstory about himself, much of it fabricated, to illuminate his work.
It was in this spirit that the Anton Gallery distributed an extensive publicity package for its exhibition of recent work by German artist, Dieter Goels. The package includes an interview of the artist by “Zulke Lauffer,” who is cited as holding the Werner Klemperer Chair in Cultural Intermediation Studies at Hochschule Vergessen (Osnabruck).
Also included with the publicity is an impressive list of exhibitions, including Aktions at the National Gallery of Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the LA Museum of Contemporary Art and others.
In the interview, it is revealed that for the Aktions, the artist hung his work without permission in museum hallways and toilets. (Such an Aktion also took place at the Monterey Museum of Art.)
The publicity package includes a biography that traces Goels’ early life on his father’s fish ranch, a tragic early accident, his introduction to art during recuperation, and early performances involving pork products and opaque screens.
The Aktions and the biography connect Goels with Beuys, who was shot down and injured during WW2. Beuys later further developed this story by saying that he had been rescued by nomad Tatars who saved his life by covering him with fat and wrapping him with felt. He later used felt and fat in his work, usually as a metaphor for lifegiving. One of his most famous performances was behind a screen.
~ ~ ~
Meanwhile, back in Monterey, an eight-by-12-foot portrait of George W. Bush, “Priapu,” dominates the large room in the old Hawthorne Mansion. The image seems a massive salute to a beloved leader, the features strong, colors gentle. From a distance.
At close range it is revealed that the surface is made of layers of cardboard, some with the smooth surface torn away to uncover the corrugated structure. What appear to be printing dots (think Roy Lichtenstein) are cutouts to a black undercoat. The panels are pushed together to form a portrait, but may also be spaced apart, or even rearranged. The painting that looks so lyrical from a distance is ferocious up close. Scars and tears reveal a violently colored background. On the forehead, the title “Priapu,” is carved. It is not a German word.
The other large work at Anton, “Darstellung,” is composed of four panels of similar proportions. Also using the cutout dots, it is a powerful abstract with different color values on each panel forming an overall composition. According to Gail Enns, owner of the Anton Gallery, a woman attending the opening was interested in purchasing the piece, priced at $8,000. She asked the meaning of the title. Goels informed her it meant vagina. The sale did not proceed. My translator informs me that darstellung means “representation.”
A duo of gentle portraits of a smiling Dick Cheney is painted in gold leaf. A quarto of energetic sketches I thought were Groucho-glasses with funny nose are, in fact, also Dicks. Four two-foot panels painted on cardboard are arranged behind a giant gallery couch. Enns informed me that they are “Stalin’s Moustache,” but revealed that she hung them in the wrong order.
The exhibition will continue through Oct. 28. Be careful in there.
THE ANTON GALLERY is located at 701 Hawthorne St. Monterey. Call for hours, 373-4429 or visit antongallery.com.