Vandel #2 at Galerie TÄT, Berlin
February 1, 2009
Usually I go to openings just to the see the work. I don’t care necessarily who will be there, and frankly, I don’t want to stay that long; I may enjoy the paintings, but feeling awkward and generally unwanted in every other regard is no way to spend an evening. It’s one of contemporary art’s most common problems; how does a gallerist, a curator, an exhibitor of whatever kind, negotiate the whole of an exhibition- art and audience?
This past December at the small and nearly dilipidated TÄT Galerie, four artists—Patrick Alt, Jannis Marwitz, Philipp Schwalb, and Christian Rothmaler—working under the name Vandel held the second of their intuitively driven and collaboratively curated exhibitions. Featuring 12 artists in total, the show predominantly consisted of garish and messy abstract painting, what many have come to affectionately refer to as “bad” painting. On the left wall of the gallery, Ulrich Wulff’s garish purple and pink abstract work hung between one of Andre Butzer’s delightfully foolish baby figures and a dire black and gray gesture by Patrick Alt couldn’t manage to look like anything but a gorgeous mistake. Near to Alt and hung slightly higher was a orange, red, and yellow triangular compostion by Philipp Schwalb.
On the opposite wall, were a suite of equally loud works. Max Brand’s red and yellow collaged painting hung tattered from the wall; its bottom stretcher bars raw and exposed. Christoph Wüstenhagen’s painting was the most subtle in the show, the work’s gentle forms of geomteric pastels were a visual oasis. Adjacent to it, was a simple modern work by Christian Rothmaler - a basic blue cross that was outlined by gessoed canvas and suspended in a sea of red. Completing the right wall were Jannis Marwitz’ purple and turquoise geometric abstration and Henning Strassburger’s work that was a digital composite of four similar paintings.
In the rear by the gallery’s crowded bar, a smattered salon of smaller paintings was hung. Covering the chipping rundown green and beige paint of the room, the works sat as square images on the plaster geography. The two rooms were separated by the work of two sculptors; Matthias Eckhardt, with a large hanging cube of fluorescent light and Daniel Herleth, whose sculpture made of shelving and other banal objects was elegant, but easily missed.
The evening had its high point when after a near hour of setting up, painter-cum-conductor Strassburger led a marching band through a suite of traditional Oktober songs. Strassburger stood above the audience on a beer crate, donning a white and gold outfit, he swung his baton toward the ceiling, frantically gesturing to the left and to right; his gestures were passionate, almost violent, like the painting that comprised much of the show. Packed shoulder to shoulder, the boozy audience swayed, laughed, and sang the refrain to songs like “Kreuzberger Nächte sind lang”.
While five of the Vandel exhibitions still remain to be produced, the basic model is clear-cut; keep exhibition making simple and ultimately more creative. Vandel #2 managed to have viewers check their pretenses, their haughtiness, and their ladder climbing at the door. Instead of coming to make contacts, a general sense of humanism was at play; the exhibition presented itself as much as an opening as an occasion - a series of moments throughout the night that promoted friendship and creative goodwill.
When an art community takes itself too seriously, the consequences are hideous, spontaneity ceases and creativity goes dry. Keeping things lively, for art, audiences, and openings, is typically the first step in ensuring that all involved feel like their participation has lasting value. Vandel #2 had a sense of affection, pleasure, and a sense of both aesthetic and ethical vision that few exhibitions can develop. Bridled by text and often stifling art with the burden of proof for some curator’s lofty intellectual premise, making exhibitions has become an ugly practice, one that all too often ends in the misrepresentation of work. In this regard, the curatorial group’s collective work is admirable. Rather than act as the exhibition’s intellectual comptroller, by not fabricating large overwrought concepts or philosophical systems; they’ve come to curating as they have to painting, led by intuition and an ardor for aesthetics.