FUCK YOUR FEAR
JUDITH BERNSTEIN, SOPHIE CALLE, GILBERT & GEORGE, ZOE LEONARD
PAUL MCCARTHY, BJARNE MELGAARD, GREGOR SCHNEIDER
CINDY SHERMAN, WOLFGANG TILLMANS, BETTY TOMPKINS
CONCEIVED IN COLLABORATION WITH FLORIAN PETERS-MESSER
20 APR. 2019
Genitals, naked bodies, blood and violence – provocation as a means of confrontation and art as a place of transgression. Who sets the limits? Does art have to pay attention to it? Or is it particularly it’s job to cross the border? In times of #metoo, identity politics and puritanism on the rise the exhibition “Fuck your Fear” encounters the current re-emerging taboo of sex and gender, and looks at a generation of artists like Betty Tompkins, Sophie Calle, or Paul McCarthy who work on the border of what is called taboo breaking and confront the alleged “political correctness” of latest debates.
Currently, there is a paradoxical contradiction of empowerment and the deprivation of power within society. Indeed there is finally an immediate and joint channel for women to curb humiliation of patriarchal conventions (or worse), but at the same time the minefield of political correctness is constantly growing. It does not matter whether it is about Women’s empowerment, the liberation of the de-sexualized homosexual man, who is made socially suitable, or the sometimes too quickly raised reproach of sexism against the heterosexual man- the fear of assignments and their possible consequences lead to signs of paralysis and an ever-increasing censorship among one another. The exhibition presents works from the 1980s, 1990s as well as current positions that recall a mood of subversive radicalism and liberation in the arts, while at the same time tie in with today. When the portrayal of penetrating genitals like in the “Fuck Paintings” by Betty Tompkins does not intend sexism, but rather battle it, or the socially degraded, erect penis in Gregor Schneider’s “Man with cock” lies on the ground with his head covered, attributions and limits of sex and identity turn into a counter model of today’s mechanisms of perpetrators and victims.
After Judith Bernstein had read an New York Times article about Edward Albee taking the title of his play “Who’s afraid of Virgina Woolf” from bathroom grafittis, the artist herself began rambling through men’s toilets to explore and posses herself of the coarse and partly obscene language that she found there and made it useable for her art. In response to the Vietnam War, as well as the conflicts in the Middle East, Bernstein began in the late 1960s to depict phallic-headed metal screws and penises as weapons as an expression of her criticism of male “mine’s bigger than yours” attitudes and their brutal consequences. “Iraq Travel Poster – Large” shows an ejaculating penis that is weapon-like aimed at the Iraqi flag. The work refers to the turmoil surrounding the 1968 Baathist coup and the first Kurdish Iraqi War.
“La amnesia (Les Autobiographies)” 1992 by Sophie Calle describes an ambivalent “masculine” body which is on one hand a faceless and odalisce-like depiction speaking of female empowerment but also objectification, and on the other hand shows a potential bodily transformation of the male as a statement of liberated sexual identity. Calle plays here with presence, absence, reality and fiction.
In their “Utopian Pictures” and “London Pictures” Gilbert & George encounter a language of control with a simultaneous subversive redirection of it. “STRANGLED” comments on the conjunction of sex, violence and emotion that are created for the production of headlines in tabloids. With “WE’RE ALL BASTARDS” a vocabulary referring to order confronts ironically the “political correctness” of sex separation on public toilets.
In her work of the early 1980s, Zoe Leonard photographed her friend Iolo Carew shaving his legs in the bathroom. Thereby she reframes normative conventions of the male gaze on the female subject as well as questioning the principle that we are all located on one side or the other side of the female-male divide. At the time of the work Zoe Leonard was 19-years-old, a while later her friend died of AIDS. In the 1980s and 1990s, Leonard was active in AIDS advocacy, queer politics, and she was an early member of ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power).
In his performances Paul McCarthy works with props and figures of popular culture, which are for him agents within the conditioning and regulation of Western societies. Between humor and brutality Miss Piggy and Olive Oil get violently abased and become unveiled and trashed wrappers of their own.
Bjarne Melgaard approaches sex, violence and death fantasies through subcultural phenomena and references to the heavy metal scene, punk rock music or symbols of Satanism. “Lying Kid, Hanging Kid” associates a corporeality that is strangulated and taped as well as displayed on a inscribed cardboard which brings to mind both destructive and pleasurable practices on the body. The cardboad is reminiscent of a coffin, an association also driven by the quote “In between Ricky Kasso and Black Flag“ which includes references to a real crime and to the subversive punk rock band Black Flag. In the summer of 1984, the 17-year-old Ricky Kasso murdered his friend of the same age under the influence of mescaline and LSD in the presence of three other friends in Nortport, New York. The murder took place during a period when there was much public concern over the effects of Satanic and occult content in heavy metal music, which was associated to the motives of the crime, since the murder was wearing an AC/DC T-shirt at the time of his arrest. The painting “untitled (Chapter Eight)” shows an ensemble of upright penises combined with a textual part that fragmentary speaks of death wishes and family responsibilities.
Gregor Schneider translates the discomfort of his architectual manipulations into “Man with Cock” where the head of the lifeless body lying on the ground is shrouded in black plastic with an erect penis.The artist plays a psychological game and combines associations to pervesion, death and individual exposure.
In her group of works “Broken Dolls” of the late 1990s Cindy Sherman plays with the attributes of the US society of being puritanical, but as well fascinated by “Sex and Crime”. She creates bizarre proxy figures for the abysmal or maladjusted within the desire of humans. We see a doll doctor who tries to gut his masked and lifeless counterpart or the distorted scene of two amputated and newly assembled freak dolls as an unequal sex ensemble.
“Stiefelknecht III” by Wolfgang Tillmans portraits an explicit close-up of the club and gay scene of the early 1990s. The work does not reveal a voyeristic arrangement, but the opposing bodies show their awareness of being documented. Tillmans shows a section of self-confident gay culture and creates participation in corporeality, identity and desire.
In 1969, New York based Betty Tompkins began with her large-format and photorealistic works of penetration and masturbation of female and male genitals. The artist used excerpts from pornographic magazines and film stills from her husband’s collection. The feminists of her time criticized and excluded Tompkins for her sexually progressive works. Although the very emancipatory act of the “Fuck Paintings” was and is actually due to the appropriation of pornography and the subsequent reframing of medium and meaning of it.
The exhibition was conceived through animated exchanges and in collaboration with the collector Florian Peters-Messer. We thank all artists and the partes involved which generously provided the artworks for this special exhibition. Arndt Art Agency, Berlin; Guido W. Baudach, Berlin; Galerie Gisela Capitain, Köln; Sammlung Falckenberg in den Deichtorhallen,Hamburg; Rodolphe Janssen, Brüssel; Karma International, Zürich/Los Angeles; Sammlung Lobeck,Wuppertal; Sammlung Peters-Messer, Viersen; Sprüth Magers, Berlin/London/Los Angeles