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Lives and Works in Berlin | Fratty Art

With its manic art world mingling, Gallery Weekend in Berlin can seem like a frat party with more tote bags.  It is Berlin’s promenade into spring and is full of amateur cyclists, bunker parties and club kids.  I will confess to being somewhat lackadaisical about this year’s installment, perhaps due to a case of “Frühjahrsmüde,”or “Spring Tiredness,” as the Germans say.* Any expression that explains away seasonal laziness is ok with me.  However, I dutifully went to galleries, noting a curious navigation of formal concerns with a tongue-in-cheek impishness.  Impish Formalism?

Tony Matelli, "Yesterday" (detail), 2010. Polychromed bronze, beer cans. Courtesy the artist.

At the Kunstlerhaus Bethanien, Falkenrot Preis 2011 recipient Tony Matelli displays instruments of recreational manliness.  His card constructions, beer cases and flaming dollars read initially like Sigma Pi throwaways, but are in fact cast bronze.  Pockmarked with eye-holes, cast beer cases are hinged to the wall in a way that recalls deer heads, ethnic masks and other living room trophies.  Matelli’s mirrors are littered with dashed-off vaginas and a carefully infantilized personal script (see the piece entitled Bukkake).  However, these “capricious” scrawls are not made with a dirty finger, but rather are meticulous enamel renderings.  In his overly precious materials, Matelli fetishizes male adolescence with a self-aware wink at its dangerously manufactured mystery.  His desire to capture and critique boyhood mysticism seems almost Franconian.

By Franconian, I am, of course, referring to James Franco, whose boy-vestigations at Peres Projects display artistic self-fellatio on par with a Charles Ray sculpture or a Donald Trump press conference.  Where Matelli gleefully unravels the tropes and props of clichéd masculinity with nimbleness, Franco suffers from elephantiasis of the hand.

In “The Dangerous Book Four Boys,” at Peres Projects, Franco’s melted houses and throwaway toy corner read as sloppy Mike Kelley sycophantism.  I’ve never appreciated the art of Mike Kelley more than when I saw its (handsome) vacuous doppelganger.

John Bock, "Ohr-Walachei," installation view, 2011. Courtesy Galerie Klosterfelde.

Meanwhile, at Galerie Klosterfelde, John Bock displays a turn of architectural chicanery with his site-specific installation Ohr-Walachei.   As gallery-goers enter the space, doors and windows begin to open and close ominously.  This initial magic is belied by Bock’s B-movie riggings, which are simple and obvious.  As decorative elements clap noisily, spatial relationships unhinge and the room itself takes on a psychological charge.  This brings to mind Robert Wise’s masterpiece The Haunting, in which the central character of Eleanor finds herself emotionally entwined with “Hill House.”  Bock certainly “possesses,” the space, exuding a mischievous presence in a kind of artistic conjuration.

*If he were to join a fraternity, Bock would probably be assigned the role of campus prankster, hiding iPads in the fridge or whatever it is kids do these days.

*I would be remiss in discussing artistic frattiness without mentioning Cyprien Gaillard’s much-hyped Turkish beeramid at Kunst-Werke.  Gaillard’s structure is apparently still intact, accruing cigarettes and standing as a behemoth reminder of our shared constructive/destructive frattastic impulse.

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