Publication: The Times
Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art
Rosemarie Trockel: Drawings, Collages and Book Drafts
The Talbot Rice Gallery
The language of consumerism, advertising and mass media pervades the work of US artist, Jeff Koons. A portfolio of four colour lithographs made between 1988 and 1989 – ‘Art Magazine Ads’ – depict the artist in a number carefully constructed compositions which were placed simultaneously as advertisements in four leading art magazines. The works thus fulfilled a dual role as artwork and publicity. While the artist apparently considers his work to be devoid of cynicism there is certainly, at its core, a media-savvy individual who is adept at generating self-publicity by knowingly courting controversy.
These four images are in themselves disconcerting - full of paradox and shifting meaning. One shows the artist carefully posed, coiffed and made-up sitting in front of a class of infants - chalk in hand. Behind him on the blackboard a series of words and phrases (“Exploit the Masses”; “Banality as Saviour”) jar with the otherwise innocent imagery.
Although all of Koons' work is linked, it is also categorisable and made in distinct series. Koons was famously married to Italian porn-star Ilona Staller, aka “La Cicciolina” and here a number of other works dating from the same period as ‘Art Magazine Ads’ show Staller and Koons collaborating in a kind of publicly-staged synthetic eroticism. ‘Made in Heaven,’ a huge billboard-sized image shows the naked couple suggestively but awkwardly posed atop what looks like a giant piece of excrement.
Koons is an artist of ideas who conceives but often does not actually make work in the conventional sense. The fact that this rather large sample was part of the d’Offay collection says a lot about the cynical and sometimes uncomfortable relationship between wealth, status, collectability and hype.
It would be difficult to find an artist more directly opposed to Koons’ approach than Rosemarie Trockel. The work of this rather austere German, now in her late fifties, diverges radically from Koons’ superficiality and commercialism. One suspects, also, that her sexual politics would be sternly dispproving of Koons’ bland eroticism. Like a whole generation of post-war German artists, including Beuys, Richter, Uecker and Kippenberger it is clear that Trockel - sensitised and deeply intellectual – has had to find a way of dealing with her nation’s trauma. Her approach has been to challenge the patriarchy (as she sees it) of the art tradition and to establish new modes of thinking and seeing.
Thus her work, never easy on the eye or mind, remains resolutely discomfiting, awkward and challenging. Her series of Book Drafts, for example, suggest putative publications by means of covers which reveal complex and dark subject matter. One, possibly autobiographical, allusion is suggested by a hand-lettered title ‘She Became More and More a Painter de Dark Couleur’.
Taken together, these shows present radically differing agendas demonstrating the range of approach and subject matter contemporary art can embrace.