Jonas Burgert: Stück Hirn Blind @ Blain|Southern

Contemporary and Old Art Reviews

Jonas Burgert: Stück Hirn Blind @ Blain|Southern

Postby CAP » Wed Nov 19, 2014 12:43 pm

14th Oct – 22nd Nov

Rising star of the Berlin scene apparently, Blain Southern gave him a show at their Berlin branch in 2012 and now reintroduce him to London audiences (he’d previously shown at Haunch of Venison in 2009). I’m assuming prices continue to rise; the artist’s comments hint as much. But I have to say I’m not really sold. The big pieces, while undoubtedly impressive, seem more a triumph of quantity over quality. The sheer bravado of working on a scale 4 X 5 metres in a grand architectural panorama with a cast of hundreds, each carefully detailed, certainly grabs attention. Whether they hold it for very long is another matter.

Someone recommended the work to me saying it was “Rauch on steroids” and while the interest in strange social routine and tableau is there, the range of iconography and more intriguing pictorial construction is not. The work is flat-footed in rendering, ultimately not much more than illustration, something quickly confirmed by the smaller pieces. There, the artist can briefly indulge in some dashing expressionism or look for ‘carnivalesque’ costume (wince) but what’s missing so far, at least, is a consistent signature touch, a little more individuality. The guy is tasteful but finally not very challenging formally or thematically (ideally of course the two are continuous).

The show is titled Stück Hirn Blind, which literally translated means 'Piece of Brain Blind' or perhaps 'A Bit Brain Blind' – either way just a little too oblique for me. Mark Inglefield’s press release describes various features of the works but disappointingly sheds no light on the title. I’m assuming there’s some vernacular meaning here that escapes me but a press release is the appropriate place to explain these things. The main problem however is the lame macabre imagery: shaved-headed gremlins, hollow-eyed ghouls and prone giants that look like they belong somewhere between Tolkien and Deviantart.com To make this stuff work you need more than shrill colour schemes rhyming paint with costumes and pattern, spilled fluids and bandages as fashion accessories. You need a lot less respect for one thing, an altogether more contrary vision. If you really want to take the ‘carnivalesque’ route (shudder - heavy-handed allegory with a medievalist tip) then you need to be as reckless as Ryan Mosley, with his bumbling emblems of Victorian stereotypes amid rampant organic ornament. Interestingly, I see Mosley has been picked up by Eigen+Art in Berlin…

But Burgert is way too earnest: not nearly Ernst enough. The effect is more like Odd Nerdum doing Marillion album covers. And not in a good way. In 2008 Burgert was working with dead harlequins; that alone ought to set off alarms. Then there were the Buddhist or Hindu street rituals meeting X-Files paranoid scenarios, or third world tribes mixing with urban outsiders in doomed allegories. Right off, this seems like over-reaching. Now I know the artist sees this as a kind of overload or overkill to grand pretentious meaning, a kind of buzzing nothingness, but even overkill has to kill something that at least had some life in the first place. I’m not convinced Burgert’s iconography or handling even get that far.

This year’s work definitely shoots for a more sumptuous, painterly touch, but it all looks a bit contrived; a bit of an after-thought. I have the same problem with Adrian Ghenie’s ‘painterly’ turns, ingeniously keeping out the way of his content. The effect is finally decorative. For Burgert there’s supposed to be some play between painting of splattered paint surfaces and literal splattered paint surfaces, but again it’s way too tidy, no more than cosmetic gestures. But this is much less of a problem than the screaming skulls and lurking beasties and I don’t see the artist having the resources to transcend what is basically a juvenile taste.
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Re: Jonas Burgert: Stück Hirn Blind @ Blain|Southern

Postby CAP » Mon Dec 15, 2014 10:28 am

Burgert's taste in phantasmagoria reminded me a bit of Cuban painter, Roberto Fabelo - this example, Baroque Seafront 2012. Fabelo is actually an older generation - even older than Rauch - but his grotesquerie strikes me as kind of Germanic, ;)

Or how about this guy, Dan Witz? - a Brooklyn based veteran, also the wrong side of fifty, not strictly into the carnivalesque, but definitely on the tribal tip... :P
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