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This category contains the following articles
The Museum as Marketing Temple - Mike Bouchet & Paul McCarthy at the Portikus, Frankfurt
Walk the Line - A visual journey at the Deutsche Bank Kunsthalle
MACHT KUNST - The Prizewinners - Washed Geometry: Rebecca Michaelis's Undogmatic Color Field Painting
Shared Visions - The Rise of the Johannesburg Art Scene
Dark Metamorphoses - Victor Man Is Artist of the Year 2014
The Question: Who or What Should We Keep an Eye on in 2014?
"I want my art to put people on edge" - An Interview with Clare Bottomley
No Escape - Idan Hayosh´s Suggestive Threat Scenarios
Let´s talk: Ingrid Pfeiffer & Bernhard Martin on Philip Guston
MACHT KUNST - The Prizewinners - Longing: The Photographic Works of Nicolas Balcazar
MACHT KUNST - The Prizewinners: Sonja Rentsch´s Imagination Space for the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle


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The Museum as Marketing Temple
Mike Bouchet & Paul McCarthy at the Portikus, Frankfurt

Consumerist behavior, cultural imperialism, and everything a globalized market promises—these are the issues that connect the works of Mike Bouchet and Paul McCarthy. Bouchet, who lives in Frankfurt, has an entire floor in the Deutsche Bank Towers dedicated to his work. Ever since he studied with the bad boy of the West Coast art scene, he and McCarthy have worked closely together. Now, sponsored by Deutsche Bank, the two artists have created a collaborative project at the Portikus—transforming the exhibition hall into a bizarre cross between department store, kitchen laboratory, and propaganda machine. Sandra Danicke met the artists as they were installing the show.

A thick slime oozes out of the windows. Long, inflatable tubes in red, white, and blue bob up and down in the wind. The main entrance to the Portikus in Frankfurt is barricaded, forcing visitors to descend a spiral staircase to reach the exhibition hall through the basement-level office spaces. Mike Bouchet and Paul McCarthy have taken on the Portikus—and seized every opportunity they could find to confuse visitors. Instead of just hanging something, placing it somewhere or plugging it in, they’ve occupied the entire building and crammed it full of material to the point that it feels like it’s about to burst. The title of the show already makes the lack of moderation abundantly clear: Powered A-Hole Spanish Donkey Sport Dick Drink Donkey Dong Dongs Sunscreen Model.

A week before the opening, the mere sight of the insanity inside the Portikus is overwhelming. Astonished, one stands in the hall that usually serves as the central exhibition space; one squeezes around a gigantic architectural model that is easily identified as a reference to Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. One is blown over by a flurry of impressions. The overall shape of the model resembles a damaged ship, sitting there on a row of stacked sawhorses bearing donkey head emblems, which in turn appear on huge portrait photos of Michael Douglas. Propped up against the wall are canvases with colorful suntan lotion ads of the Bilboa brand. And then there’s this sickeningly sweet smell lingering in the room, as though someone had sprayed several cans of air freshener. Is this supposed to stay that way? Mike Bouchet and Paul McCarthy return from lunch in the best of moods. “We still don’t know what’s it’s going to look like next week,” McCarthy admits, amused. “Maybe we should keep some of that stuff. The coffee cup? The folding rule?”
Since the 1970s, Paul McCarthy (born 1945), who lives in Los Angeles, has been widely considered the enfant terrible of performance and video art. His abyssal films and installations address sexuality, aggression, and the perfidious mechanisms of a culture rooted in entertainment. Again and again, grotesquely costumed protagonists—usually accompanied by a liberal application of smeared foodstuffs—go wild, and it’s often McCarthy himself who has smeared himself with ketchup in the name of art, or inserted a Barbie doll.

Even while they explore similar themes—consumerist behavior, cultural imperialism, and everything the globalized market promises—the sculptures of his former student Mike Bouchet, who was born in California in 1970 and lives with his family in Frankfurt am Main, come across as somewhat less excessive. “One day Mike and I realized that we both autonomously made a sculpture that converted the New York Guggenheim Museum into a toilet.” And that was when they decided to collaborate. McCarthy, a polite bearded gentleman wearing a woolen hat sporting an orange-colored dollar sign, explains: “Just because the building looks like a toilet.” In the end, they realized that the Guggenheim in Bilbao—to the artists’ minds a kind of “imperial cultural franchise”—also has a grotesque form reminiscent of a battleship. McCarthy and Bouchet began working together on a sculpture that addressed the subject. “The shape of a building has an enormous impact on the way in which you look at the things inside,” Bouchet explains. “But nobody seems to reflect on that.”

When the artists were invited to put up a show together, it seemed logical to investigate the building’s odd form in this case, too. In the Internet, entirely by chance, they found a formal analogy to the “Spanish Donkey,” a wooden sawhorse tapering upwards like a sharp wedge that served as a torture device in the Middle Ages: the bound victim was forced to straddle the horse without his or her feet touching the ground, causing the entire weight of the body to rest on the genitals. “In exhibition spaces humiliation and power is a major topic,” Bouchet observes. The fact that a donkey adorns the sawhorses sold in the US is just as much due to chance as the matter with the suntan lotion. “I mistyped the word Bilbao in Google and wrote Bilboa instead,” McCarthy explains with a grin.
We climb to the upper floor, where the intensity of the gummi bear smell becomes almost unbearable. “We’re cooking syrup from energy drinks,” explains Bouchet, visibly enjoying the astonished look on the face of his conversation partner. “We add gelatin, and when it’s thickened, we dump it out of the window,” the artist says as he picks a glob of light-brown goo off a windowsill where they’ve tested the flowing consistency. “Try it. It tastes good.” The largest portion of the mass, however, winds up elsewhere. To put it more precisely: in a toilet bowl, from which a pipe leads right through the floor and onto the architectural model on the ground floor. Evidently, in the end the Bilbao model will look a bit as though feces had been dumped over it. In odd contrast to this, the Portikus employees will be dressed in red Valentino garb.  

Nearby the gummi bear kitchen, the A-Hole Sport Drink is produced—a blue-hued beverage with a beef and banana aroma that’s served in glass jars of the kind hot dogs are sold in. A product could hardly be more artificial, or more American. Using an aggressive product placement strategy, the sport drink appears as a fictive exhibition sponsor. It also serves as the basis for the The Bigga Picka Uppa: “You put a Snickers bar inside, chew and swallow it, and afterwards you’re ready to kick ass,” explains Bouchet in marketing expert slang. “It’s isotonic, it contains caffeine and proteins—it’s able to push you to another level.” To prove that he’s dead serious, the artist shows me a photo series on his cell phone that has him eating it—a rather dubious pleasure. “It totally transforms your consciousness. That’s what art is about,” cried Bouchet in a tone of voice that’s so tastefully exaggerated you can almost take him for a salesman.

Meanwhile, we’re sitting at a freshly mounted table in the attic, in a film set. While Bouchet plays salesman, McCarthy stares at a small pile of sawdust left behind on the tabletop: “The woodchips are not uninteresting. Maybe we should keep them.” A black curtain closes off a storage room, while next to us mattresses are screwed into the walls. “We’re going to have a dinner party,” says McCarthy. His son Damon is planning on filming the action. “We still don’t know what’s going to happen. I think we’ll serve spaghetti with a sauce. That’s all we know right now.”

When it’s time to say goodbye, he suddenly grows serious. It’s very important to McCarthy that the work isn’t merely taken for slapstick. “It’s an entity with lots of layers. An assemblage with coincidences. It’s so much about what it means to us being artists, dealing with the institutions.” As for the realization he hopes for in viewers: “At least that it allows them to see the building in another way.”

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