November 18, 2014

The Lavatorial Etiquette of Joachim Bandau and Jorge Pardo

Gallery hopping has its ups and down. Last Wednesday it got so down that I had to drink my first glühwein at the pre-Christmas market at Potsdamer Platz. Friday night my vitamin B+C supplements finally seemed to kick in, because, starting at Johann König Galerie, I looked on the bright side of things, even considering the idea of producing earrings based on Jorinde Voigt’s drawings. This was followed by being astonished by Louise Lawler’s tracings that fit perfectly on the huge gallery walls of Sprüth Magers, and accepting not quite understanding what Robert Elfgen was trying to do on the second floor with just a light shrug of the shoulders. At Esther Schipper I had a good laugh with the doorman who was trying to prevent the fish balloons from escaping the gallery - which is all there is to say about the Philippe Parreno show, except maybe a suggestion to Esther Schipper to curate a show instead of packing whatever you can get of an artist in your space so you can sell (it doesn’t look good). At Guido W. Baudach I realized at first sight that it was art created by somebody born in 1987, which seems awfully young to me (born in 1978), and I am willing to blame the generation gap for my dislike. Yet I very much enjoyed Jorge Pardo at neugerriemschneider - I even went back the next day to look at it without the opening crowd. It reminded me of the Joachim Bandau show I had seen the night before at Galerie Thomas Fischer. I like it when things come together and similarities can be drawn. Check 1: both artists, Joachim Bandau and Jorge Pardo, use the bathroom in their sculptural work. Check 2: bathroom stuff has been a winner from the very beginning of contemporary art (no need to name names). 

The shower scene from Psycho, 1960

Of course, in 1917, nobody was bothered by it. The master said so himself in an interview with Pierre Cabanne: “It's only now, forty years later, that we discover things had happened forty years before that might have bothered some people - but they couldn't have cared less then!” Indeed, it was only in the year 1960 that the bathroom made its spectacular entree -  not in the arts, but in film: the sound of a toilet flushing, the plastic shower curtain swishing open with the plastic rings rattling on rail, climaxing in the shrieking death-scream of Janet Leigh. We are talking Psycho. Yes, more pleasant bathroom scenes have followed - like a soaped-up Julia Roberts singing adorably in Pretty Woman. But the bathroom is an edgy place where murders in the shower cubicle, suicides in the bathtub, breakdowns on the floor tiles, and interrogations in the mirror are being committed. As a film critic put it: it’s a small room for big pain. In the bathroom you are naked and basically at the mercy of lavatory tools. Joachim Bandau’s genius is in knowing how to tap these subconscious fears. His “monsters” of the 1960s and early 1970s are made of mannequins, deconstructed, then pasted and covered with polyester, varnished with shiny lack and adorned with shower heads and tubes. Mostly moving on rollers they are free-wheeling after your primal vulnerabilities.

Joachim Bandau, Figuren und Geräte, Installation view, Galerie Thomas Fischer, 2014
Courtesy the Artist and Galerie Thomas Fischer, Photo: Torben Hoeke

During the opening at the Galerie Thomas Fischer, every conversation I had that night was interrupted by one and the same art restorer whom I had never met before, but who apparently had a great urging to talk with me. It dawned on me later that the universe was trying to tell me something (isn’t it always like that in life...). The uneasiness that Bandau’s sculptures provoke is not only to be found in the bathroom fixtures, but also in his use of material. It was Roland Barthes who wrote about the spectacle of plastic as a “shaped” substance, “less a thing than the trace of a movement”: “Whatever its final state, plastic keeps a flocculent appearance, something opaque, creamy and curdled, something powerless ever to achieve the triumphant smoothness of nature. But what best reveals it for what it is, is the sound it gives, at once hollow and flat, its noise is its undoing, as are its colours, for it seems capable of retaining only the most chemical-looking ones. Of yellow, red and green, it keeps only the aggressive quality, and uses them as mere names, being able to display only concepts of colour.”

@Jorge Pardo. Photo by Jens Ziehe, Berlin. Courtesy of the artist and neugerriemschneider, Berlin

Jorge Pardo’s bathroom sculptures are different. First of all, they are very real bathrooms, you can even flush the toilet in the gallery - it works. And they are bathrooms that calm your nerves. The sculptures are not in the slightest degree unsettling (except maybe for those who wonder what bathrooms are doing in a gallery space). Nor do they make you dread a restroom humiliation - visitors leisurely try out the flush and the sound is strange to hear in a gallery but not ugly. Unlike Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain, the lavatory of Pardo is attractive and pleasing to the senses. There is wood, and warm colors like brown and orange and yellow. You feel like you are on vacation, almost hearing, so to speak, the soothing sound of ocean waves and sensing the tropical heat of the beach outside. “I’m not a white cube kind of guy,” the artist explained to the New York Times, “I don’t think you can be a white cube guy if you’re an immigrant.” So the artist who once turned his house in Los Angeles into a museum, now turns Neugerriemschneider into your place of private function. And you can rest assured: what happens in the bathroom, stays in the bathroom.  

@Jorge Pardo. Photo by Jens Ziehe, Berlin. Courtesy of the artist and neugerriemschneider, Berlin

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