A Cosmos by Rosemary Trockel
Reviewed by Naomi Itami / 06.04.13
Rosemarie Trockel’s retrospective at the Serpentine Gallery is a dense, complex affair but ultimately succeeds in illuminating the practice of one of the most original and provocative artists working today. From the ancient Greek word for “order”, Trockel’s cosmos is very much her own as she curates and appropriates often un-known artists’ works, placing them in dialogue with her own. A Cosmos is both democratic and generous, and very much lateral as opposed to hierarchical in its rigorous conceptual premise of inclusivity. It also puts paid to the recent Der Spiegel interview with painter Georg Baselitz. His dismissal of women artists in general and Trockel’s work in specific as “having a lot of sympathy” 1(lacking the destructive impulse that begets originality), shows him as outmoded and insecure.
Where Trockel is ‘destructive’ is in her approach to taxonomy and her steadfast refusal to accept previously established museological hierarchies and classifications. Working across multiple media (painting, photography, drawing, video, textiles, ceramic sculpture and installation), divisions between craft and art, the trained and untrained, and most pertinently, between the natural and the man-made, dissolve and become obsolete. Reminiscent of early Wunderkammern, the first ‘wonder-room’ is its “epicentre”2: white-tiled with an upside-down palm tree suspended from the ceiling and adjacent to an aviary with taxidermied birds ‘dancing’ to a recording of their own song. Human-kind’s impact on nature becomes obvious when viewed next to Replace Me, an altered digital print of Courbet’s L’origine du Monde with a large tarantula replacing the pubis, bringing into focus Trockel’s feminist concerns surrounding androcentric ‘looking’ and zoology. Elsewhere, the wool-knitted paintings for which Trockel became famous in the 80’s are shown near ‘outsider’ artist Judith Scott’s obscure and mysterious yarn-wrapped objects, pointedly blurring distinctions between historically demoted ‘feminine’ craft and art-historically sanctioned painting. Deaf, mute and institutionalised for decades with Down’s Syndrome, Scott’s sculptures literally embody the unknown, and stand in stark, nuanced contrast to Trockel’s modernist canvases.
Park Avenue brings botany into focus. A slide series of assemblages of leaves, flowers, pods and sticks in quasi-figural poses flickering briefly upon a white cloth, it reveals an absurd anthropocentrism that shows Trockel at her ephemeral best. By placing her photograph Prime-Age (a skinhead’s ornately, botanically tattooed torso) adjacent to Maria Sibylla Merian’s delicate botanical watercolours from the 1700’s, Trockel highlights an alliance that spans centuries, gender and class, and points to a mutual human interest in botany as both biological study and decorative draughtsmanship.
Trockel chooses the medium of photography expediently when it best serves a practise whose concern is the monumental chain of experience and being that is A Cosmos. Here images and objects attest to the tangential nature of human consciousness, the deeper, unseen relationships between humans, animals and the natural world, as well as between various fields of knowledge, with none taking precedence over another. A protean and anarchic artist, Trockel’s interests lie less in her own art-making career, than in art as an open-ended, porous endeavour that inextricably links all matter physically, psychically, and ultimately politically. It is a cosmic show indeed.
Beyer, Susanne and Knöfel, Ulrike, 25 January 2013, German Artist Georg Baselitz: ‘My Paintings are Battles’, viewed 1 April 2013 http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/spiegel-interview-with-german-painter-georg-baselitz-a-879397-3.html
Trockel, R. 2012, Rosemarie Trockel A Cosmos, Monacelli Press (p. 32, ‘Modelling a Cosmos’ by curator Lynne Cooke)
'Replace Me', 2011, Digital print, 32.5 x 40 cm, Private collection © Rosemarie Trockel, DACS 2013, Courtesy Sprüth Magers Berlin London
'Prime-Age' 2012, Digital print, 42 x 42 cm, Private collection © Rosemarie Trockel, DACS 2013, Courtesy Sprüth Magers Berlin London