Selected works by Felix Gmelin

Felix Gmelin
Kill Lies All After Pablo Picasso (1937) & Tony Shafrazi (1974)


Oil on canvas

195 x 295 cm

Pablo Picasso once said, ‘for me, an image is the sum of destructions.’ Felix Gmelin, an artist based in Stockholm and Berlin, explores this defining idea from a rather literal angle – in a series of works he made for an exhibition entitled ‘Art Vandals’ which focus on the creative energy latent within acts of revolutionary destruction. Gmelin reproduces artworks that have literally been destroyed in public spaces, including galleries and museums, in order to examine and question traditional notions of history versus what actually constitutes historical truth.

In his painting Kill Lies All After Pablo Picasso (1937) and Tony Shafrazi (1974) (1996), Gmelin reminds viewers of a famous example of art vandalism – the defacement of Picasso’s Guernica by an angry young artist, Tony Shafrazi, now a famous New York art dealer, who spray painted ‘Kill Lies All’ over it in red.

‘I wanted to bring the art absolutely up to date, to retrieve it from art history and give it life. Maybe that’s why the Guernica action remains so difficult to deal with. I tried to trespass beyond that invisible barrier that no one is allowed to cross,’ Shafrazi has explained. The ravages of war depicted in the painting serve as the background for his indicting statement on the contingency of history as it is constructed.

Perhaps Picasso, who once painted over works by Modigliani, would agree with Shafrazi’s point of view, but the art historical establishment certainly doesn’t – the Museum of Modern Art staff quickly removed all the damage from Guernica, essentially updating the act of iconoclasm over another artist’s work themselves. ‘By turning Picasso’s Guernica into a masterpiece’, Gmelin explains, ‘the museum helps to make the picture historic, thereby rendering it invisible in the present.’


By Ronald Jones and Robert Stasinski

During last summer's Venice Biennale, Felix Gmelin's two videos with people running with red flags around an empty city, "Farbtest, Die Rote Fahne II", became one of the most talked about works. The work is both a tribute to his father as much as it discusses how revolution has turned into fashion today, something he continues in his new work "Flatbed, The Blue Curtain", exclusivly online for NU-E.

Ronald Jones: I happen to be reading Carol Loebs’ book on Lucinda Joyce, James Joyce’s daughter, who grew up in a household filled with artists and creative people. Felix, your father was a filmmaker and theorist, your mother an internationally known violinist. What was it like to grow up in that kind of home?

Felix Gmelin: My father, in my childhood, always spoke to me as an adult, so in that sense I never had a childhood. But I guess Mrs. Joyce, if she is still alive, is spending all of her time taking care of her father’s biography and bibliography. What a nightmare. What I do is misuse my inheritance, I’m happy I don't have to administer it.

RJ: Still, you, like Lucinda knew yours was a creative family from your earliest memories?

FG: Yes, sure. There was never this Ivan Turgenjev kind of story where the father says: Well, I can’t be sure whether you’re a genius or not, so I think you should become an accountant my son. Then you will get a job, even if you are mediocre. There was never that kind of a question.

RJ: So you grew up in the assumption that you could have a successful life in the arts?

FG: Some artist friends of mine have had a hard time finding out there is a profession called artist or even finding a novel for the first time. Some of them are pretty aggressive about having grown up in an environment that didn’t give them this information. In that sense it was easy for me to get going.

RJ: You were encouraged to be an artist in every sense?

FG: I wanted to be a successful accountant, but I wasn’t very good at it.

RJ: So how did your father’s films come to your attention?

FG: Well, I always knew there where films, and knew he had been filming from what my mother told me. But I only had a vague idea about what he was doing when I was a kid.


By Felix Gmelin; Interview by Annika Hansson

AH (Annika Hansson): Felix, I thought we could take a moment to talk about how you use the computer as a tool in your exhibition, “Nothing Becomes a Man More than a Woman’s Face” ¬ and about the concept of beauty. So the title of the exhibition comes from a newspaper article, and the Swedish title comes from a nursery rhyme that every child knows?
FG (Felix Gmelin): Yes, in my school the nursery rhyme was also rather a racist game; here’s how it went: you say “Mamma is Chinese,” and pull up the corners of your eyes. Then, “Papa is Japanese,” and pull the corners of your eyes downward. Last, pull your eyelids in opposite directions, and say “poor little child.” I hope children have forgotten it by now. I used it as a title because it refers to ugliness and beauty, the central theme of the exhibition. The English title was a suggestion from Ronald Jones, who wrote the Swedish catalog text. The source was a newspaper article published in the New York Times on 1 September 1998, with the headline “Nothing Becomes a Man More than a Woman's Face.” It was about the mysteries and contradictions inherent to the scientific study of beauty. My own literature only had unimaginative headlines, like “Verfürung nach Maß,” “Der falsche Körper” or “Schönheit, was ist das?”
Newspaper headlines sometimes possess a form of confrontational poetry that is perfect for my exhibitions. Good headlines are aimed at the very core of our collective awareness, yet their origins remain concealed. Their purpose is to entice us to read on, to rouse our curiosity. I spend a lot of time thinking about the titles of exhibitions and artworks. And I learn from those who create headlines. Sometimes I use the headlines just as they are, as “objets trouvés.” Like in the exhibitions “Painting Modernism Black” or “Ein kleiner Beitrag zur Sauberkeit,” both headlines from The Guardian and Bildzeitung.