GEORG HEROLD AT CONTEMPORARY FINE ARTS
May 14th, 2009, Contemporary Fine Art Daily
One should avoid speaking of a principle when considering Georg Heroldâs work, because quite obviously he himself is interested in not following any principle.
Roof laths, bricks, car paint, caviar â whether his material comes from the building supplies store or a delicatessen: Georg Herold loves to take art off the pedestal to put it on the floor, down to earth, as it were. In 1977, he presented his first roof lath at Hamburgâs Hochschule fĂŒr Bildende KĂŒnste â his art is not just famous for that, but especially for his brick and caviar pictures. With caviar, Herold creates a kind of abstract expressionism on his canvas, frequently numbering the seemingly countless individual grain of caviar. The artist does not make any elaborate sketches or models, but rather tests his ideas directly with and against the material. He creates sculptures by stretching pairs of tights over object-like structures made of foil. In the 1993 work Cross Culture, Herold used roof laths to build a stretcher frame, but instead of canvas, he stretched two pairs of tights diagonally over the âimage areaâ, using clothespins.
âI have decided to observe, that is to say, to derive my experiences and views from questioning phenomena, rather than posing questions to others. That means I reject any catering service in matters of the mind.â
September 2005, Issue 93, By Ralf Christofori, translated by Nicholas Grindell, Frieze Magazine
What makes Georg Heroldâs work stand out, according to Matthias Winzen in the catalogue for the artistâs first major retrospective, is the âfundamental irreconcilability of what is seen and what is saidâ. And indeed, faced with this exhibition, it was enormously difficult to put what you had seen into words: when trying to explain your enthusiasm for a plain roofing slat, of all things; or reading how respectfully, almost lovingly, Herold talks about the ârough, stupid materialâ used in his works; and especially when considering the bizarre discrepancy between his works, his materials and his titles. Goethe is a roofing slat leaning against the wall (Goethe-Latte, Goethe Slat, 1982); the mountain peak of the Kleiner Bernhardiner (Small Saint Bernard, 1985) is a worn-out pair of underpants; and the canvas entitled Rumsfeld (2004) looks like it might collapse under its heavy burden of red bricks. Although Heroldâs retrospective began chronologically with Goethe and ended with Rumsfeld, it would be wrong to attribute any great symbolic importance to this, especially since the artist has always resisted a definitive interpretation of his works. There is much that is irreconcilable in Heroldâs oeuvre. It is unruly and witty, regardless of whether one is talking about it or just looking.
Herold studied under Sigmar Polke and Franz Erhard Walther in the late 1970s. In the early 1980s he found kindred spirits in Werner BĂŒttner, Albert Oehlen and Martin Kippenberger. The ârevolutionary toneâ adopted by BĂŒttner, Oehlen and Herold in the artistsâ book Facharbeiterficken (Fucking Skilled Workers, 1982) was a form of grassroots activity that rebelled against all forms of bourgeois art connoisseurship. Their works were intended primarily as an imposition â crude, but logically consistent. Apparently the one who took this attitude most to heart was Herold himself, who jumped at the idea of using simple building materials. In 1977 he celebrated the âpresentation of the first slatâ at the Academy of Fine Arts in Hamburg â
a metre length of the wood used to make canvas stretchers, hung horizontally on the wall. A year later he made a mobile âlaserâ out of bricks and nylon thread.
And then, along came Goethe: a roof slat of impressive proportions, bearing the name of the great writer and thinker, and alongside it another slat, no more than knee-high to the first, bearing the words âcompared with some arsehole or otherâ. In the following years Herold doffed his disrespectful hat to Albrecht DĂŒrer, whose Hare (1502) he cobbled together out of roofing slats (DĂŒrerhase, DĂŒrer Hare, 1984), and meted out similar treatment to Josef Stalin in the form of the Stalin Organ (1984). In Heroldâs Steinhenge from 1985 â an inadequate translation of âStonehengeâ â heavy bricks protrude from an unprimed canvas, while by the end of the 1980s only isolated scraps of canvas are left hanging over galvanized stretchers. Here Herold exalts the mortal remains of conventional artistic expression as a down-to-earth measure of all things. And yet it would be unfair to see his provocative gestures merely in the tradition of Arte Povera or ready-mades, doing no more than presenting comparatively poor and pathetic material as what it essentially is: a waste product of art and a waste product of reality. His works are too polished for that, his titles too clever.
In the late 1980s and early â90s, for example, Herold numbered each of the countless fish eggs that made up portraits of Barry White, Donald Trump, Yasser Arafat and Charles de Gaulle in his âcaviar picturesâ. The artist is no less manic in his passion for collecting, processing his finds into small works and multiples or systematically ordering them in plain vitrines. Glass vessels, for example, contain the liquid placebo of an âartistic medicineâ (1995), with labels wonderfully obscuring the fact that the liquid in question is just water. In another vitrine from the same year, entitled Idiolatrine Modules (Complementary Supplements), Herold keeps differently perfumed socks in airtight storage jars. And the vitrine entitled Herrenperspektive (Gentlemenâs Point of View, 2002) offers the opportunity to kneel before a mobile comprising roof slats of various lengths.
For Herold this is where it all started: art, language, seriousness and humour. âHow does one process confrontations with the unknown and the unbelievable?â he asked at the beginning of the 1990s, before answering his own question: âOne laughs, say, out of embarrassment or out of enthusiasm.â At this retrospective, one was constantly laughing â and it was a laughter of pure enthusiasm.
GEORG HEROLD: UNCERTAIN RELATIONSHIPS
By Stephen Ellis, In Liquid
Georg Herold's work expresses a bitingly sardonic sense of humor in elegantly spare, almost hermetic formal conundra. While the irony in sculptures made by stretching underwear over a pyramid-shaped armature or in paintings made of bricks glued to canvas is often hilarious, its point is a serious one. Yet, because his imagery and language are intensely German, for Americans the nature of the jokes sometimes requires translation.
Herold's skeptical wit surfaces in such early, rudimentary works as a small, untitled map of the world from 1982. In this simple brush drawing, executed with careless ease, each country is assigned a brief ironic motto: Germany, "nothing seen, nothing heard;" Russia, "nothing learned;" United States, " criminals;" France, "know everything;" Israel, very good." Nebenlatte (Beside Lath, 1983), another rather early piece, is a terse and pointed assault on the compulsory subordination of the individual to the will of the group. The piece consists of nothing more than a short, rough scrap of wood scrawled with the motto "together we are assholes." Herold's intensity of feeling on the subject undoubtedly owes something to the fact that he was imprisoned for six months by the East German government for an escape attempt, and was only allowed to emigrate to the West in 1973 at the age of twenty-six.
As the above examples illustrate, the point of Herold's jokes is often political. Such humor has a special edge in Germany, since as a German observed to me, "humor isn't the first characteristic you associate with my country." Nor, in a larger context, is it associated with authoritarianism in any form. A joke has a unique and valuable limitation: it can only deflate a stuffed shirt- especially those in uniform-whether black, brown or olive drab-never inflate one.
Yet, if Herold's work is political, his approach is quite different than that of American artists such as Jenny Holzer, Jeff Koons and Barbara Kruger, all of whom have attempted in different ways to alter the political consciousness of the public by crossing over from the art world to wider channels of mass communication. For Herold, "if one wants to attain something politically, then one should become a terrorist or a politician. Political art is a coquetry of the artist who needs an alibi and a moral justification. Naturally, I do the same, but I coquette consciously with politics by making jokes."' However, in rejecting an instrumental role for art and opting for "coquetry," Herold is not declaring himself apolitical, he's rejecting a political tactic he views with the deepest suspicion, since in his experience, the manipulation of mass consciousness, even for a "constructive" purpose, smacks of authoritarianism.
For the use of visual humor, Herold had an excellent mentor in Sigmar Polke, with whom he studied in Hamburg from 1977 to 1981. Both Polke's use of humor as a social scalpel and the skill with which he weaves his comedy into deft formal structures left their mark on the younger artist. As Herold's work has developed this second, formal aspect has become increasingly subtle and sophisticated, revealing an abstract cast of mind less obvious in the earlier work. As a young man studying mathematics, Herold encountered Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, which states that it is impossible to measure both the position and momentum of a quantum particle simultaneously. So fascinated was he with the paradox stated in the principle, he used it for the title of a catalogue, Unschirferelationen, which he translates as "Uncertain Relationships." But Herold is no scholar or mathematician; the way he uses "Heisenberg" is broadly metaphorical, not technical. For him, it's an emblem of the provisional nature of understanding.
By Barbara Buchmaier, Artforum
Georg Herold, one of the âbad boysâ of 1980s German art, deploys an idiosyncratic blend of existential humor, text, and everyday materials (such as wooden slats and bricks) to question art and its context. Now, at the age of sixty, the Cologne-based artist presents a retrospective of his own design at Museum Ludwigâs DC project room. In a forty-foot-high hall, Herold has installed a survey of well-known pieces from the museumâs collection that unfolds on different levels and is viewable from both the floor of the exhibition space and a raised platform. The show includes There is nothing leftâthere is no right, 1992, originally exhibited at Documenta 9, paintings that contain bricks or caviar, new figurative sculptures, and a recent drawing series.
On the floor stand four towering, suggestive male and female figures constructed from slats, covered with canvas, and lacquered in bright colors; they pose in mannerist, sporty, or sexually provocative postures. Seemingly without a consistent physical relationship to the other objects displayed nearby, instead these figures are each equipped with a wooden pole. (A smaller fifth figure lies on the ground.) They transform the exhibition into a dynamic, gymlike situation, or a battlefield in which each competes for attention. Above this scenario (or at eye level, if one stands on the raised viewing platform) is a green frieze of forty-four framed pencil drawings. In these, Herold, like a cartoonist, sketches many more nude figures confronted with similar poles.
As indicated by the showâs title, âwo man kind,â which is a grammatically nonsensical play on words, the artist invites viewers to rethink the social status of man, woman, and child (kind), as well as the relationships between these concepts; the show functions like a stage on which such questions are effectively dramatized.