Cosima von Bonin, The Pierres at Petzelette, September 5 – October 4, 2008, installation view, East Gallery, Friedrich Petzel Gallery
As the diminutive ending of its title, “The Pierres at the Petzellette,” made clear, Cosima von Bonin’s third solo show at Petzel was meant to be intimate. Encountered in the anteroom of the gallery space, the forlorn 20-inch-high Doorstop (Concrete Mushroom #1), 2007, which also resembles an enlarged pin cushion, further emphasized this deliberate scaling down of mis-en-scène, since it signaled that the toadstool, one of the artist’s enduring sculptural motifs, might be less prominent in the exhibition. The encounter proved a striking counterbalance to the artist’s last outing at the gallery, in 2006, “Relax, It’s Only a Ghost,” an elaborate installation reprised wholesale in Documenta 12. By contrast, this more recent show parceled out an arrangement of eight works and resembled nothing so much as a showroom redaction of the artist’s output over the past three years.
Von Bonin’s play off of barriers and entrances, discipline and comfort, security devices and luxury items, was largely reduced to a controlled exchange between the gleaming and matte surfaces of interior and exterior design: A white powder-coated-steel gate, of the type that secures an exclusive property or gated community, confronted the visitor (Gate, 2007); a Juliet balcony was installed on the wall behind with a pair of spent Dunlop Formula One racing tires propped up behind its railing (Off Mirror [Balcony & Tires], 2007). Similarly opaque witticisms were located in a white lacquered wall-mounted chair with cowhide cushions, Reference Hell #1, (YSL Fauteuil), 2007, and an “anti-authoritarian kindergarten” bench—two movable seats hinged together end-to-end with sheet steel—relegated to the gallery’s back office (Antiautoritaerer Kindergarten [Zollstock/Rule #2/Bipartite], 2007). Nearly all fabricated for the artist’s compelling mid-career survey last fall at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, “Roger and Out,” the sculptures here suggested a sample sale in their placement alongside von Bonin’s figurative and two-dimensional works; the items, already imbued with the absurdist patina of plush set pieces meant for a performance forever postponed, took on an aura of discontinued stock.
Isolated from its brethren, the outsize line of stuffed animals populating von Bonin’s recent installations was likewise reduced, limited to a gray Saint Bernard whose droopy visage and accommodating keg find an equivalent domestic emblem in the gingham apron the dog wears—a classic housewife accessory ironically offset in this instance by a fashionable floppy hat and, in place of the animal’s collar, four scarves. Even the artist’s Lappen (or “rags”), canvaslike textile pictures often shown in groupings, were pared down to one piece: Hand von rechts (Hand from the Right), 2008.
With a trajectory of influence that extends form Sigmar Polke’s early paintings on cheap fabrics and Blinky Palermo’s fabric paintings from the mid-1960s and the early ‘70s, through Martin Kippenberger’s checkered “price” or “prize” paintings (“Preis Bilder,” 1987-94), von Bonin’s bannerlike works often feature gnomic fragments of borrowed text alongside cartoonish figures; in Hand von rechts, the patchwork backdrop foregrounds—in white stitched outline—a band of simian musicians perched atop mushroom caps, the balled fist of an entertainer’s white-gloved hand, and the phrase HARMONIE IST EINE STRATEGIE (“harmony is a strategy”), which has been crossed out. An earlier textile work not included at Petzel, Shirt/Fluff/Same Day, 2007, also features the phrase, which is a lyric by longtime collaborator Dirk von Lowtzow, singer of the German band Tocotronic—an appropriation canceled by this more recent work. Made by an artist with a protean formal sensibility and a habit for hermetic references, this particular revision suggests, especially in the exhibition’s remaindered economy, a turning of the stylistic page.