© Images by Ikki Ogata
23 SEPPTEMBER – 15 NOVEMBER 2020
The gradual disintegration of a given order is best observed from a distance. Norbert Bisky’s astute analyses of changing social conditions often point to the crumbling of modern myths and how easily certainties are overthrown by unforeseeable events. In 2019 and early 2020 Bisky created a series of critically acclaimed works that focused on situations of historical tension endured: the events leading up to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent rise of chaos, culminating in the hedonistic promise of the city’s borderless club life.
This fall, Bisky’s work will be shown for the first time ever in Tokyo, in a solo exhibition especially created for the occasion. Still holding on to the subject of the city, the paintings and collages on display each bear reminiscences to Bisky’s hometown Berlin, evocating a metropolis within a metropolis 9,000 Kilometres apart.
At the same time, the buoyant escapism that characterized his recent work only flares up at a few points in METROCAKE. The atmosphere has decidedly changed. Bisky’s newest paintings shown here were created under the conditions of a global health crisis that brought all mundane amusements to an abrupt halt. Suddenly, Berlin’s buzzing urbanity was once again replaced by the leaden silence that had characterized the East Berlin of his childhood.
In Bisky’s new paintings, this overlapping of experiences and time domains finds its expression in the recurring motif of multilayered billboards. Torn scraps of paper announcing parties that never took place in MATRIX (also the name of a popular Berlin nightclub) or revealing patterns and textures closely associated with underground club culture like the graffiti-stained walls in Wanksta, the red and white barrier tape in Club Sandwich or the tiles of Alexanderplatz station in the title-giving Metro Beefcake.
Peeling away these remnants becomes a sort of urban archeology, partly obscuring and partly releasing the athletic bodies at their center. The exhibition’s title METROCAKE is a play on the expression beefcake referring to gym-in-flated bodies, while metro places them in an eerily lifeless urban environment. Bisky’s beautiful boys have seemed lost and ephemeral in previous works, yet something feels different this time. The bodies now no longer seem to serve as desirable antipoles to the surrounding disorder but rather become memorials of what is absent: the fading of color, the lack of abundance, the loss of vitality. Desire becomes blank space filled time after time with perfectly interchangeable products.
A series of portraits of young men titled Aussetzer, Rookie, and Rookie II are maybe the most conciliatory pieces of the exhibition, as the blissful self-absorption in their expressions may provide a way out by withdrawing into oneself.
In addition to the large-format paintings, Bisky created a number of mirror pieces by cutting up and recomposing paintings on surfaces that reflect their surroundings yet are indifferent to them – Tokio’s skyline as seen from the gallery’s windows or the onlooker's face. Each subject is placed in a preshaped yet dissolving environment, adding layers of meaning with every glance.