NORBERT BISKY | ANOMIE
7 APRIL – 19 MAY 2018
OPENING: 6 APRIL, 6 – 9 PM
is pleased to present Anomie, Norbert Bisky’s first solo show in
the UK. On view are new paintings on canvas and paper, complemented by a room
installation designed specially for the exhibition.
In sociology, the term ‘anomie’ describes a societal state marked by a lack
of norms and values – formerly religious – and the consequent disintegration
of social structures and relations. It further denotes the discrepancy between
culturally shared ideals and the socially determined means to achieve them,
resulting in feelings of alienation and depression. Norbert Bisky uses the term
as a title and thus as a conceptual starting point for his new works.
The examination of the complex dynamics of power between socio-political
systems and the individual is a recurring theme in Bisky’s current work. This
can already be seen in the artist’s transformation of the exhibition space: the
red walls convey the impression of a tunnel, leading us to flight.
The paintings themselves are small-to-medium-scale, displaying a wide array
of different motifs. We see collapsing architecture, people aimlessly drifting
through the image space, fragmented faces and mangled bodies, insurgents and
lynchings. The dynamic compositions exhibit a complex nexus of connotations
and references drawing from current socio-political events. Snapshots of our
The work ‘Anomie’ – designed as a collage and sharing a title with the
exhibition – shows parts of a human body in front of a pastel-blue sky. This
background nearly encompasses the entire image space, but gives way, at parts,
to reveal fragments of a second body underneath the blue. The technique Bisky
deploys here, collaging painted fragments of canvas onto the image background,
can be read as an allusion to repressive systems of power, in which information
is purposefully held back or revealed. The juxtaposition of apocalyptic motifs
and harmless colour palette is fundamental to Bisky’s imagery and once again
alludes to the thin line between utopian ideas and dystopian social conditions.
Revealingly, the portrait of Marinus van der Lubbe, a Dutch anarchist who was
sentenced to death for his involvement in the Reichstag fire, appears twice.
Not only did the young man’s activism – driven by a utopian vision and geared
towards a social paradigm shift – prove to be unsuccessful, the event ultimately
helped the Nazis consolidate their power and restrict democratic principles in
the process: utopian ideals turned dystopian reality in an instant.
The sexual orientation of the activist played no apparent role in his conviction,
yet for Bisky it is another reference point for the critical examination
of political systems that consolidate power via control and suppression of freedom
and individuality. After all, how inclusive a society is towards members of
the LGBTQI+ community is still highly indicative of the degree to which humanist
values are accepted in a society and to which members of this society are able
to live autonomous lives. Bisky translates these deliberations into explicit
depictions of queerness, such as in the work ‘kiss,’ depicting a scene in which
three men engage in a shared kiss. The engagement with queerness and heteronormativity
further shows in several of the oil on paper works: spread out in
front of an abstract, pastel-coloured background, groups of nudes, male figures
bathe and playfully wrestle each other. Titles such as ‘Conversion Therapy’ – a
branch of the sexual reorientation business that is currently booming in the
US – further gesture towards the complex psychological mechanisms of oppression
that are still firmly established in our culture. Our notion of an equal and fair
society is thus revealed to be nothing more than a utopian illusion.
Norbert Bisky, born 1970 in Leipzig, is regarded as one of the most influential
artists of his generation. His works have been on display in numerous international
shows, including exhibitions at Kunstmuseum Bern (Switzerland), at Haus am
Waldsee (Berlin, Germany), in the Latvian National Museum of Art (Riga, Latvia),
at Kunsthalle Rostock (Germany), at Haus am Lützowplatz (Berlin, Germany), at
Martin-Gropius-Bau (Berlin, Germany), in the Tel Aviv Museum of Art (Israel),
at Maison Rouge (Paris, France) and at the Beijing Biennial (China). His works
are represented in the following public collections (selection): Museum of
Modern Art (New York, USA), Museum Ludwig (Cologne, Germany), National Museum
of Contemporary Art (Seoul, South Korea), Kunsthalle Rostock (Germany), Museum
der Bildenden Künste (Leipzig, Germany), Sammlung Deutsche Bank (Frankfurt,
Germany), Palm Springs Art Museum (Palm Springs, USA), Le FNAC Fonds National
d’Art Contemporain (France).
Text: Anna Redeker