The Candy Wall
A critique/essay by G. H. H. art historian/critic
Joint solo Exhibitions by Peter Anton & Jens Lorenzen. Galerie von Braunbehrens, Stuttgart, Germany
Friendship happens. When artists are friends, do their works befriend each other as well? Often they turn their back towards their work, face to face, liking what they see in their friend, unrealized possibilities for instance, but reserving their professional judgment. In these cases, friendship is inside, the work remains outside. I remember writing an article entitled "Lüpertz, Immendorff, Attersee". One of the three is dead, one of them was not at all amused, but had to accept that friendship sometimes comes at a price. Friendship between artists can be a mined territory.
Yet here is friendship, nor will either of the two, Peter Anton or Jens Lorenzen, be annoyed to see their names and their works linked in an experiment which, as friendship is involved, seems innocent. In any case, if both artists are innocently playing their game according to their mutual rules, writing about their moves cannot claim to be innocent at all, it is informed and liable to withhold from the reader what the writer knows but will not tell. There is innocence in the aim to entice collectors of either artist into buying a work of the other, if only to document their friendship or possibly, because a link has become apparent that justifies this decision esthetically.
Both Jens Lorenzen and Peter Anton practice the collection two- or three-dimensional ready-mades from everyday reality, transforming them without using any of their parts or fragments in the resulting work of art. They both believe in artificiality and trompe l'œil in painting and sculpture respectively. They do not look for legitimation by authenticity. Both are distancing themselves from this sort of approach, not denying its legitimacy, but too conscious of how it would diminish their status as makers.
I have been thinking a lot about Scotland of late and like the down-to-earth approach to poetry that transpires in the Scottish term makar or maker, for poet, the most simple and pertinent translation of the Greek word that could be found. Makers, cobblers, carpenters. Jens Lorenzen learned to do carpentry before becoming a painter, never abondoning his original craft. Now he does no more than his own frames, but in earlier years, he lent a hand to the carpenters next door to his studio. He is a maker in more than one sense. A maker may be once removed from reality. A cobbler makes shoes, not feet. A painter makes an image which may be looked at twice or any number of times, while the things around us, made things mostly, often remain invisible even though they may themselves be images of things rather than the things themselves.
Peter Anton seems to create sentimental objects out of food and its packaging, out of the most seductive of foodstuffs, candies and ice-creams and sweets. I am not quite sure about the sentimentality, though. It may exist nowhere but in the eye of the beholder, in the immediate reaction of collectors or other observers. The craving for sugar can be destructive.
Candy Art, seen in that perspective, monumentalizes the most insidious addiction rampant in Western civilization, the craving for sugar, which automatically includes alcoholism, because alcohol is sugar in a recognizably addictive and destructive form. Sugar is a killer. Sugar makes obese, much more so in America than Europeans can easily believe. Obesity may be subversive of esthetic rules of corporeal appearance, no doubt about that, but the obesity implied in candy is not subversive of anything.
Candy is nice to look at and to taste, even if it remains undigested or undigestible as in Peter Anton's sculptures. But it also reminds us of the ultimate fetish of our existence. Candy is a substitute - for sexual activity, for sin in its widest sense, for sentiments one ought or ought not to have. Therefore, no sentimentality is involved in making Candy Art, no sex, no sin. A sinister thought. Candy could also be regarded as the forbidden thing by excellence, the trigger of an addictive behaviour that it is extremely hard to repress, because sugar, in a sense, made humanity possible, in the guise of rice and crops and bread and potatoes and fruit and beans and honey. All these carbohydrates allowed humans to grow a brain, the most voracious of any bodily organ, while maintaining their capacity for hard, excruciating work. The brain does not need to think to be useful. It serves its purpose when the most easily distracted fool in a group cries out Fire! and saves the others, who are concentrating on their task instead of looking.
No wonder that sugars, who may elevate the fool to the status of saviour, belong to any kind of religious worship, whether in the form of bread and wine or in the foodist cult of the spaghetti monster, the ultimate form of which is achieved in spaghetti ice-cream. This sort of candy might in turn be taken for the ultimate in transsubstantiation available to contemporary consumers.
A wall is there to prohibit entrance. Something behind it remains off-limits, just as Candy Art removes candy from the reach of the observer's desire.
Jens Lorenzen's Wall conjures up images of fragmented posters, newspaper pages and cut-outs, book covers, visual content of every kind. But all these fragments, remembered and linked and completed by observer and artist alike, combine into an enclosure which, once the wall is completed by one final element linking its two ends, surrounds or excludes the observer depending on how it is assembled.
The wall may become a circular or meandering, convex or concave series of images either on the outside or the inside of a given space, the inside or outside of a garden wall, as in Paradise, with the forbidden fruit or candy at its centre, the forbidden fruit that myth will say triggered off human history.
Both Peter Anton's Candy Art and Jens Lorenzen's Wall therefore embrace the concept of prohibition, rendering it futile. What is shown as being off-limits, remains accessible. Forbidden things are there to take or leave. No injunction to do the one or the other is pronounced.
But to return to the sentimentality of it all.
Both a giant cone of ice-cream and a fragment of a film poster, Once Upon A Time in the West, for instance, involve a pleasurable kind of recognition. Revulsion may happen, but sentimental pleasure is the better option. In this practical sense, to evoke pleasure is both makers' aim. That pleasure may be off-limits to some, whether diabetic or too young to be allowed in the cinema, but it can still be shared. Jens Lorenzen recalls an epiphany in front of the poster for Sergio Leone's film. He was too young to see the film and shared in its appeal all the same. A fetish, after all, can represent pleasure denied as much or more often than pleasure fulfilled.
Jens Lorenzen's Wall and the elements it is composed of or broken into represents the pleasure of recognition and memory, it involves the way we remember. If nothing could be recognized, the Wall would still offer analogies and symbols that could be linked intuitively, by the observer as well as by the maker combining them into fragmentary images of possible memories.
The pleasure of recognition in the case of Peter Anton's Candy Art implies a memory of taste, although the art-work is tasteless, in a practical, not an esthetic sense, unless it is the Beautiful that counts, since Candy Art is beautiful and tasteful in all its artificiality. Still, since beauty may be judged no longer to be esthetically correct, I refrain from entering more deeply into a discussion involving both the concepts of tastelessness and of tastefulness on any imaginable level. Just to single out the colour pink, I remember with pleasure the slogan of the fashion editor in Funny Face, starring Audrey Hepburn, a film that may be quoted here because it represents a perfectly unreal reality:
When asked why she alone of all the employees of her fashion magazine does not wear pink, she says: "I wouldn't be caught dead in it." Which goes to show that artists may be perfectly sincere while not following the rules they lay down for the observor, the client, the buyer to embrace.
In any case, the two artists approach colour differently. One represents a bill-board- and neon-sign-infested reality, the other an older or less obstrusive reality, where fences and walls are plastered over with paper or printed matter of every kind. Bill-boards or neon signs stand alone, a fence or a wall encloses space.
Peter Anton uses colour as a solid, unchangeable fact about his objects. Jens Lorenzen paints colour as it drains away, splashes out and generally speaking, misbehaves compared to its original use. His colours have been exposed to wind and weather, while his paintings are not.
Jens Lorenzen's Wall belongs to the space outside. Peter Anton's Candy Art belongs to the space inside. Their collaboration in the rooms of one exhibition, at Stuttgart, follows this idea.