posted 2012-03-07 20:05:20

Trockel at the Artist’s Institute

The gallery focuses on the artist’s work for the semester

Maria Hernandez, Contributing Writer

Spiral Betty by Trockel. Photo courtesy of Google.com
The Artist’s Institute, Hunter’s storefront gallery on the Lower East Side, has opened its fourth season with Rosemarie Trockel, a prolific German contemporary artist. Each season, the Artist’s Institute focuses on a single artist, presenting her work in a unique space meant to foster critical considerations of the works at hand.

Rosemarie Trockel’s eclectic work spans a variety of media, including paint, sculpture and textiles. She is one of the more significant German artists of her generation, appearing in galleries internationally and being written of widely for more than 30 years. Her work carefully touches on politics without explicitly asserting any single perspective.

At the Institute now is her piece Spiral Betty. The title is perhaps an allusion to Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, a 1,500 foot land sculpture of a spiral that extends into the Great Salt Lake. The form of Trockel’s piece references Smithson’s piece, as well as the work of minimalist artist Dan Flavin, who worked extensively with fluorescent lights.

Spiral Betty is an elegant sculpture that stands on the far wall of the one- room gallery. The sculpture consists of a fluorescent tube from which two spirals emerge out of, with both spirals shaped like Smithson’s Jetty. The piece glows in white against a black wall. The crowning spirals hint at femininity, juxtaposed against a luminous, fluorescent body.

The effect of placing this lone piece in a white art space is, in a sense, disorienting. A single painting in a gallery hangs on the wall, depending on the wall for its presentation. A single, freestanding sculpture often commands the space differently, transforming the piece into a mere container. Spiral Betty, however, elegantly hangs on the wall as neither a painting nor a free-standing sculpture, and instead occupies a middle space between the two. The work is dependent on its physical context and yet it also acts on that context, recalling the generative properties of woman, and the middle-voice between active and passive, and receptive and assertive, which French feminist Hélène Cixous wrote about as a space of feminine empowerment. The room does not contextualize Spiral Betty; rather, Betty shines light on the room with a laconic feminism.

This reticent engagement with concepts familiar to postmodernism is common within Trockel’s work. According to e-flux magazine, Trockel and her work “proposed an alternative to rigid formalism and expressive painting at the beginning of the 1980s, and thus laid the foundations for what became postmodernism.” The breadth of work and diversity of talent that Trockel has displayed over the past 30 years exemplifies this limber and provocative conceptual approach.

Her large weave prints of the hammer and sickle exemplify this well. Combining techniques native to pop art and the language of communism, she makes a compelling and yet ambivalent social statement. Is she criticizing homogeneity in comparison with industrial mass production? Is she commenting on the production of the subject in and through the mode of production?

Trockel’s work consistently challenges the viewer to actively engage the critical language she both utilizes and subverts, or appropriates but recontextualizes. Throughout her oeuvre, she transforms her style and message, moving across media and drawing from numerous visual languages. Her stylistic restlessness is indicative of the always developing creative brilliance which maintains her relevance in the international art world.

The rest of the space is bare, with the exception of a fireplace, a table, an espresso machine, and a substantial library dedicated to the work of Rosemarie Trockel and related artists.The Art Institute exhibits a new piece every six weeks. Keep an eye on theartistsinstitute.org for upcoming events and exhibits.