BY Tal Sterngast in Reviews | 18 MAY 12
Featured in
Issue 5

Asta Gröting

Carlier Gebauer

BY Tal Sterngast in Reviews | 18 MAY 12

Asta Gröting, The travelling carriage of Goethe, the Mercedes of Adenauer and my smart, 2012, installation view

Three soft polyurethane moulds – life-size casts of the underside of Johann von Goethe’s horse carriage, Konrad Adenauer’s car and the artist’s own smart brand car – lie flattened out on the gallery floor. With the wheels facing upwards, the vehicles evoke the disintegrating carcasses of massive animals, lying supine, feet in the air, half buried in the ground.

With this trio, Gröting recasts German history as an evolution of forms, influenced by nature, war and today’s low-intensity urban life. Yet as the technology develops, the forms get smaller, flatter and more forgetful. Die Reisekutsche von Goethe (Goethe’s Travelling Carriage, 2012)
– recast in beige polyurethane, complete with gentle curves – suggests the winding rural roads that he traversed in his well-documented voyages, especially to Italy.

Der Mercedes von Adenauer (Adenauer’s Mercedes, 2012) – a Type 300 from 1951 – served as the official state vehicle for most of Adenauer’s term as Chancellor of West Germany (1949–1963). Adenauer is often portrayed as leading Germany out of the violence of World War II into a brave new economic miracle (Wirtschaftswunder). On the road to recovery, this opulent armoured limousine stays stuck in the past, since Mercedes-Benz produced cars for Adolf Hitler. Gröting reproduced this underbelly in black polyurethane and as thin cross sections which are layered on top of each other: a terraced topography of German virulence and forgetting.

Gröting’s own car – Mein smart (My smart, 2011), based on the model designed by Swiss watchmaker Swatch and produced by Mercedes-Benz – completes the trilogy while putting the artist into the chain of German history. The tiny car, while lacking glamour, enables practical intimacy for the contemporary (childless) couple who can always find a parking spot in the cramped urban streets. While the moulds of the carriage and Mercedes were made with a high-tech three-dimensional scan, the smart – Gröting’s proposal for feminine participation in a masculine history – was moulded by hand, after turning the car on its side. Gröting shows, almost didactically, how the drama and disaster of a historic life led to today’s flat, unadventurous and convenient existence.

Two older works – Abformung einer Familie (Cast of a Family, 2011), a bronze cast of Gröting’s own family, and Space Between Lovers / Unfolded (2008), a silicon mould of the space between a woman and a man, joined at and folded out flat from the genitals – counter the mechanical history of the vehicles with sentimentality, intimacy and warmth. From an art historical perspective, her soft monuments correspond to Claes Oldenburg’s soft Pop statues as well as conceptual acts of burial, from Sol LeWitt’s Buried Cube (1968) to Robert Smithson’s Partially Buried Woodshed (1970) and even Mark Dion’s archaeological diggings (such as Rescue Archaeology at MoMA, 2005). Those conceptual works were invested in processes of disintegration, oblivion and erosion, but there is nothing organic about the works lying on the floor in Gröting’s exhibition. Silicon and polyurethane – synthetic and highly resilient materials – remain immune to the natural processes of wear and tear.

Tal Sterngast works as a writer and artist in Berlin.