BY Holger Liebs in Reviews | 09 SEP 99

Curated by Margit Brehm, 'Bad Bad - That is a good excuse' was held in a prestigious 1870s villa on the outskirts of the wealthy Southern German spa town of Baden Baden. The title of the exhibition was a deliberately ironic reference to the name of a place which is derived from the geriatric municipal thermal baths.

A question with four possible answers: 'What makes Andy Warhol's urine so admirable?

1. It is blue. 2. It is pink. 3. It is green. 4. It is invested in Wall Street shares.' The questionnaire by French artist group 'Musée Igor Balut' was a coquettish mixture of cultural criticism, mild provocation and despair about their own lack of knowledge. Reminiscent of Robert Rauschenberg's collages and Jonathan Meese's horror vacui installations, the questionnaire was placed in a tiny room crammed full of everyday utensils, posters, flags, photographs and various signs.

Using the resources of Pop Art of the last three decades to articulate allegories about the confusing late 90s is not a strategy unique to Musée Igor Balut - it's a thread that runs through the whole exhibition, along with references to bodily fluids of all kinds: anal fixation, death, massacre and global conflagration. Etymological studies of the word 'bad' correspond roughly with the period of art-historical reference covered by 'Bad Bad': from the label 'Evil Hero' that became attached to Marlon 'The Wild One' Brando in the 50s, via Hip-Hop's use of the word in the early 80s, which - not unlike the avant-garde movements of the early 20th century - changed the original stigmatising meaning into its opposite - the cool use of 'bad' as employed by Michael Jackson, for example. And so, of course, one of a Warhol Oxidation Painting (1978) is included in the exhibition, which the artist, in a variation of Pollock's drip paintings, created by peeing on a copper surface.

Asger Jorn wanted to set up a monument in honour of 'bad' painting with his transformations of flea market paintings into Goya-esque monster portraits (Choux, 1962). Francis Picabia said: 'If you want clean ideas, change them as often as shirts' (Spanish Lady with Child, 1922). Subsequent generations did their homework and turned transgression of all kind into household words.

And so what does 'bad' mean in the millionaires' sanatorium of Baden-Baden? Perhaps roughly what it means to look into the arsehole of John Isaacs' life-size ostrich burying its head in the sand and to find a globe (The Incomplete History of Unknown Discovery, 1998). Or to encounter John Miller's ensemble of dirty hypodermic needles, hot-water bottles, walking-sticks and medical packaging, all covered with his favourite material: heavy, brown impasto that could be - it's difficult to tell - shit or chocolate.

Numerous other key witnesses of omnipresent excess are assembled under the heading 'Bad': George Condo, Walter Dahn, Blalla W. Hallmann, Martin Kippenberger, Larry Poons and Julian Schnabel. It's impossible to know whether any of the contributors might want to follow Groucho Marx's example and refuse to be members of any club that was prepared to have them. It is incomprehensible why artists like Tony Oursler or Daniele Buetti are to be found amid exponents of excess inclining to the faecal and dirty; and, even more incomprehensible, why dirty jobs are presented as a purely male preoccupation - there are no women in the show. It is quite clear that this accumulation of names stirs the quality of individual works and the hipness of individual artists into a porridge of mainstream Abject art that is of dubious consistency. I left the exhibition feeling slightly unwell - which is appropriate and intentional. But then, when faced with such an overview of 'badness', it's useful to recall Georges Bataille's words: 'Excess is the exception, it is wonderful, a miracle'.

Translated by Michael Robinson

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