Christoph Knecht’s first solo exhibition at Galerie Rupert Pfab, ‘Monday Shrimp Club’, transformed the gallery’s white cube into a home, richly decorated, furnished and perfumed. Admittedly, it was kind of an odd home. Its walls adorned with porcelain tiles and paintings of mysterious lands, oddly shaped creatures and feet with eyes, vitrines stocked with peanut skulls and chopped cow legs, it appeared to be less the home of the 30-year-old white, middle-class German who put it together than that of a bunch of colonialist eccentrics, or that weird fellow from Fifty Shades of Grey (2011) and his family. But it was a home nonetheless, put together with care, invested with personality, with memories and aspirations, warmly lit and smoothly scented.
As far as homes go, it wasn’t big, barely covering the gallery’s two rooms. The intriguing thing was that its furnishings evoked more than one inhabitant or, for that matter, multiple ethnicities, classes and historical periods. The various maps on the walls (Untitled, 2013) suggested a history of migration, of comings and goings, of elsewheres and herewiths. In a large-scale painting of a foot and a similar image made on ceramic tiles (both Untitled, 2013), there were clear allusions to both ancient Oriental medicine and to Western colonialism. The outlines of the feet were filled in with depictions of limbs (eyes, ears, fingers), organs (such as hearts, brains, kidneys and livers) and joints, evoking the Chinese science of pressure points. The material in the latter work, blue- and white-painted tiles, conjured up that nasty history of colonialism which would culminate in Delftware. The aluminium Toast Hawaii (2013), with its cheese-covered pineapple, exemplified Germany’s midcentury bourgeois longing for the exotic, while the mock-Brussels lace framing grainy pictures of foreign flowers (Untitled, from the series ‘Plant of Opportunities’, 2012) brought to mind a similar cultural hybridity.
Taken together, these works were a clear condemnation of the Western cultural appropriation of the Orient. Yet, strangely, they also exuded a sense of hope. They invoked cultural alliances that have yet to attain their full potential: in the feet painted on porcelain, for example, the limbs, organs and joints were put together almost like a rebus, a code that still needed deciphering. It wasn’t Western, exactly, nor was it Chinese. It formed a new language, both critical and hopeful, banal and mysterious, kitsch and overpowering. Perhaps these juxtapositions were most clearly symbolized by a bronze incense holder shaped like a penis (Incense Holder, 2013). On its own, the sculpture would have been a puerile joke (although, to be honest, I still might have laughed). Yet in relation to the rest of the show, Incense Holder brought together, inexplicably and uncomfortably, all the influences in the room, ranging from spirituality to late capitalism, eroticism to pornography, violence and pleasure, fertility and vulgarity, the exotic and the banal – and turned them into an object that pertained to another reality, steeped in the past and the present but evocative of the future.
With ‘Monday Shrimp Club’, Knecht placed himself squarely in a generation of artists that are affiliated with what is sometimes called metamodernism, Generation A or the New Sincerity. What Knecht shares with artists like Yael Bartana and Šejla Kameric´, as well as with recent initiatives like Occupy and the Taksim Square protests, is that he treats public space – with equal measures of sincerity and irony, opportunism and critical distrust – as if it were his private sphere. Earlier generations of artists often tended to either turn public issues into private matters, or take personal idiosyncrasies onto a public stage. Knecht invites the audience into his public discussion as if it were his private sanctuary – serious but safe, critical yet non-judgmental, forgiving. Here, the artist politely welcomed the audience into his home – the public sphere – where we were left to learn its new codes.