'Retro Visage' was a lavish selection of over 100 works by Georg Herold from the 80s and 90s. A 'visage' means more than simply showing one's face: in German-speaking countries the French word has vulgar associations rather like the English word 'gob'. The French word 'viser' also means to look more closely, to aim. Thus this exhibition without describing itself as a conventional retrospective was something of a reassessment of Herold's career.
Walking through the winding pathways of the exhibition revealed the artist's expansive approach to ideas. Among his abundant use of materials, certain ones kept re-appearing: roof battens, water-mirrors, pictures painted in caviar, various wire structures, canvases with bricks and linguistic humour. The impoverished materials (apparently caviar used to be poor people's food) which Herold deploys in a rapid rhythm, remain as raw as they are in normal circulation. Herold uses the roof battens standard, cheap wood for fitted kitchens to create digital grids of lines which run through the space. At once referencing and deflating German intellectual history, 'Goethe' is written in large letters on a long batten leaning against the wall; next to it, another says 'Rather than some other shithead'. Adorno's aphorism about philosophy could be applied to this approach to art-making: it is the most serious thing in the world, but then again not that serious.
The tension between the scraps of words that make up the titles and the objects (which are often set up with a disarming directness), is a bit like the difference between being demure and talking dirty, opus and operetta, profundity and platitude. This is the case in Herold's colourful spider's web, for example, crocheted as an oven-cloth and mounted in an empty batten frame accompanied by the line: 'Mandelbrot fragen Sie mal meine Mutter' (Mandelbrot/almond bread? Just ask my mother, 1993). Herold's sarcastic and ironic humour places him within a German tradition that owes more to Heinrich Heine than Goethe.
'Retro Visage' fits in well with other exhibitions (particularly in Zurich) that have explored installation art with important work from the 60s and 70s by Paul Thek and Dieter Roth, for example. In this context Herold, along with Martin Kippenberger especially, is the missing link for 'interesting art from West Germany', as Herold ironically puts it, that extends into the 80s and 90s.
Translated by Michael Robinson