BY Verena Kuni in Reviews | 11 NOV 98
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Issue 43

Lady's Choice: Monika Baer and Paul McCarthy

BY Verena Kuni in Reviews | 11 NOV 98

Following 'Zuspiel' (Pass the Ball), 'Damenwahl' (Lady's Choice) is the second series of double-feature exhibitions being brought to a number of German institutions by the Siemens cultural programme. Curator Matthias Winzen had been criticised for 'Zuspiel', intended to bring together 'more established' artists and those of a younger generation, for its inclusion of only two women in a selection of 12 exhibitors. After this, the concept of 'Damenwahl' comes across as a half-hearted escape clause, and helplessly, or rather cynically, the press release tells us that it is one of the 'innovations in the national and international art world of the 80s and 90s that more women are confidently and successfully working as artists than ever before'. But this supposed newly-found confidence is undermined by the very title of the series: in dances, lady's choice is merely an exception that serves perfectly to consolidate gender rules. Appropriately, the invited 'ladies' were 'advised' to choose well-known male colleagues as partners, while female couplings were excluded from the outset. The 'inhibited role- and social plays' that the press release wisely anticipates are thus programmatically perpetuated.

Dusseldorf-based painter Monika Baer - the first to be invited - was fortunate with her choice though, for she and her dancing partner Paul McCarthy know well how to deal with postulated 'inhibited role- and social plays'. In 1995, Baer saw an excerpt from a weekly newsreel of 1945, showing a performance by the Salzburg Marionette Theatre for Allied Forces. One scene, depicting the six-year-old Mozart's concert at the court of Empress Maria Theresa, fascinated Baer immediately - not least because of the strange way that the historic play, enacted in front of an affectionately painted baroque scene, was contorted by the laboured English, spoken with a heavy Austrian accent, and the black-and-white documentary style. After Baer discovered that the play is still performed with the same puppets and sets to this day, she went to Salzburg to make sketches and drawings. The pictures that developed over the following two years constitute Baer's contribution. The first 'Mozart Paintings' still seem to be entirely focused on the topic of puppet play, managing to interlace the mechanism of the marionette - Mozart at play on the clavicembalo - with the corset of its historical costume. The later pictures, however, open up a panorama in which Baer contrasts the tamed social scenario with an increasingly uninhibited style of painting. The group of courtiers remain gathered around the pale, luminous figure, the tender little genius-child who is already his own freeze-framed myth, while the delicate textures of the wall tapestry start to oscillate and eventually take on a life of their own - floating colour streams, moved by invisible music. The pictures are thus about the power of tradition and the release of a potential countercurrent by means of art.

Paul McCarthy's Bunk House (1995-96) and its puppet-play of noisy, rude Disyneyworld mechanics at first seem harshly to oppose the tender timbre of the 'Mozart Paintings'. But astonishingly quickly a set of interrelations develops between the controlled stage of an art intended for courtly society and the brutal fuck scenario of the dog-headed cowboy penetrating the eye socket of his kneeling partner in the claustrophobia of the wooden hut. The figurines of the marionette theatre seem to be held less by their strings than by a numbing tradition that shackles them even in the moving presence of music, fixing every imaginative thought into a straitjacket. In very much the same way, the two sleepers in Bunk House are prisoners of their obsessive nightmare of mechanised sexual fantasy, effectively primed by the noise of repetitive motion as the wooden hut moves on its metal tracks.

But there is another correspondence on a more surprising level - that of painting. Against all expectations, the palette of the 'Mozart Paintings' seems to mirror the scene of the Bunk House: the glaring flickering of tapestry finds its luminous green reflected in the latticed gate-work that fences in the rolling hut, while the warm colours of the woollen blanket under which the sleepers rock, answers the rosy shades of the marionettes' baroque costumes, creating a feel of vulnerability in the midst of roaring brutality.