Shouldn’t it be ‘next of kin’? Paying homage to Next of Kin, Atom Egoyan’s movie from 1984, the oddly shifted preposition of ‘Next to Kin’s tries to make a statement: it questions the importance of biologically determined human relations. This approach can only be embraced; I always thought Pier Paolo Pasolini had a point when he proclaimed the family to be the smallest terrorist unit.
Openly privileging selection over familial bonds, this show, in its best moments, built up a tension that served its subject well. The largest of Katharina Wulff’s three paintings, Der Waldspaziergang (The Walk in the Forest, 2002), depicted six figures on a Sunday outing, frozen in a beautifully coloured moment of familial sordidness. Two children – a limp-wristed boy and his slightly older sister – overseen by their concerned mother and two men with omitted faces, evoked a space of quiet accord. Meanwhile, however, one of the men is reaching deep into a wide gash in the back of another sister’s dress (evoking Sandro Botticelli’s disturbing 1483 ‘Nastagio degli Onesti’ cycle), charging the whole scene with incestuous implication.
With Die nächste Begegnung wollen wir dem Zufall überlassen (Our Next Encounter Will Be Left to Chance, 2006) Julian Göthe contributed a compelling sculptural object resembling a massive candelabra, that was threatening in its black, razor-sharp, vertical form. Pieced together from conflicting parts – blocky elements with alternating concave and angular facets stacked atop bevelled posts – the sculpture’s furniture-like supports add a swivelling, almost futuristic effect to this object, transforming it into an aggressively dominant figure. The law of the father may be austere and draconic, but it also sets up possible detours within the intertwined structures of desire.
Josef Strau’s lamp sculptures, Nazis of Suburbia and Teapot (both 2006), were placed on the floor, each accompanied by a text. One of the narratives implied the same kneeling movement that the visitor had to replicate in order to pick up a copy of the text: a fantasy involving the narrator tasting cat food, then undergoing a delayed kind of mirror stage that forces identifications on him of much-loathed socio-historical figures such as ‘the bohemian’ or ‘a Prussian officer’.
But it was Lukas Duwenhögger’s Frieda Sembach-Krone und ihre Favoritin Celeste (Frieda Sembach-Krone and her Favourite Celeste, 2006) that dominated the show – if only by sheer size and painterly gorgeousness. The grande dame depicted in the painting was the charismatic head of a famous German circus clan. Here she appears wearing a long black robe adorned with a row of shimmering buttons, commanding a docile elephant to lift her foot. The midday lighting, a smoking chimney in the background and an overall sedateness all emanate a confident metaphysical gleam.
‘The child’ was the central reference point for the exhibition. While Wulff understands the child as a potential victim of a dire parental regime, in Duwenhögger’s painting children are present only as the imagined audience of the attractions the taut circus mistress has to offer. Although the circus has never had much appeal for me, here it served as a metaphor for all things grandiose, desirable or promising.
The actual results of ‘Next to Kin’ may not even have come close to the idea of exuberance and fervour that Duwenhögger – the force behind the show – had in mind, because on one level it was just a vehicle for some of the gallery’s artists, such as Lucy McKenzie and Stefan Thater. The initial idea, however – dislocating the familial from a ‘queer’ perspective – was perfectly rendered by the invitation card, which was collaged by Duwenhögger. In it, Aubrey Beardsley’s Ali Baba (1897) appears holding a nude male child, attended by a young woman, reclining and smoking, while a three-mast ship served as a symbol for insatiable yearning.
Compared to the rather swanky and naively historicist ‘Das Achte Feld’ (The Eighth Square), which took place at the Museum Ludwig concurrently, ‘Next to Kin’ reached far beyond the notions of identity and a troubled past conquered celebrated there. It dreamt of a defiance and disdain of narcissistic investment, the self-righteous and the necessary.