Josephine Meckseper’s photographs and mixed medium installations cunningly expose the links between politics and the consumer worlds of fashion and advertising. The artist grew up in an artistic family with ties to the revolutionary left (her father, artist Friedrich Meckseper, had anarchist inclinations and her mother has been an elected representative of the Green Party). After moving from Berlin to the United States, Meckseper studied at California Institute of the Arts, in Valencia, where she produced her first photographic and film work during the 1992 riots that followed the verdict in the Rodney King police brutality trial in Los Angeles. Continuous media coverage of the escalating tension between local African Americans and the Los Angeles Police Department turned the events into spectacle. Images of burning buildings, the looting of stores, bystanders getting beaten, and rioters firing at police alternated with advertisements on television news shows, prompting Meckseper to question the way protest culture is aligned with consumption and fashion in our media saturated age. Her signature installations involve various forms of display —sleek mirrored shelves, chromed glass vitrines— filled with eclectic scraps from consumer society and political culture. Riffing on shopwindow décor and ethnographic museum displays, these hybrid groupings comment upon the homogenous culture global capitalism has created and the leveling of differences in consumer society.
frieze magazine Published on 08/05/08
Josephine Meckseper at Elizabeth Dee gallery, New York by Kristin M. Jones
Josephine Meckseper has described herself as ‘an artist and a documentarian,’ but she’s never just one or the other. Marking the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, the German-born artist has assembled her trademark mirrored surfaces and faux consumer items into a car-lot-meets-fire-sale, ‘Total War Sales Event.’ The centrepiece is a glossy black platform on which stand three silver mannequins – a downbeat trio of doppelgangers for each of the presidential candidates. One is draped with a crucifix-emblazoned tie like a priest’s stole; another wears a T-shirt that reads, ‘If you love freedom thank a vet’; and the third stands before a walker on which stands a whisky bottle, a Bible, and an ashtray. One mannequin is missing an arm, while placards, including an image of a car, stand in for campaign propaganda. The show draws on Giorgio Agamben’s writings on ‘the state of exception’ (which have been used to explain Guantánamo), but how is not entirely clear, although a dramatic black-and-white American flag mural evokes raw power and various elements signal a curtailing of civil liberties and blurring of the line between war and peace
As in the past, Meckseper uses Elizabeth Dee’s shopfront-like windows to purvey art to passersby along with motley products and political signifiers. The glass is jaundiced, the windows framing pathetic junk arrayed on shelves that are motorized and tiered: on the left, Bankrupt (all works 2008) shows off such bargain-bin rejects as a tarred-and-feathered model of the Statue of Liberty, a foot in a fishnet stocking, and, perched on top, a black feather duster; on the right, We Quit, Going out of Business comprises a mini toilet plunger, a silver-painted rubber dog (the poor man’s Jeff Koons), cheap sandals, a Republican pin and a rumpled flag umbrella. The consumption of ideas is a recurring theme, but Meckseper comes up with the most interesting results when she works intuitively, incorporating snippets of mordant wit like the duster in Bankrupt – recalling the dark feathers that once waved on top of funeral carriages – or a puddle of dried vomit on the floor between the mannequins and a glossy backdrop. She’s best when she’s least like a documentarian.
Unfortunately, her tendency to revert to unveiling the obvious is glaringly apparent in the looped six-minute video 0% Down, a montage of sequences from bombastic television ads for gas-guzzling cars, all presented in sinister black and white and accompanied by a pounding, sepulchral soundtrack. Meckseper does expose a stormtrooper-like menace in these familiar images, but that aggression and space-annihilating speed has never lurked far beneath the ads’ slick surfaces. And, although its title bluntly evokes the current credit crisis, the video is so behind the curve it’s practically a period piece. At a time when SUVs are becoming widely associated with lust for oil and a recent poll has suggested that Bush is the most unpopular president in US history, few are buying what’s being sold at this tag sale, even at bargain-basement prices. To be fair, Meckseper seems to be saying that we’ve already mortgaged our most treasured values into near oblivion, but the injured and dead that keep streaming home from Iraq merit a less brittle critique.
New York, NY