Adam Phillips, the British psychoanalyst and essayist, has said that poetry’s distinction is its lack of market value. Whereas we can attribute “impure” motives to the visual artist or novelist, the only reason for writing a poem is that the poet really wants to write it. Karl Holmqvist’s first exhibition at Galerie Neu suggested that poetry’s “impoverishment” may be a critical remove from which to contemplate art’s relation to the market. His exhibition “EQ UI LI BR IU M” encompassed two almost identical presentations—at Galerie Neu and its sister space, MD72, which Neu has used as a project space to show the work of artists not in their stable. The simultaneous showings were emblematic: Holmqvist’s former Berlin gallery, Giti Nourbaksch, closed last year, and this first exhibition with new dealers represented a transition by straddling the established and experimental spaces. The doubling also suggested art production and, therefore, value creation.
Both locations were dominated by A Is for A=R=A=K=A=W=A (2012), a 47-minute film of concrete poetic phrases that appeared in white on black and were intoned on the soundtrack. A is for the performance artist Ei Arakawa. This proves to be the first in a series of name-drops—among them a band (The Durutti Column), an artist/ actress (Lydia Lunch) and a video-artist-turned-writer (Chris Kraus)—in which an artistic context is claimed. Formally, the white-on-black names parody the unrolling of Hollywood credits—a hierarchy of value and status within a big-budget medium. The name Chris Kraus echoes Kitty Kraus, one of many references to artists belonging to the Neu coterie. This would be obsequious were it not a parody of art-world value creation (hence the symmetry of “FOUND POUND”: “SOUND POETRY ” in the script), which Holmqvist is subject to and profiting from, even as he mocks.
The phrases implying confinement—”EXIT THE WORD PRISON”; “KH” (the artist’s initials) made to rhyme with “THE CAGE”—and the installation of the film in a darkened space in which Holmqvist’s words resound are metaphors for the trapping of the artist within his own persona and the machinations of the system that promotes and manipulates it. Persona is not the same as subjectivity, and Holmqvist says “THE ARTIST IS PRESENT” in a robotic voice parodying the evasion of self. His awkward English resembles that commonly used in art films by opportunistic non-native English-speaking artists intending to give their work greater currency and reach.
At both sites, the film is complemented by checkerboard “paintings” made of black or silver tape on wooden panels, and a model of a go-go dancer’s platform, sealed in silver foil and rimmed by bulbs. Everything, as the reflective foil implied, was a mirror of something else—the two shows of each other; the checker paintings of each other and the game boards they resemble; the artists’ names of one another—as the art objects were reducible to simple signs in the viewer’s mind. Holmqvist parodies the market’s reduction of art-works (and artists) to tokens of their own value by doing the reducing himself.
Holmqvist’s satire on the incestuous self-referentiality of the contemporary art ecosystem, its “I’m in with the in-crowd” assertions of mutually confirmed value, is precariously balanced between indulging in the networking he mimics and questioning it. That his checkerboards are jokes on painterly formalism—an exclusive system of ludic logic—does not detract from their seductiveness as art commodities. The conjunction is, of course, the point.
PHOTO: Karl Holmqvist: A Is for A=R=A=K=A=W=A, 2012, single- channel video, approx. 47 minutes; at Galerie Neu.