What exactly is an art detective? That is a question to ask Ramon Haze, a curator, collector, and creator of certain artworks now on view in an exhibition at KOW in Berlin. Not only a collector and artist, Haze refers to himself as an art detective, meaning the phrase exactly as it sounds: one who uncovers artworks and/or facts thereabout. When viewing “The Cabinet of Ramon Haze” with information provided by the gallery, visitors are told they are standing amongst precious art objects, including models for Brancusi sculptures, nine Duchamp Fountains (which, according to the story, Haze discovered in a basement in Dresden), and an early Jeff Koons, entitled Two Ball Equilibrium Tank (1984), which is in a dilapidated state.
However, viewing the show, it remains unclear if Haze is, in fact, a real person. An “exact replica” of his living room—complete with bookshelves, armchairs, a coffee table, a record player, and a vinyl collection—serves as the entrance to the exhibition (one must literally climb through an armoire to enter “the cabinet”), and visitors are even told that Haze will occasionally sit in the room, smoking cigarettes. It’s a compelling introduction, enough to induce some faith in the 154 objects presented as a “preeminent collection of the art of the twentieth century.”
At first, I was tempted to believe the show. I was impressed by the lack of care for the Koons (two volleyballs covered in dirt, resting in an empty tank lined with layers of grime, opposed to what should’ve been two pristinely preserved volleyballs); slightly skeptical of the story of discovering Duchamp’s lost Fountains, but then consumed by it; and intrigued by Peter and Marlis Steinholz’s abstract homages to Munch and Hitler, titled, respectively, Prelude to Modernity (Homage to Edward Munch) (1958) and We were not aware of that (1959).
But after encountering a set of eight sculptures, chemically lined with silver, that would purportedly implode upon touch, it became impossible to overlook certain oddities. After asking how the objects were transported to the rusty shelves where they now rest, a gallery attendant said, “By specialists, I think, with white gloves.” Ah yes, white gloves solve all issues regarding potential implosions. Suddenly everything seemed in doubt, and nothing made sense.
It became clear that a video screening in the living room, which is supposedly a “guided tour of the collection” that KOW has “by sheer luck,” is merely digital footage poorly edited to appear archival (added grain, awkward color filters). When asked what year the video was made, the same gallery attendant replied “1996,” although at one point the recorded tour guides discuss an artwork made in 2005. As for Koons, he never made equilibrium tanks with volleyballs, only with basketballs. And finding information from a 2009 exhibition in which “Haze” was featured finally revealed that the artists presented as his “assistants,” Holmer Feldmann and Adreas Grahl, are actually the masterminds behind his entire existence.
None of this is said to denounce the show—quite the opposite. “The Cabinet of Ramon Haze” forces viewers to consider the art objects at hand critically and subsequently reflect on the presentation and trajectory of art history. It reinforces the fact that if you believe everything you read, you’ll be proven a fool. It is a cabinet full of mind-twisting curiosities.