A Massive Sculpture Accumulates the Detritus of a Lifetime


These five stunning installations, all autobiographical anti-monuments, form a strikingly clear coda to MOMA’s overdense Roth retrospective; see them last if you want to end your consideration of the maverick Swiss multimedia dynamo’s career on a high note. Garden Sculpture (1968-96) originated as a simple bust of the artist, cast in chocolate and seeds and left outside to be picked at by passing birds. But Roth kept tinkering, adding a wooden armature, as well as paintings and drawings that gradually disintegrated under the wind and rain, and whose remnants he boiled, labeled in jars, and incorporated into the ever expanding oeuvre. Now over 60 feet long, this immense, multi-story, Tatlin-like contraption includes a tangle of houseplants, video monitors, dung bunnies, empty Campari bottles, and documentation of the sculpture’s continual reincarnation each time it’s shown in a different venue. (It comes complete with a workshop for its own construction.) Both an efficient machine for the making of new art from old and (surprisingly) a work of great formal beauty, Garden Sculpture resembles the ark of man’s life, drifting off to nowhere.

Solo Scenes (1997-98), filmed during Roth’s last years, while he was convalescing from the combined effects of lung disease and alcoholism at his homes in Iceland, Hamburg, and Basel, consists of 131 video monitors displaying fragments of the artist’s daily, intimate activities, as he showers, reads in bed, or spends time at his worktable. The work’s extreme sobriety (as moving as a late Rembrandt self-portrait) holds our voyeurism at bay with existential questions: What is a life? And what remains of it?