Kunst Gruppe Adores Neon


Don’t let the name fool you: There’s nary a Teuton featured in Werkstätte Gallery’s new exhibit—painting, drawing, and sculpture from the nine-artist Kunst Gruppe collective. The show is more Pop Art than Bauhaus Constructivism, more Roy Lichtenstein than Klimt, more Larry Poons than Neo Rauch. Karyn Larkin’s curatorial sensibilities are, in fact, curiously un-German.

“I happen to adore neon,” Larkin piped, when I asked about Clare Brew’s minimalistic luminescent shafts, which cohabitate in good faith with Sebastian Blanck’s figurative collages. And just like that, the pleasure principle returns to the near-death experience that has become the New York art scene. Blanck’s photorealism is stratified, layered onto the acrylic canvas, seditiously rebelling against the boundaries of realism. Sidling up to Blanck, you’ll find one of David Malek’s potent Op Art pieces, Seraphim Wings, an effulgent light study in enamel.

Would that more curators provided artgoers with shows intended to “define the artistic sensibility” of a gallery in the current stew. This one’s even more remarkable for what it isn’t: Here, there’s no stuttering repetition, no pious attempt to tell us what excretory manifestations are appropriate in the age of deconstructive dissatisfaction. And, best of all for a new space (this is only Werkstätte’s fourth exhibition), there’s no video. In that sense, this contemporary collective feels almost avant-garde.

Using pipe brushes, Don Porcella has made a hilariously irreverent sculpture of a brat, Art Lover, sticking its tongue out at the artist’s own wood-panel paintings. Towering at the back of the gallery are Misaki Kawai’s campy mixed-media canvases of coiffed, reptilian dandies of war and their feline Svengalis. Kawai, 29, is famous for her crazy-quilt patchwork airplane miniatures, and here she establishes herself as one of the most craftily polyvalent artists of her generation.

While I wasn’t entirely won over by all the work on display, most notably Robert Kitchen’s hipster watercolors (including a boozed-out portrait of Devendra Banhart), Werkstätte offers a timely reminder that this generation hasn’t lost millions fighting in the trenches. Brash and iconoclastic, the Kunst Gruppe show blows like an invigorating Mistral headwind, leaving the anemic dog of postmodernism in its wake, gnawing on its own tail.