The Brooklyn Rail

APR 2011

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APR 2011 Issue


Detail installation view of <i>94: Henrik Olesen</i>. The Museum of Modern Art, NY.  Photo credit: Jason Mandella.
Detail installation view of 94: Henrik Olesen. The Museum of Modern Art, NY. Photo credit: Jason Mandella.

On View
Museum Of Modern Art
February 9 – May 23, 2011
New York

Since the mid-1990s, the Danish-born, Berlin-based artist Henrik Olesen has used collage, sculpture, and spatial intervention to investigate the social construction of identity and its historiography. On the second floor of the Museum of Modern Art, Olesen probes homosexuality’s criminalization, past and present, through the appropriation of source materials and contextual shifts. As viewed through the lens of neo-conceptualism, Dada, and Surrealism, the connotations of Olesen’s minimalist, often homoerotic gestures are revealed through text-based works as well as in collages and assemblages that evoke the lineage of Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, Francis Picabia, Max Ernst, and Joseph Beuys.

The introductory wall text includes a quote from Antonin Artaud: “When you will have made him a body without organs, / then you will have delivered him from all his automatic reactions / and restored him to his true freedom.” The room itself is a puzzle, filled with mechanical entities created, and it quickly becomes clear that what we are viewing is art for the mind. In fact, the artist reveals an inability to comprehend his own body. One running script displayed in two horizontal glass cases begins: “NO MOTHER” and then lists a number of body parts that seem to have gone missing: “NO MOUTH, NO TONGUE, NO TEETH.” Skirting illegibility and articulating the impossibility of realizing bodily integrity, Olesen presents a drawing of a container/machine (resembling Picabia’s mechanical drawings) with words in felt pen: “ON /OFF,” “SELFPRODUCTION,” and “PENIS.”

In a second vitrine, alongside digital prints, pages of a user’s manual, and some found objects, there is a text that reads, “My dear Mother, My dear Father, I hate to seem inquisitive. But could you kindly tell me who I am, I don’t believe in Mother, in Father, Got no PAPA-MAMA, I am not my mother, my father, my son, myself. Farewell my dear Father, Farewell Head, Knee, Leg, Thump. No Father, no legs, no feet, no eyes, no belly, no fist, no finger…” The effect is almost unearthly.

Another project, “Pre-Post: Speaking Backwards,” is a newspaper available for free in the middle of the gallery. The paper is a compilation of gay and lesbian criminalization throughout history as well as a series of cut-ups using conceptual texts. Here, the artist lists American “revolutionaries” noted for liberating gay art and homoerotica, citing painters such as Charles Demuth and Paul Cadmus, filmmaker Jack Smith, and the music and dance icons John Cage and Merce Cunningham. Taking a global view, Olesen notes that some 40 countries criminalize same-sex relationships while 40 additional countries forbid sexual relations “between men only.” In at least seven countries, according to Olesen’s records, the maximum penalty is death.

Project 94 is Olesen’s first U.S. solo museum show. This emerging young artist created most of the work specifically for this installation, which was organized by Doryun Chong, Associate Curator, Department of Painting and Sculpture at MoMA.


The Brooklyn Rail

APR 2011

All Issues