March 28 – May 3, 2009 Vernissage: Friday, March 27, 7 PM
Janine Antoni, Joe Amrhein, Tracey Baran, Sanford Biggers, Laura Bruce, chameckilerner, Anne Chu, Spencer Finch, David Herbert, Joan Jonas, Nina Katchadourian, Yvette Mattern, Karyn Olivier, Joyce Pensato, Peggy Preheim, William Pope.L, Nadine Robinson, and Lawrence Weiner
Curated by Sabine Russ and Gregory Volk
in collaboration with Uta Grundmann
With masks and costumes, acrobatic feats and blinking lights, enticing signage and amusing attractions, Carnival Within – An Exhibition Made in America features eccentric American carnivalesque art in a time of profound anxiety, crisis, transformation, and renewal. 18 American and international artists from the US present eclectic works in a 3000 square meter space at the Uferhallen in Berlin, a former tram repair facility, making for an idiosyncratic version of the circuses and road shows that routinely crisscross America, and that have done so since the nineteenth-century traveling circuses of the famous showman P.T. Barnum and others. Excess, exaggeration, and free-spirited playfulness are intrinsic to this carnival art, but so too are thoughtfulness, social awareness, and keen political engagement. Many of the works, including videos, figurative sculptures, and textual wall pieces have an outsized, larger than life appeal, including Karyn Olivier’s functioning carousel (that has only one chair) and a giant emaciated Superman by David Herbert. Many circuses feature tightrope acts, and this carnival exhibition does too: Janine Antoni’s renowned video Touch, in which the artist, while walking a tightrope strung between two tractors on a beach in the Bahamas, also appears to be magically striding atop the distant horizon. Brazen, vivid, and colorful carnival signage is supplied by both Joe Amrhein’s hand-painted words and numbers on Mylar, and two language-based wall works by noted Conceptual artist Lawrence Weiner.
Mickey Mouse, clowns, Halloween costumes, performing bears, and Coney Island figure prominently in various works, while Nadine Robinson’s large seven-pointed star with over 500 blazing light bulbs references both the Bible and Las Vegas. However the exhibition is not meant to be a freewheeling pop culture spectacle. Instead, each work connects with circus gear and carnival tropes, but also explores complex personal and national matters, including issues of utopianism and its breakdown, racial assertion and conflict, and hopefulness mixed with raw doubt. In the process, the exhibition highlights how the idiosyncratic works of each artist are animated by a spirit of freedom and risk-taking adventure. After all, the carnival – whether it be a raucous annual celebration or a traveling road show – is about freedom, and freedom remains the enduring American ideal, even though, or perhaps especially when, it has been so sorely tested over the past several years.
Carnival Within – An Exhibition Made in America is the visual arts component of Discover Us!, which also includes a program of experimental jazz and experimental poetry from the United States.
A catalogue accompanying the exhibition will be published by the Verlag für moderne Kunst Nürnberg with photographs of the exhibition by Arwed Messmer and texts by Gregory Volk, Sabine Russ, Uta Grundmann, Thomas Irmer, Jed Rasula and Martina Siebert.