Hauser & Wirth inaugurates its new 25,000-square-foot Chelsea location with a retrospective of the German Conceptualist Dieter Roth (1930–1998). Reenvisioned, and in some cases re-created, by son Björn, his work encompasses sculpture, painting, poetry, filmmaking and music, with every medium used to blur the distinction between Roth’s art and his life.
The Floor I and The Floor II are literally the floors removed from two of the artist’s studios, arrayed vertically besides each other like the sides of a giant ark. Self Tower is a column made of chocolate heads, formed as indistinct lumps instead of recognizable self-portraits. Standing more than 16 feet tall, it is matched by Sugar Tower, which features the same items created from the titular confection. You can watch the busts being fabricated on-site in New York Kitchen, which bustles with assistants stirring pots of melted chocolate and sugar as they cast likenesses of the artist.
Equally flamboyant is Large Table Ruin (1978), a Rube Goldberg–like collision of worktables, cigarette butts, dirty paintbrushes, puddles of spilled pigment, movie projectors, reels of film and a bookcase stuffed with empty beer bottles. It’s a classic vision of the mad artist at work. But to watch this particular madman in action, spend some time with Solo Scenes, a wall of video monitors playing vignettes from the last year of the artist’s life.
Thrilled as I was to see Roth’s art, I had the nagging feeling that the show was essentially an exercise in male entitlement. How many woman artists, after all, get to display their kitchens in grand galleries or parlay a bad-girl attitude into a huge career? Something to consider while exploring this layered and fascinating exhibition.—Barbara Pollack