Hans-Peter Feldmann's playful form of conceptual art isn't easy to categorise, which is a knowing irony given that categories of objects and images, arranged and recontextualised into different forms of display, comprise a large element of what the artist does. Among the works in this major Serpentine gallery exhibition are 68 small photos of individual strawberries pinned to the wall, titled 'A pound of strawberries', a stack of five Homburg hats – four black and one dark blue (untitled), an oriental rug on a plinth, on which sits an assortment of plastic zoo animals (untitled), two painted statues – one of Michelangelo's 'David', the other a represenation of Eve holding the apple and a collection of portrait drawings of Feldmann, undertaken by different Spanish street artists.
What is one to make of it all? And what is Feldmann showing us, either about himself or ourselves? There's certainly a gentle humour in Feldmann's framing and re-presenting of aspects of the world around him and also a democratisation of fine art and the everyday – other artworks featured here include fifteen framed paintings of seascapes, some signed, some not, each depicting only stormy waves and sky. But with most works without titles and none of them dated it's deliberately left to the viewer to make their own associations and interpretations.
Born in Dusseldorf in 1941, Feldmann first became known in the late 1960s and 1970s for producing works, often in the form of artist books, that consisted of multiple images of the same or related objects: tools, mountains, 'Car radios while good music is playing', (although what that music might be is left to the viewer to imagine), women's lips and knees. While these appear somewhat dated now, accentuated by their almost-defunct format with series often conforming to the 36-shots in a roll of photographic film, they're among Feldmann's most engaging imagery. They still succeed in highlighting how much difference there is between subjects that are essentially all the same thing.
There may be no main themes here but an underlying curiosity in all things female does seem to be an ongoing interest for the artist. One of Feldmann's most recent works is an installation of five vitrines, each containing the items in a woman's handbag (bought form its owner by Feldmann), along with the bag itself. Each woman is identified only by her first name, city (presumably of residence or origin) and age. Again there's the compulsion to look for and question both similarity and difference in what is neatly laid out on display before us. Is it unusual, for example, that Oriane from Berlin (27 years) and Mari from New York (42 years) both use the same brand of tampon? Why was Mari carrying around an image of a pig, cut out from blue fabric? And were the kids's sweets in the bag once owned by Stephanie (Paris, 43 years) for her children or to satisfy a secret sugar craving of her own?
In a darkened installation at the back of the galleries Feldmann has curated objects in another way. On a table are eight separate arrangements of assorted items, including a model airplane, a wedding cake couple and a dolls house toilet, attached to revolving turntables. Each is spotlit from behind by a light inside a coffee tin, which projects onto the wall in front a moving shadow-play of seemingly dancing figures. There's both a magical element to this and a sense of the makeshift, not only in the use of materials but in the evidence of the work's making deliberately (one assumes?) left on display – from an empty water bottle to a screwdriver, hammer and electrical adaptor.
If there's a dissatisfaction in all these varied presentations of often quizzical arrangements it's that they can almost seem too tidy and contained. I wanted to see more of everything rather than less. One thought on that is maybe Feldmann is reminding us that we live surrounded by an increasing amount of stuff that we're constantly labelling, organising, adapting, trying to make use of and trying to make sense of. But maybe that says more about me than it does about the art.
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