Klaus Weber, "Shape of the Ape"
Thu Jan 17 2008
Photograph: Courtesy Andrew Kreps Gallery
Time Out Ratings :<strong>Rating: </strong>3/5
Klaus Weber’s aptly titled installation draws rich associations from what at first appears to be a celebration of kitsch. The show features 31 statuettes of an ape sitting atop a pile of books while vacuously pondering a human skull. Some are made of plaster, others metal; one functions as a candlestick, another as a cigarette lighter. All are based on an 1893 work by the obscure German-Jewish sculptor Hugo Rheinhold and each was purchased by Weber on that cornucopia of dreck: eBay.
According to photographs taken from documentary sources and displayed behind the gallery’s front desk, Lenin kept a version of Rheinhold’s piece on his desk; another was retrieved from a downed Nazi plane. Considered with their eBay provenance, these objects raise questions about how art and ideas are distributed and diffused, and given the variations between the statuettes, how consumption degrades accuracy and originality.
More potently, Rheinhold’s original parodies Darwin, whose name is inscribed on one of the books, by suggesting that the human intellect raises us above our simian cousins. Weber’s references to Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany indicate, however, that despite such pretensions, ours is a bestial world. If art is incapable of distinguishing us, he seems to ask, what might its function actually be? He makes this point too obviously, however, with the large, smashed version of Rheinhold’s sculpture strewn across the floor. Here, a human skull and and ape’s head can be interchanged—but we knew that already.