Norbert Bisky, "What's Wrong with Me?"
Thu Dec 13 2007
Photograph: Courtesy Leo Koenig
Time Out Ratings :<strong>Rating: </strong>3/5
It’s hard to revel in Norbert Bisky’s reinterpretations of Soviet propaganda if you have an aversion to kitsch. Like many artists who grew up in the former GDR—most notably Neo Rauch—Bisky’s confrontation with the aesthetic and ideological legacy of socialist realism is intentionally channeled through an ironic vulgarization of avant-garde art. Embracing iconic images of handsome, athletic youths and promises of a proletarian collective, Bisky turns this idealized visual universe on its head by revealing the carnal (mostly homoerotic) desires it repressed for over half a century.
In Save Our Souls and Immaculate, Bisky’s private utopia is filled for the most part with men (women make an occasional appearance) engaged in sexual acts with their mouths agape, and often splattered with white liquid—demonstrating the practice the Japanese refer to as bukkake. Such representations of kinky sex swiftly subvert the official Soviet models of masculinity (e.g. the heroic military man and industrious laborer), but there is a wider dimension to Bisky’s critique. In an iconographic free-for-all that includes a crucified Jesus in Levitation, the Apocalypse in Aquageddon and Baroque architecture in Besezt, Bisky points to the instability of art-historical styles as much as to the volatility of belief systems. Like countrymen Sigmar Polke and Gerhard Richter, Bisky uses global pop culture to engage with a specific East German experience of totalitarianism. While his unrepentant use of kitsch both replays and criticizes the seductive strategies of propaganda, it doesn’t make his images any easier to swallow.