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Double Old Fashion
Mathias Poledna’s New Film at the Portikus


The Portikus as "Black Cube": it’s still quite recent that Att Poomtangon flooded the Frankfurt exhibition space. Now, Mathias Poledna’s project has turned it into a darkened cinema, where the Los Angeles-based artist shows his new film "Double Old Fashion." The exhibition is supported by the Deutsche Bank Foundation, which has been funding projects at the Portikus on a regular basis since 1999.


The point of departure for Mathias Poledna’s new film Double Old Fashion is the Bar-Set designed by Adolf Loos, an ensemble of crystal glasses first manufactured in 1929 by the Viennese company L&J Lobmeyr. The set’s design is minimalist, yet expensively produced; it is considered to be a milestone in modernist design. In contrast with the ordinary glass sets of the time, in which the various parts were clearly differentiated and adorned with a flurry of exquisite details, each part of the Bar-Set is based on a single, extremely reduced basic form: the cylinder. This one form is taken through a spectrum of variations, whether it’s a whiskey, wine, or cordial glass. The various types of glasses differ only in height and circumference; the bottom of each glass is diamond-cut into delicate facets that cast subtle refractions of light. The Bar-Set, entirely in keeping with Loos’ famous polemic Ornament und Verbrechen (Ornament and Crime, 1908) dispenses with ostentation in design, stressing instead functionality and the perfection of craft in a superb material.

Poledna’s 16-mm film, however, eradicates this cultural historical background. Instead, the 20-minute work focuses entirely on the sensual presence of the Bar-Set. Slowly, hypnotically, the camera moves around the glasses. Hyper-aesthetic close-ups alternate with sober shots of the entire ensemble, which Poledna has arranged on a rotating surface before a black background. The result is a kind of choreography of objects in which the boundaries between abstraction, sober documentary record, and ad-like product presentation are blurred.

Mathias Poledna, born 1965 in Vienna, comes from a generation of artists who question the institutions and conditions of artistic production in reference to works of the 1960s and ’70s. Calling upon the collective memory, he investigates the possibilities of visualizing historical phenomena in political and pop-cultural contexts.

This also goes for the film Crystal Palace (2006), which was shown in 2009 in the Deutsche Bank-sponsored Three M Project at the New Museum in New York. The film consists of a series of static shots showing rain forest vegetation in New Guinea. The work’s title refers to the glass structure of the same name in which the various exhibits at the London World Fair were shown in 1891—foreign animals and plants arranged in scenes that were made to appear as exotic as possible. On the other hand, his 16-mm film Actualité (2001/2002) explores pop cultural phenomena. The film shows actors playing the part of musicians in a band whose outfits recall the post-punk style of the early 1980s. The camera slowly scans the "musicians," instruments, and amps, accompanied by a fragmentary song that repeatedly breaks off and starts again. In Actualité, the history of pop music appears as an amalgam of references and appropriations.

Poledna’s exhibition at the Portikus also bears references, at least indirectly, to the pop music of the 1980s. The poster and invitation cards depict pages from the British music magazine Melody Maker, Issue 17 from August 1985. One page is full of small ads from London recording studios, attesting to the vibrancy of the music scene there and the many bands hoping to become the next big thing. At first glance, the picture on the invitation card resembles a poster. It’s only the subtly printed word "advertisment" that reveals that it’s an ad. The motif seems odd at first, yet the young man in a suit and conservatively striped tie—who far more resembles a bank employee than a pop star—turns out to be Kevin Rowland, the charismatic singer and front man of Dexys Midnight Runners. For the album Don’t Stand Me Down that was newly released at the time, he and his band had adopted a completely new image of "clean and simple" in a departure from their earlier working-class soul boy look and a folklore phase—like the Bar-Set, so to speak.

Mathias Poledna
January 30 – March 21 2010
Portikus
Frankfurt am Main




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