"High Preistess of a New Ethnohybridism"
The press on Wangechi Mutu at the Deutsche Guggenheim
As Deutsche Bank’s "Artist of the Year," Wangechi Mutu transformed the Deutsche Guggenheim into a spectacular gesamtkunstwerk. Her first major show in Germany not only elated the public, but the press as well.
There were posts for My Dirty Little Heaven on Facebook, Twitter, and in numerous blogs; Arte and Vernissage TV reported on the show; the financial service Platow Brief recommended its readers visit the exhibition; Focus recommended the edition; and international magazines and newspapers from the Wall Street Journal to the Zambia Post reported on Wangechi Mutu and her project for Berlin. Only seldom has a show at the Deutsche Guggenheim inspired such an enormous reaction. Even the boulevard press wrote about My Dirty Little Heaven—with headlines like "Evil lurks in these pictures" (Bild) or "Her palette is porno" (BZ). The two largest German art magazines reported in a more judicious fashion: In Monopol, Claudia Steinberg characterized the figures in Mutu’s paper works as "female figures of damaged beauty (...) collaged and painted chimera that triumph over grotesque anatomy and mutilation." For Claudia Bodin of Art, "her works revolve around femininity, particularly of African women reduced to exotic sex symbols, and the way the media play with these images." Art in America dedicated a lengthy portrait to the artist on the occasion of her two exhibitions at the Deutsche Guggenheim and the Art Gallery of Ontario. "Mutu’s work is informed by important social and cultural issues," writes Stephanie Cash, "but leaves the ugly truths for the surrounding discourse, even though there are hints in the works, such as stereotypical depictions of ‘exotic’ Africans. Many viewers simply admire her fantastical compositions and never deduce the subtle critique at play." For Astrid Mania of Artnet, Mutu’s critical subject matter is completely obvious: "Wangechi Mutu’s collages are mirrors that reflect the western viewer’s gaze of the African woman."
Eva Karcher of German Vogue views Mutu as a "high priestess of a new ethnohybridism in the spirit of the great Hannah Höch" owing to her "polymorphous perverse hermaphrodites and the surreal glamour" that defies all acquiescence to prevailing patterns of representation. Nicola Kuhn of the Tagesspiegel also sees an affinity with the Dada artist: "Hannah Höch would have enjoyed this artist. (…) Deutsche Bank elected Mutu to be their ‘Artist of the Year;’ later, an entire floor of the Frankfurt main branch will be installed with her work. The bank has brought the troublemaker home, even if she’s an attractive one." "The jury should be applauded for awarding this prize to an artist that’s virtually unknown in Europe," says Ingeborg Wiensowski in her portrait of the artist for KulturSpiegel. "Deutsche Bank has voted Wangechi Mutu to be their ‘Artist of the Year,’" Peter Richter adds in the FAS, "and that should already be applauded because it will bring about interesting feedback in Berlin, where the Dadaists like Hannah Höch gave the collage form its first bloom—and always with some African sprinkled in."
To Gabriela Walde of the Berliner Morgenpost, Mutu seems like "the recycling lady of the global art establishment" and raves about her "hybrid universe in which everything seems to mix—a challenge to the European eye." In the online issue of Art, Kiti Nedo speaks of a "fluid universe" in view of the "ruthless and skilled" collages that "know more of the future of bodies and their societies than some viewers care to learn." Also for Harry Nutt (Frankfurter Rundschau), Mutu’s "disturbingly beautiful works" add up to a "kind of fictional cosmology." For Maria Grazia Meda of Vogue Italia, on the other hand, "Mutu makes us enter another dimension, where the frontier between dream and nightmare is weak." In the Süddeutsche Zeitung, Laura Weißmüller compares Mutu’s preferred artistic technique with one of her key themes: "The question of origin, of cultural identity repeatedly turns up. Yet similar to a collage, a complete answer cannot be had. The fragmented and reassembled is its nature."
In the Welt, Tim Ackermann underscores the visual power of Mutu’s installation in the Deutsche Guggenheim: "It recalls the innermost sanctuary of an unknown religious cult." And Rose-Maria Gropp of the FAZ stresses this aspect of My Dirty Little Heaven as well: "Everyone understands immediately, without a single word, this strong image in which need and waste coagulate." (…) In the poverty and misery that the installation speaks of, there is a glowing core of the unrealized, the germ of future transformation. Wangechi Mutu uses both pathos and irony: a black woman, highly educated, socialized in the west, with anger in her body and a message. It will be exciting to see where her creative force leads her.