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Glamour and History: Douglas Gordon in Frankfurt

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Glamour and History
Douglas Gordon in Frankfurt


The Scottish artist Douglas Gordon became famous chiefly through his dark films and video installations. Now, two Frankfurt institutions dedicate an exhibition each to the Turner Prize winner. While the MMK presents a comprehensive overview of the artist’s work, the Portikus shows a collaborative project with the film artists Ross Birrell & David Harding, supported by the Deutsche Bank Stiftung.


Each night, the sun rose over the Portikus. Ever since the exhibition hall opened on the Main Island, Olafur Eliasson’s installation Light Lab has bathed the roof of the building in yellow light. Now, the sun is taking a break; instead, the skylight has been turned into a monumental projection surface for Douglas Gordon’s new film, which is visible far into the city of Frankfurt. It’s become a tradition that the professors of the Städelschule show at the Portikus. And now it’s Gordon’s turn, who has been teaching film there since 2010. Gordon conceived the current work especially for the Portikus as part of the exhibition You Like This Garden?, which he realized together with Ross Birrell and David Harding. In the film, Gordon makes reference to a text work Birrell and Harding have installed in the garden of the Portikus. The exhibition project is supported by the Deutsche Bank Stiftung, which has been cooperating with the Portikus since 1999.

The three artists behind You Like This Garden? each spent a significant period of time at the Glasgow School of Art. Birrell taught there; Harding ran the sculpture class for 15 years. In 1987 he founded the Environmental Art Programme at the school. Gordon also took part in the class as one of Harding’s students. For the past ten years, Birrell and Harding have been collaborating on projects; their film Guantanamera (2009) was produced by Gordon’s production company lost but found. The two-part work is based on the Cuban folk song of the same name that was adopted both by Castro’s supporters and adversaries. The film is part of an installation conceived especially for the large hall of the Portikus; parts of Guantanamera are synchronized with footage taken from Cuernavaca: A Journey in Search of Malcolm Lowry (2006), a film about the Mexican sojourn of the writer Malcolm Lowry. On the temporary second floor of the exhibition hall is Port Bou: 18 Fragments for Walter Benjamin (2006). In this film, the two artists document Benjamin’s tragic escape attempt through the Pyrennese Mountains. Also on this floor are the full-length versions of the films shown in the hall.

The medium of film also plays a key role in the major exhibition of Gordon’s work shown at the MMK parallel to the Portikus project. Early on, his 24 Hour Psycho (1993), in which he expanded Hitchcock’s thriller to a length of 24 hours, documented the importance of the medium for his work. Hence it comes as no surprise that Gordon’s exhibition project The VANITY of Allegory, which he curated for the Deutsche Guggenheim in 2005, was accompanied by an extensive film program that ranged from underground to Hollywood. The VANITY of Allegory was conceived as a visual collage that told of self-representation and dual identity. Douglas’s own works entered into dialogue with works by artists such as Matthew Barney, Jeff Koons, and Robert Mapplethorpe. In a unique way, the show addressed the vanitas motif as an investigation into the transience of life and self-representation as an act of vanity.

There’s an air of Hollywood glamour at the MMK, too: one of the projects shown was made in collaboration with the young star James Franco and Henry Hopper, Dennis Hopper’s son. Henry Rebel was inspired by Nicholas Ray’s movie classic Rebel Without a Cause, in which Dennis Hopper made one of his first appearances on film alongside James Dean. Son Henry gave Gordon an intense and disturbing performance by playing a young man who is burning from the inside. Two of Douglas’s best-known works will also be shown at the MMK: Zidane: A 21st-Century Portrait and Play Dead. Real Time. In a loop, footage of a trained elephant can be seen on two freely standing screens and a small monitor. The animal repeatedly sinks to the ground as if it were dying, only to get back on its feet again. The film was made in the Gagosian Gallery in New York. The elephant comes across as a sculpture in the flawless white rooms—a surreal object slowly circled by the camera. Play Dead. Real Time is a hypnotic meditation on life and death, the core theme in the work of the 1966-born Scotsman.

His film on Zinedine Zidane, which he made in collaboration with Philippe Parreno; testifies to Douglas’s passion for soccer. 17 high-speed cameras filmed the soccer star during the game of Real Madrid vs. Villareal in the spring of 2005. Over 90 minutes, for the most part in close-up, the viewer—instead of watching the drama of the overall game, as is usually the case—is privy to the slightest change in Zidane’s behavior and is invited to infer the progress of the game based on his actions and gestures. Now, Gordon is installing this work at the MMK for the first time on 17 individual monitors. On the other hand, his series “You and me” features movie and art stars: the photo works record the singed publicity images of actors like Rock Hudson and Jayne Mansfield, but also Andy Warhol’s homages to Marilyn, Elvis, and Jackie O. In spite of their post-apocalyptic mood, these icons still retain their almost magical presence—fragments of a collective unconsciousness that seemed almost indestructible.
A. D.

You Like This Garden?
Ross Birrell/David Harding and Douglas Gordon
November 18, 2011 — January 22, 2012
Portikus, Frankfurt

Douglas Gordon
November 19, 2011 — March 25, 2012
MMK, Frankfurt




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