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Asterisms - Gabriel Orozco’s Commission for the Deutsche Guggenheim
This Undreamt Descent - Wangechi Mutu in the Kunsthalle Baden-Baden

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This Undreamt Descent
Wangechi Mutu in the Kunsthalle Baden-Baden


Deutsche Bank initiated its “Artist of the Year” program by awarding Wangechi Mutu the title in 2010. The show in the Deutsche Guggenheim accompanying this prize was the first to introduce the artist to a wider German public. Now, Deutsche Bank supports Mutu’s exhibition in the Kunsthalle Baden-Baden, which is focused on current works by the New York-based artist.


It’s a claustrophobic room that each visitor has to pass through in the Wangechi Mutu show at the Kunsthalle Baden-Baden. Its dark walls are riddled with bullet holes or have animal pelts hanging from them. A gigantic wooden table stands at the center; above it are more than a hundred bottles with red fluid dripping out of them onto the table’s surface. Exhuming Gluttony is the title the artist has given to her environment. And indeed, the space seems as though an opulent banquet has recently taken place here. There’s a sense of abundance and waste, violence and exploitation. Mutu’s installation “dirties” the rational white cube of the exhibition space; it leads the viewer into a dark, nightmarish arrangement reminiscent of archaic rituals, Africa’s bloody colonial history, or the scene of an apocalypse.  

With Solch ungeahnte Tiefen / This Undreamt Descent, the Kunsthalle Baden-Baden celebrates the work of one of the most unique contemporary artists of our time. Along with Exhuming Gluttony and four additional installations, the Deutsche Bank-sponsored show presents 25 of Mutu’s for the most part large-scale collages. In Germany, she became known chiefly through her 2010 exhibition project This Dirty Little Heaven at the Deutsche Guggenheim. As Deutsche Bank’s first Artist of the Year, Mutu transformed the Berlin exhibition hall into an evocative environment. Using simple means such as grey felt-like blankets and brown parcel tape, she creates organic-looking sculptural forms that cover the walls and pillars of the exhibition space while creating a framework and setting for Mutu’s works on paper. Following the successful Berlin debut, This Dirty Little Heaven was also on show at the WIELS in Brussels.

Exhuming Gluttony is an apt introduction into Wangechi Mutu’s surreal universe, which is populated by an entire armada of hybrid, alien-like creatures that are a cross between human, animal, plant, monster, and machine—as in her large collage Humming of 2010, which shows the body of a black woman surrounded by high steppe grass, gigantic mosquitoes, and creatures that defy categorization. The female figure is composed of ad fragments that Mutu cut out of a glossy magazine and combined with other materials, such as glitter and plastic pearls. Humming is bewitchingly beautiful—it’s only at second glance that one sees the gaping wounds on the woman’s neck. Beauty and horror are inseparable in Mutu’s work.

Her visual material derives from a variety of sources: she combines motifs from Vogue and National Geographic with pictures from sex magazines and anthropological and medical books. Although Mutu’s figures obviously don’t come from this world, they seem for the most part to be female. “I always look at how women are represented [in the media],” explains the artist, who was born in 1972 in Nairobi, Kenya, in a conversation with ArtMag. “I look at how we are composed and where we sit and what we wear. I think it reflects not only how people feel about women, but [also] how society feels about itself … I’m obsessed with it.” While she often investigates themes such as “femininity,” “blackness,” and “Africa,” at the same time she also calls these terms into question.  

Mutu, who has been living in New York for a long time, counters the notion of an “African” artist drawing from her native culture with images from multiple perspectives. Like many “diaspora artists,” she combines elements of her native culture with those of the West. This fraught relationship is a central theme in her work. Mutu references stars such as Josephine Baker, Eartha Kitt, and Grace Jones—black women who as “exotic” artificial figures embody clichéd western notions while at the same time successfully annihilating them.

Mutu’s hybrids are caught in an ongoing process of continuous change; they testify to the loss of any clear identity. Mutu creates a vision of a future in which more and more people will become migrants and perpetual travelers, the inhabitants of an AlieNation. Cultural identity is then no longer determined by geographical or ethnic heritage or biological factors, but increasingly becomes a construct that one can determine and alter on one’s own.

SOLCH UNGEAHNTE TIEFEN / THIS UNDREAMT DESCENT
Works by Wangechi Mutu
July 14 – September 30, 2012
Kunsthalle Baden-Baden




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