Erling T.V. Klingenberg 2012
KRAFTMIKIL KÚNST – POWERFUL PICTURES (þráhyggja-frumleiki) (obsession-original)
21. 01. 2012 - 19. 02. 2012
Opening Saturday 21st of January at 5 pm.

Born To Be Wild

The first work I encountered of Erling T.V. Klingenberg’s was that of his undergraduate thesis show at the Icelandic College of Arts and Crafts in the early 1990s. In a museum like set-up, he had filled numerous display cases with artifacts – the detritus and debris of the trade in used brushes, empty paint tubes, random photos, sketchbook drawings, examples of childhood art, etc. – to craft an exhibition that surveyed the life and accomplishments a revered artist at the peak of his career. The irony here, of course, was that this was merely a convincing tableau dedicated to none other than Klingenberg himself, a very young artist at the onset of his professional career and one with very few accolades to his name at that point. Rather than putting his time and energy into making some decent paintings like the rest of his classmates, Klingenberg worked hard on staging this grand facade, and in doing so he passed them by and took short cut straight to the top. He decided to stay there. This set things in motion for the Klingenberg we’ve come to expect and know.

In Artists, for example, first exhibited at Khyber Gallery in Halifax in 1995, he presented a series of photographs that merged his own image with those of an assortment of contemporary artists – Jeff Koons, Andy Warhol, Cindy Sherman, Jenny Holzer, Joseph Beuys, etc. The resulting hybrid portraits placed Klingenberg amongst the most widely recognized art historical figures of the past century. In 1997, a similar a set of photographs saw him once again morphing his likeness with that of others, in this case with 50 of the international art world’s most powerful people – curators, critics and collectors – as declared by the publication Art in America. Here, Klingenberg located himself in the milieu of art world persuasion and influence, a place that he has occupied ever since in his mind and that of his audience too.

In 2006 at Kling & Bang, Klingenberg returned to the tableau format in I Exhibit Nothing But in a New Context, the title of the exhibition now a familiar mantra to many of the artist’s faithful. For this project he convincingly replicated an entire exhibition of a local private art collection that was simultaneously on display just doors away from the artist run centre in which he was showing. Included were a bunch of “fake” artworks; the neon corner piece by Dan Flavin, some Dieter Roth sculptures of dirt and grass, a text-based wall mural by Lawrence Weiner, among numerous others, all reproduced right down to the minute details. I am sure some people visiting this show said, “I could do that.” Others probably asked, “Why can’t he just come up with some original ideas of his own?” Those people were missing the point (or perhaps getting it without even realizing), something in which the artist revels. Once again, Klingenberg cast a sardonic light on the procedures and operations of the art world in his community and beyond.

Throughout the years, Klingenberg has always placed himself central to the things he creates, quite literally in works such as Digging-(One is the loneliest number) – a series clay sculptures “carved” by a particular body part – and figuratively speaking too, through the repeated use of his namesake and own image as subject and material. In The Klingenberg Case, for example, visitors were encouraged to wear Halloween-like masks donning his face. In another setting, he commissioned a life-size silicon rubber mannequin, a complete self-portrait from head to toe. For nearly two decades now, Klingenberg has tinkered with the apparatus of art and its trappings – anxiety, fame, etc. and along the way he has toyed with us too. This leads me to wonder what
is happening in this current exhibition of his latest output. I can’t help but be a bit suspicious in what I see.

A group of “splash paintings,” as the artist refers to them, occupy the gallery. The colours and gestures of the free-form compositions seem familiar, reminiscent of a bygone genre of painting akin to Jackson Pollock and others of the abstract expressionist era. What is Klingenberg up to now? Are these paintings mere rip offs, made in a glib attempt to insert himself, once again, as a member of this particular paradigm of art history? Or is there something else going on here beyond the tongue-in-cheek? These questions and others are ones that need to be asked.

Klingenberg is quite aware of the look of these works and the associations that rest therein. However, there is indeed something deeper than what one sees on the surface at play here. Rather than the typical art tools – brushes, pallet knives, etc. – he uses a motorcycle in creating these works on canvas by placing a container of paint under its rear wheel before hitting the accelerator to unleash its raw horsepower. The resulting paintings are accompanied by others made through variations on this process that is steeped in overt clichés of masculinity. In another set of works, for example, the artist drove his bike through paint and over pieces of paper and canvas to create a series of tire “prints.” Continuing his onslaught, there was a massive rubber burnout in the gallery space to reveal several layers of paint on the gallery floor and on 8 sheets of wood. For all of these works, the creative process has been made visible through a series of videos that capture the artist in the act of making. In a full disclosure, his tools – the motorcycles – find themselves on display in the gallery as well.

Not to be overlooked are 420 “motorcycle portraits,” photographs of random bikes parked on the streets of cities in which the artist has travelled – Reykjavik, Berlin, New York and London. Documented without riders, we’re presented with images of static objects that embody collective notions of status and desire. The artist is familiar with these things – symbols of status in general and motorcycles in particular. In fact, Klingenberg owns a number of bikes. He wants us to be aware of that. Klingenberg has been riding motorcycles for years. He’d like us to know that too. I have to ask, “Is he merely flaunting the fruit of his labour and his lifestyle in our faces?” That may be part of it, but I believe there is something more sincere to his intent. Aside of status and desire, the motorcycle also conveys a profound sense of freedom and the very idea of escape itself. For years Klingenberg has put himself on the line for his cause taking us along for the ride. In the process of doing so, he has gained a strong following, garnered widespread recognition, reaped numerous awards, and given us what we want to see at every turn. His success has been difficult to bear. He notes, “It’s hard to be an Artist in a Rockstar body.” This exhibition is a poignant attempt by him to get away from it all – from the work we’ve come to expect and the artist we’ve come to know. Clearly Klingenberg has left us in the dust.

David Diviney 2012.

Kling & Bang gallery
Hverfisgata 42
IS-101 Reykjavik

Open Thursday-Sunday from 2-6 pm.

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Grandagarđur 20 - 101 Reykjavík