Sometimes big and important art institutions seem unapproachable, their programme carefully selected and dedicated to the (lucid) artists whose work is (about to be) written in the history of art. So I was pretty shocked when I few days ago entered MUMOK, Museum Of Modern Art in Vienna, to see what their curators have prepared for the audience. Beside their regular display of works from collection and one small display, the rest of the very spacious museum was dedicated to – if I put is very simply – very shallow and bad works of art. There are three floors packed with over-sized plush toy animals, teddy bears and other characters resembling the idealised world of (small) children. Therefore I automatically started looking for traces of irony and sarcasm, maybe absurdity, definitely intellectual challenge or at least humour. To my own horror I couldn’t find any of these. The figures of teddy bears, plush dogs, crabs, octopuses or whichever animals were exhibited just because the artists feels like showing them, because it is fun and because it is colourful.
So I thought, who is Cosima von Bonin? As I never heard of the artist before I thought that must be at least locally important figure, at least a bored pop star. But is not from Vienna or Austria. Then I searched the web for more information about the artist but without a success. Apart from basic biographic information I found nothing relevant that could describe her artistic practice. However, there were few generic PR texts about past exhibitions. I read she is “playful and seductive”, that she combines “sculpture, installation, video, textiles, performance and electronic music with a diverse network of collaborators” and finally, that she is a conceptual artist. But what is the concept of her works to begin with? In a TV report from her gigantic Cologne show she described her intentions in a pretty banal way: “I have two French Bulldogs and they need a stuffed animal to tear apart every day. And that is how it began.” That might be a concept but an extremely banal one.
Art is often a reflection of artist’s life, sometimes is a result of great imagination. The fact that Cosima von Bonin produces quite boring kitsch probably reflects on the fact that her life must be pretty dull or that her imagination is not very free spirited but largely influenced by generic popular culture. I also noticed that she has some famous friends and quite good media coverage. I noticed she holds a surname of a noblewoman. Therefore, I assume she is pretty rich to begin with. But is that a reason good enough that a respectable institution such as MUMOK shows such banal body of work for full three months? If the answer is yes, I would have a reason to be worried.
If Cosima von Bonin was a post-pop-artist I would expect her to be more up to date and engaged. Pop artists produced kitsch because they were trying to mirror a society obsessed by consuming, they were actively creating absurd images in the world burdened by celebrity culture in order to shaken it. Or if I want to be a little bit more visionary, I would claim that pop artists in the 1950s and 1960s were bravely announcing that the Western civilisation that ruled the world for the past 400 years is about to collapse thanks to its own vanity and shortsightedness. And now everybody can see that it is collapsing. The Western world, like the late Roman Empire in the first centuries of AD, lost its rationality and its criteria. Like the world of art sometimes apparently loses its criteria and displays pure kitsch without one single critical thought or cerebral challenge.
A TV clip fro Cosima von Bonin exhibitionin Cologne.
© Miha Colner, 30 November 2014