Norbert Bisky - Anomie | König

Anomie is a social state of disintegration: where the norms imposed by religion and the state fall away, and all we are left with is our own, never-satisfied desires. It’s a word born from the turn of the 20th century and the first rumblings of modernism, popularised by French sociologist Émile Durkheim, who detected in his changing world a mismatch between personal ideals and social standards. Which, naturally, led to unfulfilled desires - and depression.

Things not having got much better on this front over the past century, German artist Norbert Bisky’s own personal anomie is on show at the König gallery right now.

Installation view

(Side note, this was my first time at this new space since it opened last year. Very cool, especially the mazy walk through corridors after climbing down the stairs into the underground space. And all the cooler for being in absolute nowheresville just off the Edgware Road, round the corner from the scraggy shisha bars, the tired mansion blocks and the rumbling ascent of the Westway.)

Bisky’s anomie is mainly in the subject of the works, which repeatedly portray the soon-to-be executed. There’s a hanging soldier; a pair of jumpsuited Isis prisoners, awaiting the sword; the extremely attractive and doomed Marinus van der Lubbe, starter of the Reichstag fire (three separate paintings, each ravishing); and his Spanish cousin in anarchy Buenaventura Durruti. The exhibition’s title work shows disembodied parts - a head here, an arm here, patches of canvas stuck on canvas. Elsewhere, two boys kiss.

I didn’t find much anomie in Bisky’s execution (sorry) of his little paintings: the skies are Tiepolo-blue, and his male subjects are universally beautiful, with cherub-red lips and shiningly golden skin. Though, on the white walls behind, the artist’s violent scenes are intensified by crude red rolled-on paint, carelessly slashing towards the ceiling.

The friction between the quite beautiful brushwork and the horrific subject matter didn’t exactly provoke anomie in this viewer. Instead, I felt invigorated for having been able to see.

Norbert Bisky - Anomie is at König (London). 6 April - 19 May 2018.