There are two impressive mini-retrospectives for members of the post-war Fluxus group - some of the original performance artists - on in London at the moment. Per Kirkeby’s dark landscape paintings are at Michael Werner, while Wolf Vostell, one of the movement’s leading lights, has taken over all three floors of the large Cardi Gallery.
Vostell specialised in what he called décollages - mixed media collages, built through creating new things and destroying existing ones. Just like Mimmo Rotella, famous for ripping up advertising posters and combining the pieces into new work, who had his own impressive show at this gallery in 2020.
While Rotella looked to print ads to build his art, Vostell returned again and again to another type of mass media: TV. Many of his works have embedded TV screens, showing blurry grey static. This brings him closer to other early video artists like Nam June Paik, as well as chiming with the anarchic spirit of Fluxus.
The ground floor is dominated by Kafka’s Boat - made in 1990, the year of German reunification. A life raft is weighed down by columns of concrete, each of which is topped by a gas mask, rendering them vaguely figurative but entirely sinister. The TV screen embedded in the boat is attached to a camera pointed towards the back of the gallery. Which means as the viewer approaches, they realise they are being filmed.
This is a masterpiece of subtlety compared to Ritz, Vostell’s final work from 1998, which features a plastic mannequin, woman shaped, in split-crotch panties with a staticky screen peeking through the hole.
Crude, maybe. But, taken together, Vostell’s works pack a considerable punch. A great clunking artistic fist, wrapped in concrete, reaching for the TV’s off switch.
Wolf Vostell: Destruction is Life is at Cardi Gallery (London). 25 April - 23 July 2022