Opening today at the New Museum is “Rosemarie Trockel: A Cosmos,” a large exhibition of works by the leading 59-year-old German artist whose practice is lawless. The work included in this exhibition comprises sculpture in many forms: ceramics, glass, photography, film and video, drawing and painting, collage, textile work, such as her famous “knit paintings,” and more. Complementing this selection of work from Trockel’s 40-year career are pieces which, according to the press release, “map her artistic interests.” Those interests strongly emphasize the rejection of a hierarchy in the fine arts between Western/non-Western work and trained/untrained artists, and the affirmation of the natural world and untempered natural beauty.
The objects shown alongside her work include examples of what would formerly be called vernacular art or craft, which focus on the the natural world. For example, her most recent work – dense, blockish and roughly glazed ceramics – are shown adjacent Leopold and Rudolph Blaschka’s perfectly rendered glass models of sea creatures. The Blaschkas are the same artisans who made Harvard’s collection of the Blaschka glass flowers, meant to use as instructional models for botany students in the 19th century before specimens could be photographed accurately or preserved. Also celebrated alongside Trockel are artists including James Castle, Judith Scott, and 17th-century scientific watercolorist Maria Sybilla Merian.
What makes this display of art from different epochs, disciplines and intents especially powerful is that Trockel’s work looks, smells, and behaves so much like contemporary art. It’s that sort of sculptural, minimal, often non-representational work that you might think about if someone tapped you on the shoulder and said “think about what art looks like right now, especially art made by a German lady.” Trockel is an extremely educated artist (in fact she teaches at the prestigious and very easy-to-pronounce Staatliche Kunstakademie Düsseldorf) but her work doesn’t come off as academic or tedious in the least. The pieces shown in A Cosmos varyingly take on the spontaneity of an untrained artist and the dedicated, painstaking craft of a premodern scientist. The pieces that we might not normally consider on the same intellectual and theoretical plane are given a renewed sense of legitimacy, placed in the context of a white-walled museum in which their form, their intent, their artists’ choices become clear.
In its press release, the New Museum is careful not to call A Cosmos a retrospective, preferring instead to name it as an “imaginary universe” of Trockel’s creation as well as “the most comprehensive survey of her work in the US to date.”
The New Museum is located at 235 Bowery. ROSEMARIE TROCKEL: A COSMOS runs through January 20, 2013.
ROSEMARIE TROCKEL INSTALLATION IMAGES: Courtesy New Museum, New York. Photos by Benoit Pailley.