Lost In Her Cosmos

Dec 5, 2012 •
Rosemarie Trockel’s World on View

Torckel’s World

The much-anticipated exhibition Rosemarie Trockel: A Cosmos now at the New Museum, is a complicated show to get one’s arms around and a hard one to love. The show spans three floors, each with a different curatorial intent and style, and each containing very different bodies of work. One floor is devoted to objects and artworks by other artists who have inspired Trockel’s own vision. The intent is to showcase and connect the various source materials that have inspired Trockel’s work over the past 30 years. The result is a show that feels oddly disjointed. Rosemarie Trockel and Lynne Cooke jointly curate, and while I can understand their desire to break the mold of a traditional retrospective, this show does not do Trockel’s long and interesting career the justice that it might have.

The first of the three floors is the most intriguing. I love to look at the art and objects that inspire artists; it often provides insight into what makes their work tick. Some of the pieces mounted here as examples of inspiration are in themselves so striking and spirited that it would be hard for anyone’s work to hold up in comparison.

The omission of much of Trockel’s best-known works—machine knitted, politically oriented and delightfully subversive—leaves, to me, be a huge hole in this show. Instead, there is an entire floor of wool wall pieces—big wooden stretchers wrapped with wool, a twist on color-field painting. They are surprisingly tame—think Barnet Newman in cloth. These works are paired with Joyce Scott’s exuberant, obsessive and nutty wool-wrapped objects. The vibrant energy that this work throws off does no favors to Trockel’s rather stiff use of the same material.

The third floor of the exhibition is divided into two parts. One long vitrine holds a large collection of pamphlets, zines and drawings, what we use to call artist ephemera. The addition of some contextual information would have been helpful to understand how and where all of this printed material fits into the larger picture of the artist’s life. The second half of this floor, devoted to the artist’s work in clay, is for me, the most problematic. Clay is a medium that’s very easy to fall for and very hard to use well. To get past the material’s obvious charms and break new ground is the tricky part. Trockel’s pieces show a love for the material but don’t make that transcendental leap.

This is an admirably ambitious exhibition. Trockel and Cooke took on the huge task of showing the full “cosmos” in which an artist lives. That the show is not entirely successful is no surprise, given the enormity of the undertaking. A longtime fan of Trockel’s work, I left feeling unfulfilled by an exhibit that makes one work too hard to understand the artist’s cosmos at the expense of enjoying her most worthy art.

Rosemarie Trockel: A Cosmos, through Jan 20. New Museum, 235 Bowery. www.newmuseum.org

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