Brad Downey: Slow Motion Distaster April 13th-June 23rd 2019, Kunstraum Kreuzberg/Bethanien (Berlin).
We already gave the best away: Brad Downey is the pioneer to present his frozen cum at Kunstraum Kreuzberg/Bethanien (see header image). There is no reason to waste time and go further into analysis of this exhibition. Snapshot impressions speak for themselves: This is one of the worst art shows our academic guest reviewer from Germany has ever seen. Beware of the artist and hide from the curators! Neither of them looks good in Slow Motion Distaster. It was so bad, it wasn’t even good. And framing it as Trumpean/End Zeit critique doesn’t make it better. Here’s why:
Beyond solidifying the artist’s autoerotic pleasure, Brad Downey has frosted all kinds of other organic materials for their ephemeral sculptural qualities. Isn’t this little glazed fellow in Ephemeros (2018) a good representation of Nature taking back control with extreme climate change? A photo series taken in Novosibirsk narrates the irony of human hubris. Assuming the animals were taxidermized before being showered at -30°C, Downey’s comment doesn’t go much further than a staged Instagram gag, though.
Before Downey discovered icing species literally, he experimented with animals in motion. In Treading (2015) a dog walks in loop on a treadmill along the „brutalist“ cityscapes of the ancient Muslim city of Kazan (Republic of Tatarstan). We hope the dog has not developed arthritis and was freed from this disgraceful routine. Man over Nature seems a convenient theme running through Downey’s oeuvre. For the sake of animal protection, the Appenzeller Sennenhund will hopefully not become the next frost sculpture in a series alpine dog breeds with his Bernese mountain freinds during a residency in the alps…
Exhibitions in our current day are multi-sensual events. Not only do they please or disturb the eye, but also the ear, our smell, and possibly tactile senses. Therefore, Downey invites us to experience a new version of nature-technological sound scaping: Proverb About Machines (2018) links the living creature to the (End Zeit) machine and aims at reinvoking the Ten Plagues–so the artist’s statement. Center-stage: chirping crickets.
There are substantial issues with this particular work. Downey seems to have forgotten to check back with the biblical facts. There were no crickets amongst the 10 calamities inflicted on Egypt. Downey is mistaking crickets for locusts. Crickets natually don’t eat up the crops. There’s another profane fun-fact about them: They are one of the loudest species in the animal kingdom! Anybody who has been along the Mediterranean or in South Asia knows how loud their cacophony can become. We ask ourselves: Is it really necessary to „bug“ the terrarium and amplify the crickets‘ sound with a whole PA system? Its effect doesn’t seem to justify the effort.
But back to humans. Downey has a special liking for human erotic subjects and even engages a social-activist agency. A series of collected vintage posters that were banned from Turkish government and/or censored by the UAE, because they were too frivolous, present his version of a freedom initiative. Exclusively excavated and fed back into the exhibition and fashion cycle (the posters were printed on textiles by designer Jess Oberlin), Downey’s arrogance and presumption are staggering. Does anybody still get excited by such post-porn gestures? His move recalls a rather imperialist approach in opening up a halfway interesting culture critical discourse on societies‘ factitiousness in East and West.
By the way: The model on the left is Jeff Koon’s ex Cicciolina. What a scandal he produced when the pornographic shots with his playmate from 1989 were presented in the series Made in Heaven. But that was quite a few decades ago…
Downey is interested in the intersection of art and fashion. For one sculptural interpretation, he commissioned nail studio artists to apply their lacquer skills on rock. The reference to fashion label Miu Miu turns this piece of genius into a unique artwork! Downey’s bluntness is astounding. The challenging of authorship and bending of limits of what can be regarded aesthetically pleasing, is a further signature quality in his work. At many times, the artist’s hand and talent is hardly noticeable!
There is no minimum limit for bad taste in the show. Soap bars sticking on towels refer to a German idiom, that means being versed in all tricks of the trade. We have no more to say, and wonder which trade Downey is referring to.
Cross-media artist Downey should be regarded an appropriating art commissioner and ever-dilettante. In this spirit, he approached the „homage“ to First Lady Melania (2019). Downey frames the work of local artisan wood sculptor Ales Zupevc from Slovenia as his own achievement. Based in Sevnica, the home town of Mrs. Trump, Zupevc set out to mark her inauguration in form of a monument. The semi-documentary follows and depicts his simple life and practice of wood sculpting. Created from a living tree by the river Save, we see Zupevc gradually shaping and coloring the town’s most famous daughter’s most important moment.
Not only is the environmental sacrifice of a tree for one ugly wood sculpture unjustifiable, but the video about Downey’s economically disadvantaged colleague in Slovenia and his artistic abuse raises questions of compassion in the openly post-ironic art piece. Rather than drawing attention to his own fortune of jumping from scholarship to residency as artist embedded in Western subsidizing programs, Downey exploits the misery he discovered in the periphery with this nasty commentary.
The US American artist, expat since 2008 in Berlin, and globe hopper has a take on populism and (geo)politics worldwide. Given his broadened perspective beyond US borders, his comments on geographic incisions express rather lukewarm. The (geo)political, social and economic changes with the rise of autocracies around the world are serious, but bathing in mere representative critique and low-level interventions wont change anything. They undermine the intellectual capacity of the artist, but not the status quo.
Downey never rests in one medium or technique and there is little formal coherence in the range of chosen materials or contexts. Most pleasant are, however, his experimentations in simple and poetic material transfers such as Strangers, 2016 or New Tatlin Model, 2018. The crawling installation embeds us in Downey’s own past-postmodern stylistic idiom informed by street art, trash and construction sites. Surprisingly, his skills didn’t outgrow art school.
New media is essential in Downey’s visual practice. Well invested money is spent on turning his Facebook page into a refined mosaic made of mother of pearl. Congratulations on the mass of followers! One year later, there were even more. But why waste so many resources on such trivial news?
Outside the beautiful brick walls of Bethanien, Berlin’s self-contradiction presents itself from its best. Its foxy residents garbed in scraps (“Arm aber sexy”) live a post-decadent hallucination that munches away material and human resources, and takes for granted the luxury of consumption and innovation. Informed by long-time monetized hipster-culture, the political bourgeoisie and the distant memory of East Berlin Punk and squatters’ resistance, the city collides people and substances. Slow Motion Distaster might be a suitable (re)presentation for the collateral damage of wet dreams and pretended revolution in the city.