Brad Downey: Slow Motion Distaster April 13th-June 23rd 2019, Kunstraum Kreuzberg/Bethanien (Berlin).
We are already giving the best away: Brad Downey is the pioneer in art to presents 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 look good in Slow Motion Distaster. The show was so bad, it wasn’t even good, and framing it as Trumpean/End Zeit critique didn’t make it any bit better. Here’s why:
Before co(u)mming to the genious conclusion to preserve the artist’s autoerotic dreams–in form of what Germans call Eiskonfekt–Brad Downey had frosted all kinds of other organic materials for their ephemeral and sculptural qualities before.
Isn’t this little glazed fellow in Ephemeros (2018) a good representation of Nature taking back control of extremes in climate change? A photo series taken in Novosibirsk narrates the irony of our current human hubris, but assuming the animals were taxidermized before being showered at -30°C with water, Downey’s comment doesn’t go much further than a staged Instagram gag, of what is actually quite cynical.
Man overcoming Nature seems a convenient theme running through the whole of Downey’s oeuvre. Even before Downey developed his practice of literally icing species, he experimented with animals in motion. In Treading (2015), a dog walks in a loop on a treadmill along the „brutalist“ cityscapes of the ancient Muslim city of Kazan (Republic of Tatarstan). For the sake of animal protection, the Appenzeller Sennenhund will hopefully not become the next frost sculpture in a series alpine dog breeds during Downey’s next residency in the alpine region …
Today, exhibitions are multi-sensual events. Not only do they please or disturb the eye, but also the ear, our smell, and possibly the tactile senses. It is probably for this reason, 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. The piece intends to reinvoke the Ten Plagues–so the artist’s statement– by staging a terrarium of chirping crickets and amplifying their niose with a whole PA system.
There are substantial issues with this particular work. Downey seems to have forgotten 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, and locusts don’t make sounds. Another, rather profane fun-fact about crickets: These insects are naturally one of the loudest species in the animal kingdom. Anybody who has been along the Mediterranean or in South Asia knows how loud their cacophonic courtship dance can become, causing sleep deprived nights. We ask ourselves: Is it really necessary to „bug“ the terrarium and amplify the crickets‘ sound with a whole PA system?
But back to humans: Downey has a special liking for human erotic sujets and engages these with a somewhat social-activist agency. A series of collected vintage posters that has been initially banned from Turkish government and censored by the UAE, claiming they were too frivolous, present his vision of an initiative for erotic freedom. Exclusively excavated and fed back into the exhibition and fashion cycle (the posters were printed on textiles by designer Jess Oberlin), Downey’s arrogance is staggering. Does anybody still get excited by such trashy post-porn gestures? This 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-wife Cicciolina. What a scandal he produced when the pornographic shots with his playmate from 1989 were presented as the pop-artist’s photographic series of mega-prints in Made in Heaven. Downey’s reference seems more like trivial riding on these ‚good old days‘.
But perhaps it’s really more about the new possibilties given by intersecting art and fashion that are of interest to the artist. In one sculptural interpretation of this sort, Downey commissioned nail studio artists to apply their lacquer skills on a rock. Containing a reference to fashion label Miu Miu in its title, this piece of genius turnes indeed into a very unique artwork! Downey’s bluntness, again, is astounding. The challenging of questions of authorship and bending of limits of what can be regarded aesthetically pleasing must be one of the signature qualities that the curators might have seen in his work. However, most of the time, seeing even less of the artist’s hand might be even more pleasing.
There is no minimum limit for bad taste in this show. Soap bars sticking on towels refer to a German idiom, „Mit allen Seifen gewaschen“, which means being versed in all tricks of the trade. We are silenced, and wonder which trade Downey is actually referring to.
Downey should be regarded as an appropriating art commissioner and ever-dilettante, rather than a cross-media artist. This is anyways the spirit, in which he approached his „homage“ to the curent First Lady in 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 Zupevc’s very simple life and precary work as wood sculpter. Carved from a living tree by the Slovenian river Save, we see Zupevc cutting, shaping and coloring the town’s most famous daughter’s key moment: Trump’s inauguration in 2016.
Not only is the environmental sacrifice of killing a healthy 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 human compassion in this openly post-ironic art piece. Rather than drawing attention to his own fortune of jumping from one residency to the next, as artist, who is embedded in Western culture’s subsidizing and promotion programs, Downey simply exploits the misery he discovers in Europe’s periphery.
Brace yourself: The US American artist, expat in Berlin since 2008, and globe hopper, has a serious take on populism and (geo)politics worldwide, as well. Given his broadened perspective beyond US borders, Downey’s comments on the inscision of borders appear rather lukewarm. The (geo)political, social and economic changes that come with the rise of autocracies around the world are serious, but bathing in mere representative critique and DIY artistic interventions wont change anything. They undermine the intellectual capacity of the artist, but not that of 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). This is a view of Downey’s own past-postmodern stylistic idiom informed by street art, trash and construction sites. His skills in crafting, however, did not outgrow the level of 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! Who would have thought: One year later, there were even more. But why waste so many resources on such trivial news?
Outside the beautiful brick wall architecture of Kunsthaus Bethanien, Berlin continues to self-contradict. Its horny residents garbed in scraps (“Arm aber sexy”) live in a post-decadent hallucination that munches away materials and human resources. In fairness, Slow Motion Distaster is a suitable representation for the collateral damage of this city’s wet dreams and pseudo-revolutions.