Art Basel 2016: Anna Oppermann

Saturday, June 18, 2016
Art Basel 2016: Anna Oppermann

In order to understand the picture’s composition, we need to imagine its beginnings as a still life of drawings, tulips and photographs on the pink sheet, which the artist photographed, then printed onto photo canvas and finally colourised. All the other image canvases of this “ensemble” – as Anna Oppermann calls her compilations of images, texts and things – were created in the same way.

Art Basel 2016: Anna Oppermann

Anna Oppermann

Portrait of Mr. S. (Love, Eroticism, Sex)

Ute Vorkoeper 

Who is Mr. S.? – You’ve been trying to get me to tell you for years, I’m laughing my head off, you’ll never manage!”

Anna Oppermann in conversation with H.H., 1984

A central point can be discerned in the midst of all the baroque opulence, where a blood-red cloth is draped over the steps making up a table upon which objects, drawings and photographs are crowded side by side. Directly above the table are two striking, teeming pictures. The right-hand image depicts the torso of a man lying outstretched upon a bed, his legs cut off at the thigh and his arms angled like Christ upon the cross. Below the bold yellow crayon strokes is the intimation of an erect penis. The man’s face is covered by a photograph that shows a male face in the act of turning away. Upon his breast lie a flower, leaves and photographs, artfully arranged. Right next to his penis, a couple locked in a fervent embrace are falling headlong towards the lower edge of the picture. They seem to be caught up in the vortex that is whirling the picture’s other motifs – curious drawings, photographs of images and tulip petals – around the man’s outstretched body. Two little notes pinned next to the man’s head are the only things giving a little purchase. “Bettauflegung” (“being laid upon the bed”) is noted on the first, while the second reads: “Sexualobjekt – von verschiedenen Seiten zu sehen, zu betrachten, zu verstehen, zu deuten” (“sex object – to be seen, contemplated, understood, interpreted from a range of angles”).

Accordingly, the artist wants to see, contemplate, understand, and interpret the sex object upon the bed. If we take a closer look at the picture, we can see that it is in fact not the man himself lying on the creased pink sheet in the background, but only his photograph. In the same way that the flowers and photos once sprouted over his body, the photograph of the situation is now layered with drawings and writings in turn. 

The ensemble Portrait of Mr. S. interprets the “sexual liberation” proclaimed in 1960s and 70s in a special manner. There are no slogans demanding sexual liberation or revolt, and nowhere is sex presented as a form of salvation or true experience. Instead, sexual love between men and women is shown as an ambivalent, neverending play with prohibitions and transgressions, as an oscillation between hiding and revealing, between an invisible feeling and visible ecstasy. All the passionate abandon in the ensemble space is posed, portrayed by the artist herself and her partner in the ensemble props. And all of these poses in turn exude passion and lust. Sin, the diabolical and witches are motifs that appear over and over, but all their demonic and frightening aspects have been removed, turning them into mere roles in the lovers’ play. This is matched by an unsentimental and cheerfully derisive tone that pervades the ensemble, both the images and the texts, reminding us to take neither the commandment of true love nor the revolution of sexual conventions too seriously. The truth of love lies somewhere inbetween, in sensual play. 

Anna Oppermann “Portrait of Mr. S. (Love, Erotic, Sex), 1969–1989”, Installation view at Art Basel 2016, Photo: Nici Wegener, Courtesy the estate of Anna Oppermann and Galerie Barbara Thumm, Berlin

Anna Oppermann “Portrait of Mr. S. (Love, Erotic, Sex), 1969–1989”, Installation view at Art Basel 2016, Photo: Nici Wegener, Courtesy the estate of Anna Oppermann and Galerie Barbara Thumm, Berlin

Anna Oppermann “Portrait of Mr. S. (Love, Erotic, Sex), 1969–1989”, Installation view at Art Basel 2016, Photo: Nici Wegener, Courtesy the estate of Anna Oppermann and Galerie Barbara Thumm, Berlin

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Museo Jumex (a private art collection based in Mexico City, Mexico) / David Chipperfield. Image © Simon Menges

Museo Jumex (a private art collection based in Mexico City, Mexico) / David Chipperfield. Image © Simon Menges

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