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Contemporary Art Gallery

555 Nelson Street

Vancouver, Canada
Closed for installation
of our summer exhibitions

Reopening June 2, 2022
ArchiveExhibition
25 May 12until2 Sep 12

Josephine Meckseper

American Leg

CAG Façade

For her first exhibition in Canada, Josephine Meckseper creates eight new works in the street front window vitrines of the Contemporary Art Gallery. Originally intended for retail, these spaces could not be a more sympathetic location for Meckseper’s ongoing artistic proposition.

For over twenty years Meckseper has developed a complex body of work that unites modernism with the formal language of commercial display to combine mass-produced objects with images and artefacts of recent and historical political events. Consumerism as an unrelenting presence in our daily lives is reflected in the artist’s highly polished and glossy sculptural installations which offer a critique of capitalist economy and ultimately lay bare some of its absurdities while acknowledging its seductive surface. Meckseper’s re-interpretation of forms not only challenges the way consumer culture is transmitted, but also the foundation of its production through her bringing together of symbolic objects and images, often contained in glass and mirrored vitrines. Here disparate collections, for example an unopened package of vintage women’s nylons, perfume bottles or a crisp, white folded men’s shirt, may sit next to a book on the British militant group, the Angry Brigade, a symbol of the Soviet-built Treptow Monument in Berlin, or an image of an anti-Bush demonstration in Washington.

In this new installation Meckseper both uses and undermines the language of consumer display with her characteristic deadpan humour. Juxtaposition creates new meanings. The vignettes created across each window may appear superficially simple or austere, but individual displays are connected and it is the relationship between objects, their materiality, placement and order that unfolds as more than a sum of its parts.

Two windows house solitary chrome car wheel rims, displayed on mirrored pedestals, the image of the luxury car distilled into two distinct shimmering objects. In another a pair of black dowdy sandals sit atop a reflective pedestal; others showcase stainless steel scouring pads on a plastic consumer display stand or single mannequin legs clad in hosiery, one preciously sealed under a glass dome. As if to further isolate each object, they are shown against a black background defining their form as silhouettes, in stark contrast to a white vertical text along the door frame of each window.

The design of the typeface for these texts refers to Jugendstil — an artistic style in Germany from the mid 1890s into the early twentieth century as part of Art Nouveau — adding a further critical dimension as well as particular personal resonance for Meckseper. Her great grand uncle, Heinrich Vogeler worked within this tradition and is well-known for his participation in the German avant-garde through his involvement with the artist colony in Worpswede. Here, in addition to illustrations and paintings he began making and designing household wares. A pacifist and vocal advocate for the working class, Vogeler joined the German Communist Party shortly after World War 1, immigrating to Russia in 1931. Meckseper’s interest in connecting contemporary consumer culture and Art Nouveau is one imbued with optimism for art as potential for change; in how the historic avant-garde emerged from a consideration of the everyday and developed as a form of aesthetic and political resistance to the mainstream.

This overarching theme plays out in each window, but also speaks to a broader, more locally inflected past. References to Vancouver’s pioneer beginnings and its colonial origins, today often linked to tourist attractions, are reflected in a number of sculptures that loosely reference the vertical forms of the Northwest Coast totem-pole, neatly stacked collections of objects, assembled to form new associations. With this Meckseper posits a suggestion of alternatives to the individualism of market-led economies — that of bartering and gift trade within large communities, exchange systems now lost. Pepsi cans and scrubbers are stuck on metal poles like sinister totems of a mad consumer society. The value of appropriated and recycled imagery and objects is central to Meckseper’s search for cultural and sociological end points. In turn she uses this as a platform to subvert notions of authenticity and value.

The exhibition was generously supported by the Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen e.V.

Biography

Josephine Meckseper was born in 1964. Her works have been included in international biennials such as the Whitney Biennial (2010 and 2006); the Second Moscow Biennial of Contemporary Art (2007) and the Biennale d’Art Contemporain de Lyon (2005). She has had solo exhibitions at the Migros Museum für gegenwartskunst, Zürich (2009); Ausstellungshalle zeitgenössische Kunst, Münster (2009); the Blaffer Art Museum, Houston (2009); and a retrospective at the Kunstmuseum Stuttgart (2007). Her work was featured as part of New Photograph at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (2008) and as part of Contemplating the Void at the Guggenheim Museum, New York (2010). A large installation by the artist was included in Plot for a Biennial, the Sharjah Biennial 10, United Arab Emirates (2011).