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David Lieske.

Past a dried-up bouquet of flowers at the entrance to the gallery, the first piece to be seen in David Lieske's exhibition "Imperium in Imperio" was a child mannequin standing on a pedestal covered in fabric. If it weren't for his delicate eyelashes, the plastic boy would look aggressive, as if he's about to throw the black velvet shoe placed on his hand. The shoe has an emblem on it--a sea horse surmounted by a crown--which turns out co be an ersatz family crest, concocted by Lieske's uncle to serve as a logo for his advertising business. On the sole of the shoe is the name of its London maker: TRICKER'S.

The aspirational parvenu, the avowed trickster, the petulant child, and the sticky-fingered artist: By inhabiting these types, does Lieske succeed in shaming himself even as he self-promotes? Other works were conceived as a "hypothetical ad campaign" for the exhibition. These pieces--the most explicitly commercially viable objects in the show, no less--feature full-frontal childhood photos of Lieske superimposed with textile designs and paintings of armor. These smaller images are affixed to mats printed with an ad campaign the artist designed for a show at Contemporary Fine Arts, a blue-chip Berlin gallery. In the advertisements, a model is made up as the eponymous con man from The Confessions of Felix Krull, Confidence Man: The Early Years, Thomas Mann's 1954 parody of a bildungsroman. Cut to the size of the ad as it originally appeared in print, the mats are surrounded by frames covered in African waxed cotton fabrics (blatantly hipster primitivist) used as decor in a 2008 show by Lieske at Corvi-Mora in London. If this construction provokes a vertigo of self-reference, summoning a mobile army of critical tropes that border on the vacuous, Lieske is probably pleased.


Even more resolutely "problematic" is a video that was playing downstairs in the gallery, on a monitor mounted on another whimsical fabric pedestal, this time featuring blue and white almost-swastikas. The video, shot with the artist's MacBook video recorder, portrays Lieske, early in the morning, listening to an audiobook about Hannah Arendt. He receives a phone call from a friend, identified as the Swiss novelist Pippin Wigglesworth-Weider, who comes over for a rendezvous. Lieske secretly records their entire encounter, including conversations with the shirtless Wiggles-worth-Weider, while the recorded voice, speaking about radical evil and Eichmann in Jerusalem, is reduced to intellectual ambience. "This is all so stupidly exposed," says Wigglesworth-Weider, in a moment of unwitting reflexivity.

Their meeting is certainly not a glamorous bacchanal of self-destruction (although alcohol and cocaine are involved). The art-world gossip exchanged by the two is not something you want to get in on. Warhol would not have wanted to be there. Lieske uses the pathetic smallness of the video to deflate, if only partially, his claims to have branded himself as a figure who has conned his way into art-celebrity. Although he certainly played a trick on his friend, the forthright way in which this trick is presented to us raises the question: Is the honest man playing at the confidence man?

In any case, everything here--bad and good, aesthetic and ethical--is mixed up and "stupidly exposed." The fact that "Imperium in Imperio" can almost pass itself off as a successful cleanup job makes its wrongness all the more glaring. But this is precisely what makes it so valuable: It shows us the limits of what modish nouveau dandyism (and even its attendant rhetoric of failure) can recuperate. Exploding the terms of a current wave of quirky conceptual ism and cute critique, Lieske reveals some of the pathos of cleverness.

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Author:Sanchez, Michael
Publication:Artforum International
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2010
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