The subtitle of the show--"From Barefoot Prophet to Avant-Garde Artist"--implies a kind of radical transformation, but there are also continuities: Schroder-Sonnenstern's art suggests a total conviction in a self-made mythology similar to that which must have inspired people to believe in his capacity as a healer. The works' metaphysically loaded titles--Der moralische Mondualismus (The Moralistic Moon Dualism), 1955; Trilogie der Wahrheitsucherei (Trilogy of the Search for Truth), 1953; Meta-(Physik) mit dem Hahn (Meta-[Physics] with the Cock), 1952--imply mystical revelation while floating far from sense. Each is realized, moreover, with perfect graphic clarity, no matter how esoteric or incomprehensible its message. (An essay by Pamela Kort in the exhibition catalogue includes a fascinating discussion of the widely propagated connection between artists and lunatics, concluding that Schroder-Sonnenstern was not, in fact, schizophrenic.)
In some cases Schroder-Sonnenstern seems to have deployed his mock-heraldic imagery and cod moralizing to address, at least tangentially, the social and political issues of his time. It is tempting to see Der Massendamon (The Mass Demon), 1954--a fire-breathing mermaid, whose body is an undulating rainbow of fish scales, and who has hooked a fish with her one strand of hair--as an oblique comment on the manipulations of mass politics in Nazi Germany. The woman with spherical buttocks in Vitanovaseturime, 1951-52, meanwhile, parodies consumer culture. A large brown sausage enters and exits her alimenrary canal unchanged in color, size, and shape. The drawing is funny, scathing, and lucid: The text along the side reads DIE GOTTIN DER GUTEN VERDAUUNG! (the goddess of good digestion). Yet other aspects remain unimpeaehably enigmatic: Why, for instance, is she defecating into a beaker containing a heart? And what are we to make of the mumbo jumbo in the longer text underneath?
I'd agree with Kort that you might need to be gifted with a rich imagination rather than borderline schizophrenia to think up images such as Der moralische Kulturguetertransport (The Moralistic Cultural Commodities Transport), 1961, in which a skeleton horse pulls a carriage filled with a Moomin-like figure playing a violin, a smiling tuxedoed coachman, and a medley of birds, animals, and insects, all traveling under the canopy of an exuberant rainbow sheltering the entire scene from the dark night sky beyond. More puzzling is her call for "a few plucky young artists willing to take the explosive power of [Schroder-Sonnenstern's] art to a new level." The comment overlooks the fact that the art world's low tolerance for this kind of figurative surrealism has pushed all but a handful of its proponents into the "outsider" realms of comics, illustration, tattoo parlors, etc. Nota bene that under the towering, stockinged-and-stilettoed horse in Der Mondamtsschimmelreiter (The Moon Rider Official on a White Horse), 1956, there is a small, solitary man lying on his front examining a worm. The exhibition at Werner was symptomatic of the slow evolution of the art world's mechanisms of exclusion, and it reminded us, once again, that the categories of "outsider" and "avant-garde" at times overlap in a way that exposes the hollowness of the implicit value judgments of each.
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|Date:||May 1, 2011|
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