Who’s Kerstin Brätsch?
at Kölnischer Kunstverein

Issue no4
Aug - Sept 2020

‘Who’s Kerstin Brätsch?’ reads a text on a knitted piece of cloth that is part of an assemblage installed in the hallway and cellar of the Kölnischer Kunstverein. The piece is reminiscent of the scarves worn by football fans, with the name or logo of their club on them. It is tangled up with other objects like a bra, clothes hangers, two trouser suits, metal chains and pipes, all brought together under the umbrella of the ‘Schröderline’ collection, designed by Brätsch and DAS INSTITUT. The question ‘Who’s Kerstin Brätsch? is a rhetoric device, not to be answered, but to be repeated, the more the better, like a logo. Actually, the question is a statement: just like Real Madrid or Liverpool FC, Kerstin Brätsch, the artist, is famous and has fans. At the same time, it points to the curiosity with which Brätsch and DAS INSTITUT scrutinize the role of the artist in the age of global capitalism, in which skilful branding is crucial to success.

On first view, it comes as a surprise that the ‘Schröderline’ is dedicated to Cady Noland, the infamous American artist who in an interview commented on her fascination with people’s actions and cultural practices that are ‘against the law’. After a while, however, it seems that Brätsch’s and Röder’s own practice is based on a break with the paradigm of engaged contemporary art, that is, art dedicated to the enhancement of the lives of (underprivileged) Others.

Instead of explicitly criticising the global capitalist system by pointing a finger at its unfair aspects, they appropriate the conceptual logic behind the transnational marketing of companies, states and cites. For instance, the ‘Schröderline’ collection comprises a series of ‘I ♥ NY’-T-shirts to which the artists attached layers of digitally designed knitting work. This attachment can be seen to exist parasitically on the success of New York’s city marketing. The exhibition visitor immediately feels the ‘Schröderline’ collection is familiar.

The exhibition in the Kunstverein shows that Brätsch & DAS INSTITUT draw on a wide range of techniques and materials. They combine large-scale, abstract oil paintings - at times reminiscent of the work of Robert Delaunay, but stripped of any obvious relation to nature - with framed monochrome Plexiglas plates and prints of drawings made with computer programmes. The frames carrying the Plexiglas and the pieces of paper on which the paintings are made, lean nonchalantly against the given interior architecture of the Kunstverein. They face the institution’s large windows, and can thus also be seen from the outside, as if in a shop window. Depending on where viewers are standing, they can look through the coloured Plexiglas at the paintings as well as through the Kunstverein’s windows out on the streets. This way, the artwork, like a logo, does affect the way the viewer forms his or her perspective on the world. As Naomi Klein most famously has pointed out, a logo is much more than a symbol of recognition; it encompasses a whole philosophy.

With an eye to other artists who branded their identity - Damien Hirst, for instance - Brätsch and DAS INSTITUT’s strategy of advertising their name might come across as obsolete. Hirst’s art more and more became a commercial product. Brätsch and DAS INSTITUT reverse Hirst’s practice of selling his famous name, his identity as an artist, to companies like the V&S Group, preferring to attract attention to their art through the use of self-determined advertisement strategies, which at times border on the verge of piracy. They try to reclaim artistic autonomy by taking the branding and marketing of their name into their own hands. The success of that branding enables them to produce artwork that does not have to conform to the demands dictated by the art market. However, by dedicating their work to other artists who seem to be proponents of artistic autonomy, they simultaneously demonstrate that one cannot entirely control what others think of or connect to an artist’s identity.

At present, a visit to Cologne is worth the effort not only because of Kerstin Brätsch’s exhibition, but also because of Luke Fowler’s exhibition in Galerie Gisela Capitain, Judi Weinheim’s work in Galerie Figge von Rosen and Lucie McKenzie’s exhibitions at Galerie Daniel Buchholz and the Ludwig Museum.

Kerstin Brätsch & DAS INSTITUT, („Nichts, Nichts!")
February 5 - March 20
Kölnischer Kunstverein, Cologne, Germany

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Metropolis M Magazine for contemporary art No 4 — 2020