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In the distorting mirror of the mass media
Rocky Horror Comic Show
Four decades of "political painting" by Erró
in the house at the Waldsee
Review by Elfi Kreis
in: Der Tagesspiegel, Berlin, 19.08.1997

Mao: young, serious and radiantly beautiful, he strides across the rain-soaked St. Mark's Square in an ankle-length robe. Erró makes him walk across the water of the puddle as Jesus in Venice. Sometimes photorealistic, sometimes in the cloying style of Peking opera, the series "Chinese Paintings" sends the revolutionary hero and his comrades on a sightseeing tour through the Western hemisphere in the 1970s. The "red danger" as a group of tourists addicted to pleasure, wonderfully absurd and prescient. The painter treats the guiding image of the student movement as if Mao were one of the countless comic figures that otherwise prefer to cavort on his canvases. Erró's political painting spares nothing and no one. The left appreciated his anti-militaristic and anti-authoritarian positions precisely because of their radical sharpness. But they often did not like his dismantling of heroic myths either.

Political song, a nasty song - even in Erró. The old prejudice that political art is trendy art, if not agitprop, is unmistakably refuted by the overview of works conceived by the director of the Wilhelm Busch Museum in Hanover. The exhibition at the Haus am Waldsee is the fifth stop on the tour, which will then travel through Eastern Europe. Initiator Joachim Neyer concentrates his selection on demonstrating Erró's media-critical attitude. Born in Iceland in 1932 as Gudmundur Gudmundson and living in Paris, the artist reflects on political current events in the distorting mirror of the flood of images conveyed by the modern mass media. Since 1967 he has been calling himself Erró. That sounds like "error." A signet that fits like a glove in his work.

From the Vietnam War to Sarajevo, from the atomic bomb to "Sex and Crime," Erró deals with the all-encompassing theme of corruption through power, regardless of the regime. For years, he initially collected a wealth of second-hand images from magazines, department store catalogs, and posters for each series. His preferred source material, however, are caricatures and, above all, comic strips. He treats the trivial, the banal, the everyday as equally important.

The exhibition overwhelms the visitor with its colorful, small-scale abundance of images on the giant walls of the 80s to 90s. It immediately draws him into the maelstrom of bulging chambers of terror and horror scenarios from the crime scene of the daytime news, into the maelstrom of hand-to-hand combat battles between comic figures: familiar from television, pinball machines, and electronic computer games. Erró exponentiates the clichés of our image-addicted media society until the abundance of visual information is exposed as an emptiness of content.

In the 80s, the series are based on the central perspective spatial models of the Renaissance. In the '90s, the electronic screen makes earlier collage templates obsolete. for his most recent "Shapes," Erró feeds his computer with thousands of individual images. Chased through the centrifuge of a special computer program, they form, as in "Eva Braun's Dream," overlapping, wave-like basic structures reminiscent of the meridians on a globe.

For Erró, art comes from art; his works know many different models, to which he openly acknowledges. The mix of styles, the plundering of art history is method. His earliest collages from the 1950s, still combined with drawing, are reminiscent of Hannah Hoch. They are followed by sheets influenced by Raoul Hausmann. Then first, already painted collages of the series "Meca-Make-up". Independent collages also precede the first paintings. In the 70s and 80s Erró develops from them so-called "Marketten", which he projects as a slide on the picture surface, traces and transfers meticulously with brush and paint on canvas. These works are called modern history painting, in which the rebellious spirit of the times after '68 becomes apparent. In France, the stylistic term "Narrative Figuration" was coined for the style across the board. Mao and Vermeer, Pop Art and the principle of collage and montage derived from Dada and Surrealism, from John Heartfield, comic styles and Nazi propaganda are compatible in Erró.

From "Chinese Paintings" to "American Interiors," the cross-section of Erró's political art on the upper floor covers the period from 1968 to the 1980s. The most violent provocation awaits the visitor directly before. The series "For Robert Crumb", for which Erró combines American underground comix (comix with "x" to distinguish them from conventional strips) with Nazi propaganda posters, has a highly drastic effect. Brutal rape scenes, sex and violence plus country milieu and Nazi political slogans make for hard-to-digest imagery that is heightened in effect by its bold color. Provocative, especially since they are fresh on the walls in German lands. Erró often uses irony as a stylistic device. With it he strives for catharsis. The director of the Haus am Waldsee, Barbara Straka, sums up his statement as "the obscenity of war. The confrontation with this group of works may be strong stuff for some. To close one's eyes to it would be too simple. While it is art, the brutal truth of the message comes across clearly. As is well known, the shock effects of art have little effect on reality. But if, as in this case, they give people food for thought, much has already been achieved.

Haus am Waldsee, Argentinische Allee 30, until 21 September; Tuesday to Sunday 10 am - 6 pm.
Catalog 38 DM (Hatje Verlag), in bookstores 48 DM.

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