East Contemporary

Dox: Andres Serrano “Infamous Beauty” + “Beyond Words” + Genesis Breyer P-Orridge “It Is a Painful Thing to Be Alone: We Are But One”

Prague, June 8, 2023 – January 7, 2024 (Andres Serrano), September 14,2023 – February 11, 2024 (Beyond Words), October 26, 2023 – March 3, 2024 (Genesis Breyer P-Orridge), https://www.dox.cz

On my visit, Dox featured a mixed bag of exhibitions. The large space close to the entrance was devoted to an Andres Serrano solo show. All works were large scale photographs. Strong colors, strong images, human faces, bodily fluids. That about it summarizes it on a high level. Themes circled around the human condition, sexuality and racism. Things which draw attention. It was all kind of colorful and pop-arty. The contents were partially controversial or slightly shocking, all in a very literal and in-your-face style. The feeling it created in me was embarrassment, like when someone tells a bad joke and you know you are supposed to laugh, at least out of politeness, but in the depth of your mind you just want to roll your eyes. Another feeling was fascination, especially in the case of the stuff dealing with U.S. racism. This was thanks to large and very detailed tabloid-grade images, something that will for sure also be the clickbait leading a lot of people to this article.

Beyond words was a group show dealing with the intermingling of art and literature. This show left only a very shallow impression on me. I remembered it featured a number of works from artists, who previously had solo shows at Dox (Volker März, Anna Beata Hablova). Both of these artists take a very “literal”, direct way to bridge art and literature. März creates miniature sculptures of the stereotypical appearances of famous writers and artists in combination with elements from their novels. Hablova simply combines her poetry and images on the same surface, often with a directly illustrative connection. Also other works followed in this fashion. Books were cut up into book sculptures by Brian Dettmer and Georgia Russell. Books were soaked and molded into weird shapes by Matej Kren, author of the famous book tower on permanent display at the Municipal Library Prague. Douglas Coupland uploaded his novels to a Google AI and let it generate a couple of slogans, arranged in a colorful array of small prints on dibond (very badly installed, only on a single nail per print, creating very uneven lines, together with the color palette – kindergarten feeling). Kristof Kintera constructed a concrete-and-book tower out of old books thrift stores did not want to buy. Etc. A majority of works followed this very direct interpretation of the overall theme. There was not much of artworks that would be more metaphorical and indirect. A books is not only a container for text made of paper. A book has different functions in its use and social significance, for example. Also, as of today, a literary text does not need to take a book form at all. If the exhibition was supposed to be about words, or the space beyond words, that I would really expect a bit more on the meta-levels of language and representation. It seems to me a bit as if the show was curated by AI chatbot (called Michaela Šilpochová 😉 ) given the prompt “book art”. The result: “books” AND “art”.

The work that was most fresh for me were the paintings with small 3D prints by Radka Bodzewicz, reminiscent both of medieval Bosch paintings and of layered fantasy worlds in computer games. It was a bit of an outlier, as it made do without “books” but still express something about reading (beyond words).

An interesting coincidence that Kunsthalle Praha had a similarly themed exhibition running at the same time. And even though it is hard to compare, for me personally, the Elmgreen & Dragset “READ” show at Kunsthalle Praha was definitely the winner among these two.

A Genesis Breyer P-Orridge solo retrospective (spiced up with a number of works from other artists) rounded up the exhibition triade at Dox. P-Orridge was a noise-industrial musician, performer, artist and much more. I was a little bit familiar with P-Orridge because of the music-related side of her creation, which was in many ways pioneering and unique. In the show the sound creations were present in a rather muted form, a couple of videos on small monitors and some LPs in a glass display box. More focus was given to the visual media in their varied forms, from book art and zines to photographs, videos and drawings. On one hand, it was a very wild mixture of works. On the other hand, it was a great way to see the different facets and concerns of P-Orridge. The central concern was that of gender, where P-Orridge used her own body as a medium to express her suspicion of the existing gender roles and a preference for a much more fluid an ambivalent definition of what gender is. The body of work was convincing for me in its directness and by the fact, that the artist put literally his/her own skin in the game to make his/her point. I also felt a bridge there between the music-related work of P-Orridge which was also a lot about immediacy and the material qualities of sound, as if it was a “body”. It was moving to see the shrine-like installation created by the daughter of P-Orridge, paying homage to her father. The last room featured a number of hand-drawn/hand-written works on paper accompanied by a video of the hand of P-Orridge writing them, as if P-Orridge, in knowing the approaching end of her life was once again trying to sum up and highlight the central concerns of her art/life practice.

To sum up, it’s always worth it to visit Dox, as there is always something worth to see. The space is beautiful and the atmosphere friendly. However it is also true, that the type and quality of the shows varies. As I have mentioned in my previous reviews of Dox, it is clear that the institution is following a certain vision and also that the owners have a certain taste that they are trying to push when selecting the shows. This, for my taste, is sometimes too direct, too literal and too educative. It is too much “about something” without being “something” by itself. I really enjoyed the Genesis Breyer P-Orridge show, because it was about him/her and it was his/her ideas that were on exhibit. On the other hand the other two shows, Serrano and Beyond words both suffered by this too direct “aboutness”. In the case of Serrano, it was to an extent due to his style, further stressed by the curatorial approach. In the case of Beyond words, it was solely down to a very mechanical curatorial approach. I really hope DOX could put some thought to this, I see a lot of unrealized potential in this institution.

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