The Modern Institute

The Modern Institute

Dirk Bell

'PANIKEARTH', BQ, Berlin, 12/01—10/02/2010

With PANIKEARTH, his sixth solo show at BQ, Dirk Bell ties in with his most recent presentations at Schinkel Pavillon Berlin or at Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden last year. These exhibitions mainly included sculptures consisting of an arrangement of neon tubes which, depending on their particular lightening, allowed the visitor to discern different letters, words and anagrams.
At the artist’s request, Dirk Bell’s first solo gallery show in Berlin is not taking place in a temporary exhibition space – as it would be BQ’s practice with gallery exhibitions – but in BQ’s office in Rosa-Luxemburg-Straße 26, a permanent space serving the gallery as an office and thus not being reserved to exhibitions.


In the showcase of the office, a light box of four meters length announces in black-and-white letters PANIKEARTH. The letters in the middle of this word are stressed by the change of colours of background and writing and thus constitute the logo IKEA. A red-and-white coloured version of the lightbox will be on display from 15th of January onwards at the Basel Museum für Gegenwartskunst,
and there will be four further colour versions produced in the future.


After leaving the corridor in the entry of the office, one is being confronted with a self-portrait of a painter hanging upside-down.
Holding an empty palette and lacking the common painter’s attributes such as brush, colours and easel, he seems to be trapped in narcissist self-adulation, as a puddle drawn with crayon over the painting’s surface seems to suggest. The leaning of the canvas towards the lightbox in the showcase can be conceived as critisicm of the self-adulation of art or of an l’art pour l’artattitude:
Alike IKEA, the artist’s name becomes a label defining the value of artworks and making them uniform and exchangeable like industrially produced modular furniture. A huge drop, however, is stirring the still, homogenous surface of the puddle thus foreshadowing chaos and new beginning.


The antithesis of the inert painter in his mirror-trap is established by a diptych of two male portraits: An reproduction of Albrecht Dürer’s Saint Jerome, traditionally representing the ivory tower of the melancholy scholar, is backed by a canvas showing a cheerful fellow, the jester. Both are being ranged at the margins of society and symbolize the two extreme possibilities of artist life. Despite of their antipodal position, the two of them are communicating and supporting each other within the diptych.
At the end of the basement stairs, the visitor encounters a wooden door on the surface of which a delicate drawing depicts an adolescent couple. Overlapping one another, they appear as each other’s doubles and are fusing to become a new form. The ambivalence of their identities alludes to an open state of emergence also being symbolized by the abeyance of adolescence.


Central piece of the presentation in the basement is a vitrine formed like a stele and containing different objects. Whereas pencil drawings are attached to the glass panes in a spiral order, the compartments are containing a rock and cardboard letters composing different anagrams of a certain word like NO/ON or TOTALTAT/TOT/TAT/AAL. In the lower compartment, an additional, red writing – „warming“ – is flickering on a monitor like a warning signal. The danger of self-adulation is thus being condensed in the vitrine as its stele can be seen as the body of an artist. His development can be reconstructed if one follows the spiral direction of the mutating eye drawings, beginning with the top drawing that takes up the topic of birth and death. Denying death’s existence, the culture of accordance with market conditions seems to grant narcissist affirmation but eventually leads to
catastrophic (global) warming and so reveals the self-destructive potential of any egocentric way of life. The presentation in the basement is being completed by a suspended globe, an inflatable transparent beach ball. The earth’s surface is injured by two vulcanesque penetration holes whose appendices are joined subterraneously.


The counterpart of the illuminated writing PANIKEARTH is formed by a work on canvas that is installed on the other side of the street in Yvonne Quirmbach’s office in Rosa-Luxemburg-Straße 15 and that announces, in huge red letters, WARMING.