Be sure to read the little title placards at Rosemarie Trockel: A Cosmos, the first major exhibition in North America devoted to the German artist since the nineties, which opens at the New Museum today. Cosmos is not a retrospective. It’s not even a solo show. Curator Lynne Cooke and Rosemarie Trockel have imagined a new way of presenting an artist’s work: incorporating, alongside Trockel originals, borrowed art and artifacts, old and new, that map her aesthetic interests.
This is the idea behind A Cosmos: an assembly of the artist’s elective affinities as imaginary universe. Trockel’s Cosmos includes work by outsider artists, among them James Castle, Morton Bartlett, and Judith Scott, who labored on visual creations beyond the spotlight of institutions like museums. Her universe also includes found objects like nineteenth century botanical etchings and a 27.5 pound taxidermied lobster. The effect is a cabinet of curiosities. It is often difficult to figure which works are Trockel’s and which are not. Read the placards.
Rosemarie Trockel’s Cosmos posits art and aesthetic pleasure as a communal activity. Trockel’s art engages with, not only other artists and times, but other disciplines as well. But otherness is irrelevant here. Art, craft, object, artifact—these categories don’t exist. The material world achieves a symbolic equilibrium in Trockel’s Cosmos.
I am always looking for new ways to engage with fashion. The default approach being consumption or, at best, imaginative identity performance. Cosmos offers an alternative. Trockel uses traditional art materials—paint, canvas, clay—less than the materials of the everyday—ceramics, textile and yarn, photographs, boxes, and books. In one small hall of the exhibition, we see Robert Havell ornithological aquatint etchings, a flamingo and a wood stork, near a portrait photograph of a bare chested young man tattooed in plumage and flora, Prime Age by Rosemarie Trockel (2012). In between, a crab specimen sits atop a structure of textiles. The mediums of representation are different—tattoos versus aquatint, photographs versus found object—but the referents—subjects of the natural world—are the same. The medium is not the message.
In Trockel’s Cosmos, the material of fashion intuitively belongs. Yarn paintings are like flags or textured and processed like the paint of Abstract Expressionism. Havaianas flip flops make not one but three appearances, in sculpture and print. Trockel’s Babylon Library from 1997 is my beautiful dark twisted fantasy: in the library stacks, books spread open, an androgynous model naked save for some light yarn bondage stares the camera down, a photograph with a fashion editorial tone. Fashion: this is what my elective affinities have culled from Trockel’s Cosmos.