FERTILITY : Side by Side Gallery Akim Monet GmbH (Berlin)

Louise Bourgeois // PREGNANT WOMAN, 2008 // Gouache and colored pencil on gray paper 31.1 x 25.4 cm // image courtesy Side by Side Gallery Akim Monet GmbH, Berlin
Louise Bourgeois // PREGNANT WOMAN, 2008 // Gouache and colored pencil on gray paper
31.1 x 25.4 cm // image courtesy Side by Side Gallery Akim Monet GmbH, Berlin

FERTILITY // Marina ABRAMOVIC // Jonathan BOROFSKY // Louise BOURGEOIS // Tracey EMIN // George GROSZ // Ernst Ludwig KIRCHNER // Otto MUELLER // Pablo PICASSO // Auguste RODIN // Andres SERRANO // Daniel SPOERRI // September 9 until October 29, 2011 // Side by Side Gallery Akim Monet GmbH // Berlin

Fertility, in all its literal or metaphoric meanings, is cyclic and timeless. At its most basic, to be fertile is to bear fruit-whether humans making children or the land producing crops. In a broader sense, fertility speaks to inventiveness, abundance, possibilities, ideas. It is the terrain of artists directly engaged in the act of creation and a fitting concept for the inaugural show of Side By Side Gallery Akim Monet, an exhibition space interested in the tangencies and dialogues between artworks spanning time and place.

Grouping works dating from the late 19th century to the contemporary moment by eleven artists, the show looks at its theme from many angles - factual and symbolic, erotic and tender, visceral and humorous. The contemporary artist Marina Abramovic immediately commands attention with the assertiveness of her female imagery. Abramovic's 2005 chromogenic print "Women in Rain #2," taken from her video piece "Balkan Erotic Epic," shows traditionally dressed village women in a field lifting their skirts and thrusting their exposed vaginas to the heavens. In equal parts startling and comic, the image is part of Abramovic's exploration of ancient Balkan beliefs in the power of human genitalia to ensure the fertility of the land.

Serrano's "Frozen Semen with Blood" (1990) is precisely that - plumes of the red and white elemental substances isolated close-up against a black ground. It is both matter-of-fact in its literalness and also beautifully evocative of pigments suspended in an Abstract Expressionist painting. It finds resonance with the corporeal redness of Louise Bourgeois's three gouaches titled "Pregnant Woman" from 2008 and 2009. Bourgeois's works, each a silhouette of a bulbous torso, seem to flip between figurative totems and abstract rivers of live-giving fluids. These embodiments of the state of fertility, made when the artist was in her mid 90s, have their roots in Surrealism, as do Daniel Spoerri's 1990s collages using images of reproductive anatomy lifted from 19th-century encyclopedias and his 1995 bronze "La Coppia-Hr. Stossel und Fr. Muscheli." This couple is amusingly personified by surrogates for their sexual organs- a rubber stamp for Hr. Stossel, a conch shell for Fr. Muscheli, each anthropomorphically poised on a set of little legs.

Another conversation over time happens between Ernst Ludwig Kirchner's "LiegendesPaar" (1908), a print of a couple lying in bed calmly post-coital, and Tracy Emin's 2009 monoprints "Suffer Love" of a woman furiously masturbating. Both are private glimpses of erotic intimacy, each daring in their own time, yet Emin's female is adamantly alone. While Emin's images suggest a kind of infertility of loneliness, at the same time they speak to the generative possibilities of her own hand as a means of self-preservation whether emotional or artistic.

Auguste Rodin and Pablo Picasso, two artists who saw their own virility as a font of creative power and viewed their prolific artistic output as a kind of offspring, each are represented by works overtly celebrating female sexuality. Rodin's bronze "Torsed'Adele" (1878) is a classically lyrical arched torso of his favored model Adele, who was in fact pregnant (although not obviously so) at the time of her sitting. In the etching "Raphael et la fornarina. II: Avec un voyeur cache" (1968), Picasso equates the erotic with the artistic enterprise as he imagines Raphael simultaneously seducing and painting his model.

Best known for his lurid street scenes of decadent Berlin, Kirchner also made wholesome scenes of maternal care including a mother and son playing with a train in the grass titled "Spielende kinder imgrasmiteisenbahn" (1924). Otto Mueller offers a harrowing counterpoint in his 1920 lithograph "Mutter und kind II." It is unclear whether boy cradled against the mother's body is only sleeping or in fact dead in a kind of pieta. Mueller's "Polnischefamilie" (1920-21), with a bony baby at the mother's breast and another child crouching under the table, illustrates that fertility can also be associated with destitution and failure to thrive. Their countryman George Grosz contributes an unsettling work on paper titled "Le Meilleur des mondes" (c. 1946-47) referencing Aldous Huxley's dystopian 1932 novel "Brave New World" about humans being relieved of their reproductive functions. Here Grosz presents a sardonic image of modernity with a grotesque embryo gestating in an anthropomorphic decanter towering over a naked woman robbed of her womb and a backdrop of glittering skyscrapers.

Jonathan Borofsky's contribution to the show takes a wide-angle view on the theme. "Human Structures (32 Figures)" (2002/2009), an indoor version of a large-scale piece done for the Beijing Olympics, is a freestanding cylindrical tower of alternating male and female figures, connected hand to hand and head to foot, each a different bright color of translucent molded polycarbonate. Here, the parts join like building blocks to create one universal, fertile organism. It is the eternal daisy chain of humanity.

- Text by Hilarie M. Sheets

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