Dieter Roth and Björn Roth

New York

Grosse Tischruine (Large Table Ruin): Dieter Roth: Grosse Tischruine (Large Table Ruin), with Björn Roth & Eggert Einarsson, 1978-98. Mixed media installation, dimensions variable. Photos: Bjarni Grimsson. Images courtesy Hauser & Wirth, New York.Dieter Roth: Grosse Tischruine (Large Table Ruin), with Björn Roth and Eggert Einarsson, 1978-98. Mixed media installation, dimensions variable. Photos: Bjarni Grimsson. Images courtesy Hauser & Wirth, New York.

By Emily Stoddart

Dieter Roth and Björn Roth
Hauser and Wirth
To April 13, 2013

ON THE VISUAL ARTS:
Take a thing and put it on one thing
Take a thing and put it on 2 things
Take a thing and put it on 3 things
Take a thing and put it on 4 things
Take a thing and put it on 6 things
Take a thing and put it on 7 things
...sell any time.

- Introduction to Collected Works, Volume 7 by Dieter Roth

Dieter Roth Björn Roth, the inaugural exhibition at the new Hauser and Wirth space in West Chelsea, reveals how forces of incarnate sensuality and intellectually driven chaos – when steered by expert draftsmanship – embody a blue-chip worthy purpose. Housed in the former Roxy roller-rink nightclub, 24,700 square feet of mega-gallery pays homage, posthumously, to a revered German-Swiss artist/genius, along with his son and occasional collaborator Björn (and Björn’s sons Oddur and Einar). Upon entering, the heavy smell of chocolate precedes the climb up a graceful, elongated staircase draped in shiny, dazzling rainbow-coloured wallpaper. The Roth Bar, a fully functional wood and steel bar (completed for the exhibition, but now a permanent fixture) looms above the stairway through the transparency of a glass wall. The opulence associated with the unabashed scale of the gallery’s architecture is gamely met, it would seem, by the will of the artist and his estate.

Dieter and Björn Roth: Zuckerturm (Sugar Tower), 1994—2013. Sugar casts, glass, wood. 445 x 96 x 96 cm (175 1/4 x 37 3/4 x 37 3/4 inches).Dieter and Björn Roth: Zuckerturm (Sugar Tower), 1994—2013. Sugar casts, glass, wood. 445 x 96 x 96 cm (175 1/4 x 37 3/4 x 37 3/4 inches).While not the first work encountered in the main gallery, it becomes clear that the chocolate smells originate from the installation New York Kitchen, an assortment of kettles, hot plates and tables where Björn and his sons cast busts of Dieter Roth’s head, which are then added to the 1994 work Selbstturm (Self Tower). The towers and work space sit adjacent to Large Table Ruin, a group of tables piled high with materials, projectors, empty beer bottles and junk, created by Dieter in 1978 but living on through his son and grandsons. These installations are messy and seductive and, in their mishmash of art and life, reflect the effects of the objects and works on the walls surrounding them. Nearby, The Floor I (1973-92), and The Floor II (1977-98), two 19-by-40-foot sections of wooden floor pulled out of Dieter’s studio in Mosfellsbaer, Iceland, are now tipped up on their sides and braced together to form a tall, narrow tunnel. The displacement of the floor as sculpture adds to the show’s surreal narrative/myth of collaboration; aesthetic reception of these works depends not only on their sensual materiality, but also on the viewer’s belief that she or he is actively participating in the artist’s (and his family’s) ongoing process.

More modest and less performative, a group of 52 intaglio prints reveal Roth senior’s expert draftsmanship. Each work, moderately sized, are displayed in even rows and are all independently direct, sophisticated, cohesive and beautifully crafted. Another moving series are his "Clothes Pictures" from the 1980s: glue-covered assemblages of his clothing and shoes on plywood. The paintings made by Dieter and Björn feature delicate brushwork and a subdued palette layered in a torrid frenzy. The effect is an informal tracing that one can’t help but associate with the men’s intimate familial ties and their life-long commitment to work together.

What is perhaps the most controversial (and digital) effort of the show are 128 video screens of Dieter’s Solo Scenes (1997-98), which comprises multiple shots by multiple cameras of the artist’s life the year before he died. Recorded in his studios in Germany, Switzerland and Iceland, they are intended to depict the senior Roth as he goes about his daily routines: eating, drinking, drawing, shitting, sleeping, showering and reading. Combined with a specific formal presentation on looped monitors in five rows, supremely organized and repetitive, the work seems to summarize the overarching mood and deceptively simple theme of the show: art is not life, but it depends on it.