Is it cheating, one wonders, to mount an elegantly installed, well-balanced exhibition of wild and wooly, hyper-expressive messy work by painter, sculptor, and performer Jonathan Meese? Such is the dilemma posed by “DR. TRANS-FORM-ERZ,” a selection of some seventy works on paper created over twenty years. A self-proclaimed mama’s boy with a bad temper, the eccentric German artist, born in Tokyo, was deeply influenced by American popular culture. He shows his love for retro Hollywood with portraits of a John Wayne hero, Zorro, Lolita, Mr. Spock, and other characters. Other drawings give comeuppance to history’s villains: Stalin, Caligula, Nero, and of course, Hitler. Not least in this mix is Meese himself, whose drawn and photographed likeness appears in many collages.
These modest-sized works hang at spacious intervals in the main gallery. The measured presentation contrasts markedly with Fort d'EVOLUTIONSKNOXOZ de ZARDOZEDADADDY 2 (ERZ JOHNNY WAYNE IS DADDY COOLISMEESE), a new, site-specific installation that fills the landing on the gallery’s staircase. It offers an intensive immersion in Meese’s signature style, with collaged walls crammed with images from torn-out magazine pages. There’s hardly space for air—just an all-embracing platform for profanity, political symbols, music allusions, and art and literature both high and low.
Pictured: Jonathan Meese: Untitled, 2009, acrylic, permanent marker, pen, graphite, and cut-and-pasted printed paper on handmade paper, 41⅜ by 31⅛ inches. Courtesy David Nolan, New York. Photo Jan Bauer.