Every Love Story is a Ghost Story: The Histories of Rupert Goldsworthy
Rupert Goldsworthy at Ritter/Zamet
July 25 through October 25, 2014
Unit 8, 80A Ashfield Street (between Turner and Cavell streets)
London, +44 (0) 207 790 8746
English-born artist Rupert Goldsworthy has followed an eclectic path over the past two decades. Living mostly in Berlin or — as at present — New York, he’s spread his energies across writing, researching and curating, as well as his own art, and has run project spaces in both cities. There are clear continuities across all those activities, though: the history of political activism and AIDS; an interest in how different communities interrelate; and an ongoing investigation into how images are reused and what they stand for. His book, CONSUMING//TERROR: Images of the Baader-Meinhof (2010), for example, traces the visual history of the Red Army Faction (the West German terror group) and their logo. His last exhibition at Ritter/Zamet, in 2012, used image sources as diverse as medicine packaging, stickers from street art, and his own photographs of signs and monuments to juxtapose the old and new communities in the Neukölln area of Berlin.
Everything in Goldsworthy’s current show was made onsite during a month’s residency at the gallery. The floor dominates: it was undisguisedly hand-painted with typically North African tile-like patterns. Combined with the natural light filtering through the small gallery’s roof, Mosque Floor generates the atmosphere of a courtyard and makes for an environment that — true to his interdisciplinary form — provides the platform for events with guest artists, musicians and writers.
The images around the courtyard are predictably varied. The most striking and conventionally painted is Clone Moustache, a looming close-up of part of a face with bushy hair completely covering the mouth. That suggests secrecy or a failure of communication, as well as membership of the 1970’s Castro-clone scene, a culture driven by extreme promiscuity. Both aspects fit the text paintings Mineshaft Dress Code and The Coleherne, which adopt a painterly photographic halftone dot format, similar to Sigmar Polke’s, to depict a crowd outside a notorious 1970s London leather club. The text is a word-for-word enamel reproduction of the club’s amateurishly hand-written dress code notice, which Goldsworthy has blown up to the scale of a man’s body. New York’s Mineshaft was among the first sex clubs to be closed by the city during the AIDS crisis, and according to Goldsworthy, its dress rules were well known in gay lore. The list is fascinating, featuring as it does both what can be worn (biker leathers, western gear, uniforms) and what can’t (suits, rugby shirts, disco drag and, surprisingly, cologne or perfume).
If those three paintings suggest nostalgia for the pre-AIDS freedoms of the ‘70s, albeit tinged by what came later, then Anita and Brian takes us back a little further: in a red and black graphic style that imitates a printing process, we see Anita Pallenberg and Brian Jones in Nazi uniforms. That puts us in 1969, just before Jones was found dead in
his swimming pool. Finally, Bull appropriates an early 20th century cartoon about the plight of Armenians, then adds a painterly splatter of bloody color. Several copiously moustached men strive to push a bull off a cliff: impending disaster is now visibly present.
The overall effect is more allusive than systematic, but we might think not just about AIDS, but more generally about how one culture imitates or opposes another, or how visual representations help form cultural identities, or whether the various patterns of collapse referenced — not just the end of the pre-AIDS sex scenes, but the dissolution of Ottoman Turkey, the fall of the Third Reich, and the endpoint of Western colonialism suggested by the floor’s expansion of Islamic influence — have any commonalities.
All that makes for a fascinating and emotional installation. London is very different now, and as an ex-pat visiting his hometown this year after three decades abroad, Goldsworthy talks of finding a sad irony in the double erasure of its recent history: first the decimation of his generation by AIDS, and then gentrification. You do, though, need the background provided by Goldsworthy to pick that up, else all you get is disparate work with an aura of potential linkage. Other artists — de Chirico and Rauch, for example — make a virtue of frustrating our desire to make logical connections, but integrate their choices in a distinctive painterly language. Goldsworthy is a chameleon painter, choosing styles to match his sources. That may be thematically appropriate, but it does sacrifice that sense of the artist’s own visually coded world, which makes for more immediate appreciation.