German season in London

Rosemarie Trockel, Andreas Gursky and Stephen Balkenhol all show new work

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London

Young German artists are all over town this winter. The Whitechapel Art Gallery offers a mini-retrospective of Rosemarie Trockel’s voyeuristic installations, including rooms devoted to lovers and Brigitte Bardot (until until 7 February), while across town the Serpentine Gallery is showing new work by the deadpan photographer Andreas Gursky (21 January-7 March). Somewhere in between, both artistically and geographically,Stephen Balkenhol (snapped up recently by Charles Saatchi) has installed his painted, wooden sculptures in the recently rebuilt Sadler’s Wells theatre (until 17 April). The Goethe Institute is supporting the Trockle and Balkenhol shows, which form part of the German Embassy’s German Season taking place through 1999 to promote German culture.

Mating rituals

Rosemarie Trockel often turns her subjects and viewers into guinea pigs in the visual experiments of her art. Now the artist whose famous “House for pigs and people” (an installation at Documenta X made with Carsten Holler) put people in a pig sty to parody the importance of pork in German culture, has turned her attention to eggs. Broken, boiled, on dresses, as curtains, in chicken coops, on video: the egg as an icon of femininity, reproduction, life itself. Around the corner we see photos of couples in the act of fertilising them, knoodling in poses that look as though they’ve been pinched from a Viagra video. A pillow talk film installation shows couples in flagrante uttering quotes in German from Freud, Warhol and Marguerite Duras such as “What does it mean to be lonely, particularly in a relationship” or “What registers a higher state of passion: chocolates and comics or sex” (If you have to ask . . .) Upstairs a video of Brigitte Bardot casts the Sixties sex kitten-cum-cat lover as Mother Courage. Presumably they’ll all be eating a vegetarian breakfast the morning after.

Andreas Gursky’s photos are probably the opposite of sex. Consciously dispassionate, anonymous and clinical images of scenes such as the Bundestag and the Singapore stock exchange, it is hard to imagine anything less likely to inspire a night of passion. Nonetheless, the German photographer and disciple of the factory-snapping duo Bernd and Hilla Becher presents compelling recent work; his large format photos use the language of Modernist painting to meditate on various modes of display, from shop windows to the white cube of the gallery. “His photographs, take an object, such as a Prada shoe display case or a building and look at how our experience of the display constitutes how we see the object—about how packaging affects the senses,” explains Serpentine curator Lisa Coren. “His recent photo of the Bundestag is an example of how he manipulates images with digital photography to create a three-way resonance between the photo itself, what is pictured and the space in which we view it.”

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