After a five-month stay in New York, which culminated in her US-debut bulletproof, Despina Stokou now presents Delusions of Grandeur at the Krobath Gallery. In her first solo exhibition in Berlin she continues to analyse the structures that enable (and at the same time distort) the production and dissemination of art: galleries, money, language, gender roles and the notion of success. Selected by the Deutsches Theater as the Artist of the 2013/2014 season, Stokou once again integrates dramatic texts into her analysis of the art scene. Fictional characters mingle with real-life people: Joan of Arc, Roberta, Blanche, Henry V and a certain George B...
Delusions of Grandeur
Despina Stokou creates paintings. Yet the most prominent elements of her paintings are textual rather than pictorial. The Berlin-based artist cuts out letters from coloured origami paper and places them onto the canvas. There she juxtaposes word and sentence fragments with expressively applied, murky colours, which sometimes swell into dark clouds of text. Her method of scraping the colour, putting together newspaper and magazine snippets to create collages and selectively using spray colours results in a riotous ensemble. And to make it all look a little seedy, old snippets from Playboy and Playgirl are added to the mix. The letters conquer the canvas in a way that is reminiscent of the powerful graffiti which once adorned New York’s walls, buses and underground trains. Back then, in the mid 1970s, Jean Baudrillard referred to this as the “revolution of signs”.
Stokou finds the material for her textual paintings in her immediate surroundings: For 34 Adjectives NYT (2013) the artist filtered out all the adjectives used in an exhibition review by the influential art critic Roberta Smith published in the New York Times and used the resulting linguistic excerpts to produce art. Characters 2013/2014 (2013) was created in a similar manner. Here she presents various figures from her professional network as characters in a stage production: Mother Gallery, Father Gallery, the Collector Choir and the Writer. A part of the production environment that is usually barely visible to the public thus finds expression in the painting itself. However, Stokou does not aim to produce a strict narrative or to uncover some kind of hidden correlation. Instead, she focuses on private mythologies, linguistic games and misunderstandings: “A lot of the words I used are intended to open up paths to other spaces.”
In Ruin Art Noir (2013) Stokou quotes the menus of “Les Trois Rois” in Basel and the five-star hotel “Delano South Beach”, which is renowned for its exclusive pool parties during Art Basel Miami. The background colours of her “art cannibalism series”, as she privately calls it, were inspired by the label of the champagne brand Ruinart. The products of the Reims-based champagne house are marketed at art fairs across the world by the luxury goods conglomerate LVMH.
Stokou is interested in the alluring charm and the slightly decaying glamour of places like Basel or Miami. She watches the goings-on and listens for the names that are traded like shares each season. The paintings from her Ruin Art series seem like hastily written notes, as if the surge of names, places and prices were fixated for a moment. But the obscurity remains. Like layered slides, Stokou’s notes form a new picture puzzle: the dancing letters create distortion and ambiguity. Somewhere a door opens with a creak and lets a cool breeze into “Les Trois Rois”. And the menu of the hotel restaurant Cheval Blanc suddenly features a Voodoo Stew.
(English translation: Mandana Taban)