Art News: In Bangkok, Readymades Redux

It occupies roughly 15 square feet of wall space, but the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art’s display of 12 recently acquired photographs by German artist Enver Hirsch has the punch and presence of a mini-exhibit.  On view in the museum’s photography galleries, Hirsch’s Bangkok Curbside photographs capture the inventive constructions that Bangkok residents use to reserve parking spaces in the crowded city.

It’s easy to see why these funny little objects caught the photographer’s eye. All of them are very sculptural, and their pops of color, linear rhythms and variety of shapes make for a lively array.

Marcel Duchamp’s readymades come immediately to mind; some constructions suggest apotropaic talismans. In this case, the evil to be warded off would be another vehicle owner.

A mysterious concatenation of hardware and plastic bottles, one filled with cloudy green liquid, seems  calculated to make a rival motorist think twice before getting anywhere near it.

More conventional is a trio of orange traffic cones. Stools are a popular place holder, stacked one atop the other or linked by a board. One holds a potted plant!

Many pieces declare affinities with the crude assemblages seen in the New Museum’s “Unmonumental” exhibit eight years ago.  One determined spot-holder fashioned a triangular wood frame; another salvaged a rickety chair with a round seat of robin’s egg blue.

“The provisional and pragmatic quality of these objects may seem chaotic at first,” Hirsch has said, “but they follow their own system, they reflect something like the common DNA of the city dwellers.”

Battered, broken, fragmented, none of the objects enlisted for the task of place holding has any intrinsic value, but there are a couple of constructions, including an arrangement of metal rings, that noted modernist sculptor David Smith might have been be proud to claim.

Hirsch, who spent 14 months in Bangkok in 2010-11, is attracted by the objects’ sculptural qualities, but discerns something more.

“I present them as readymades,” he says, “that give testimony of flexibility and humor, but also of corruption and poverty and that describe a society that maybe acts less purposeful than ours in Germany, but that is much more focused on the present moment.”

Top: Twelve photographs by German artist Enver Hirsch, a gift to the museum from the Hall Family Foundation, are on view in the photography galleries at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.  The German name of the series, which captures objects used as parking space placeholders by Bangkok residents, is Parkplatzfreihalter; the Nelson is displaying the photos under the title “Bangkok Curbside.”

Alice Thorson

Alice Thorson is the editor of KC Studio. She has written about the visual arts for numerous publications locally and nationally.

Leave a Reply