Serpentine Gallery presents a new exhibition by leading artist Rosemarie Trockel (born in 1952 in Schwerte, Germany) who is renowned for her cross-disciplinary research and highly influential practice.
A Cosmos opens a door onto Trockel’s personal universe of affinities and interests through art works and artefacts selected in dialogue with curator Lynne Cooke. Work by the artist, including new work shown for the first time in the UK, is juxtaposed with a constellation of zoological specimens, botanical illustrations and work by other artists.
Fusing aspects of a ‘cabinet of curiosities’ (the Wunderkammer of the 18th and 19th century), a natural history museum, a library and a modern art gallery the Serpentine Gallery is transformed into an imaginary museum, where exhibits – loosely classified under categories of botany, zoology, textiles, ceramics and books – are displayed throughout a labyrinthine sequence of rooms. A cosmic manifesto for the artist unbound by traditional art-historical hierarchies, the exhibition celebrates the ideas that flourish in the spaces in between disciplines.
The artist’s complex interweaving of diverse artefacts with her works into a single ensemble recalls the naturalist Alexander von Humboldt’s (1769-1859) ambitious proposition for a unifying volume of knowledge titled Kosmos, in which he sought to represent "the entire material universe... from the stars in the nebulae to the geology of the mosses…”.
Illustrations and watercolours by pioneering botanist Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717) correspond with Trockel’s own botanical studies from 2012. Exquisite glass models of marine invertebrates, crafted by Leopold and Rudolph Blaschka in late 19th century Bohemia, co-habit with Trockel’s Lucky Devil (2012) – a new work featuring a crab specimen and cut up fragments of earlier works made by the artist. Work by self-taught artists – including James Castle’s (1899-1977) constructions of birds and Morton Bartlett’s (1901-1992) haunting ‘family’
of highly naturalistic plaster dolls live together. Elsewhere, among the matrix of objects and ideas that interconnect web-like across the exhibition, Trockel’s signature knitted paintings are linked with Judith Scott’s enigmatic forms cocooned in densely woven layers of yarn and a flickering screen plays Wladyslaw Starewicz’s 1912 pioneering stopmotion insect melodrama made using carcasses of actual beetles entitled The Cameraman’s Revenge.
For more than thirty years Trockel has resisted an identifiable style, working in a variety of materials, including wool, ceramic as well as appropriated artworks and objects. Certain issues have long occupied her thinking and underpinned her diverse activity: such as a refusal to accept the traditional hierarchies that elevate the fine arts above applied and decorative arts; a fascination with diverse forms of creativity, from the trained professional artist to self-taught practitioners as well as the aesthetic expressions of other species; and a broadly based interest in natural history, encompassing zoology, botany, and mineralogy. Threaded through her diverse and shape-shifting corpus is a subtle yet charged feminist perspective that expresses itself through wit, irony and an astringent self-scrutiny. More broadly, through her works, Trockel probes not only interrelationships between humans and animals but also our impact as a species on the natural world. The objects that make up Trockel’s cosmos offer a wealth of resonant relationships between different fields of knowledge and experience, proposing that we remain open to new discoveries and new ways of engaging and valuing our universe.
The subject of numerous solo shows, Trockel’s works have been exhibited widely, including at New Museum, New York; Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid; Kunsthalle Zürich, Switzerland; Dia Center for the Arts, New York; Moderna Museet, Stockholm; Centre Pompidou, Paris and Whitechapel Gallery, London. Trockel represented Germany at the 1999 Venice Biennale and participated in Documenta in 1997 and 2012. This exhibition is curated by Lynne Cooke and organised by the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in collaboration with the Serpentine Gallery.
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