Demian Kern at Krobath | Wien

The invite for Demian Kern’s exhibition “Collectibles” features In the Desert (all works 2023), a painting of four shadowy shapes suggesting cartoon animals. In the foreground of the invitation image, a trio of small crystalline figurines stand on a table and stare at the canvas, evoking a strange pathos.

At the gallery, this same painting is paired with three more canvases hung across the walls of the small rectangular space. All but one are executed in thinly applied grayish oil paint, along with faint hues of the kind of spectral colors produced by reflections. Stylish Beauty 1 portrays a dog in three-quarter profile, while Stylish Beauty 2 depicts a tapered cat, its tail detached in ornamental waywardness. These gray paintings model the silhouettes of light cast by the glass menagerie on the invite—a sort of chamber play version of Plato’s cave. Meanwhile, the last canvas, You Make My Sun Shine (Rain), is a monochrome whose hue resembles that of a green screen, capable of hosting any manner of content in postproduction.

These gestures could be seen as a reference to the canonical feature of image production and epistemology: the lens dividing what is from what is represented. But Kern’s titles also reinforce the Benjaminian notion of a commodity, emphatically performing in order to be liked (and purchased). If works of art differ from kitsch in their ability to resist the bourgeois subject’s desire to reduce them to what Adorno called “objects of fondling,” this exhibition signals toward the messy intimacy of artworks as collectibles and commodities as art.

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