Anton Henning: Interieur No. 493
Curious and bemusing conceptual art salon at 2011 Edinburgh Art Festival
This article is from 2011.
If, as critic and writer Cyril Connolly once noted, ‘vulgarity is the garlic in the salad of life’ German artist Anton Henning might just have halitosis. Henning’s first solo show in Scotland is just about as curious and bemusing an exhibition as you are likely to see this festival but that is no bad thing. The thing to remember is this is a ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’ – a total work of art. The vision here is a complete one, from the individual art works to the plush furnishings and fittings – this is an art salon as imagined by Wilde’s ‘unspeakable and the uneatable’, those with more money than taste.
Hemming goes for the feet first. The deep shag pile almost gives the game away immediately. The gallery walls are block painted in turquoise, bright yellows, green, and, with certain valuable exceptions, the art on show is of a foundation art level. These half-arsed abstracts, gothy drawings of skulls, appalling sculptures and wild stabs at religious iconography would not look out of place in a particularly witless Russian billionaire’s lair. There are, of course, hints that all is not as it seems here. High above, the exquisite bird on a blossom painting ‘Abendlied’ witnesses the incredulity of the visitor and then there’s all the nakedness.
The series of pin-up and female nudes that pepper the exhibition are sexier and better than what they are hung next to but they also seem to objectify women. Hennings is goading us; he is even cutting into our attempts to find something to like. This is conceptual art as reinterpreted by Lacanian philosopher Slavoj Zizek via Monty Python.
Upstairs, the crass agenda continues. There’s a light box painting that wouldn’t look out of place on a Happy Mondays album, sub-Terry Gilliam-style illustrations, more female nudity, terrible resin sculptures and awful video installations. If good men can do bad things, then good artists can do bad art. Henning’s provocations may be childish and infantile but they are oddly complete.
Talbot Rice Gallery, 650 2210, until 22 Oct, free.