At the documenta 2017 in Kassel, Germany, art enthusiasts from all over the world witnessed a bewildering spectacle. White smoke was constantly rising from a tower of the Fridericianum Museum. What seemed like a fire was actually an installation by the artist Daniel Knorr. Previously, in the Athens section of the documenta, he had acted as a kind of archaeologist of everyday life, using a monumental scrap metal press to transform found and worthless objects he had picked up on the streets of Athens into catalogues, which visitors could purchase as unique items. Knorr is regarded as a master of shifting meanings as he invites viewers to participate in his art.
IKOB - Museum of Contemporary Art now presents Knorr's first solo exhibition in Belgium, an overview of his sculptural work of the last three years. The title of the exhibition, Flagship Store, refers not only to the temples of consumption of global brands such as Apple, Louis Vuitton or M&M’S, but also to the artist’s own brand that he has crafted over the course of his career. The idea of not only producing his art but also selling and marketing it in his own ‘shop’ stems from the beginning of his career as an internationally sought-after artist. In light of the contemporary art market’s intricate divisions of labour, this idea holds critical potential that comes to the fore in distinct ways through Knorr’s recent works. Playful reflections on art history, undogmatic questioning of the art system, and mixtures of high and low cultural signifiers run as a thread through the exhibition, which presents a total of 47 new works by the artist.
On the ground floor of IKOB, the new Coyote Sculptures series greets visitors: they appear slightly ghostly, like stooped human figures who have been covered in large capes. These works refer to the legendary performance I like America and America likes Me (1974), for which Joseph Beuys had himself locked up with a coyote at René Block Gallery in New York. An iconic photograph documenting this action shows Beuys wrapped in a felt coat in dialogue with the coyote. Knorr detaches the felt from its art historical crutches, places a new polyurethane layer over it and questions the unequal dialogue between animal and human from then to now. Famous works of art history, such as Malevich's Black Square (1915) and Who's Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue (1966-70) by Barnett Newman, as well as the motif of a retro screen saver by Apple, serve as protective covers.
The concept of the large installation Calligraphic Wig (2019) is the discovery of a new language that makes use of today's most widely used material: plastic. The artist visited a recycling plant in Hong Kong where plastic is shredded and melted into strings for reuse. In this recycling process, the machine is often interrupted. Due to breakdowns and maintenance work, uncontrolled entities emerge in the form of fragments of an unknown alphabet, undiscovered underwater creatures or never-before-seen parts of an alien body. To bring these objects back into circulation, the artist painted them with the colours of various car manufacturers and displayed them in a shop in the famous Chungking Mansions in Hong Kong. The installation was a visual interruption to the consumer landscape where people from over ninety different countries live and work together. The work acted as a platform of mutual understanding among the mall's visitors and established itself as an insider's tip at Art Basel Hong Kong 2019.
With his Canvas Sculptures, an important strand of Knorr's practice recurs: the pendulum swing between sculpture and painting as well as art history and the present. These wall objects quote paintings of classical modernism and appear as if the artist were detaching these famous paintings from the canvas. Knorr creates folds that turn the painting into a three-dimensional object, using superimpositions of iconic art historical images to question their status in our world of knowledge and consumption.
Finally, the series Berlin Wall Nuggets explores Knorr's interest in the language of the German capital’s built environment, and in particular the imprint left on the city by the Cold War. In this case, he takes imprinting literally, as he finds small depressions in the city's floors and walls, moulds their shapes and casts them in the studio. The resulting small-format objects made of synthetic resin are reminiscent of devotional objects or relics, or of the pieces of the Berlin Wall that have been sold to tourists in large quantities since its fall.
Daniel Knorr was born in Bucharest in 1968. After studying art at the Academy of Fine Arts with Olaf Metzel in Munich, Knorr went on a DAAD scholarship to the Vermont College of Fine Arts in 1994 and then to New York from 1995 to 1997. He has been working in Berlin since 1998 and lives between Berlin and Hong Kong. In 2005, he represented Romania at the Venice Biennale. With Expiration Movement, he created one of the most frequently cited works in the context of documenta 14 in 2017 and has since been considered one of the most important artists of his generation.