Review: Hans-Peter Feldmann

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Verdict: A playful walkthrough

After a career in which he became known for creating small books featuring snapshots, German visual artist Hans-Peter Feldmann decided to eschew the gallery scene for a more humble life. He sold thimbles in a small shop in Düsseldorf, all the while vowing to create art only for himself. This was in 1979 – but 10 years later, curator Kasper König convinced Feldmann to start exhibiting in galleries again, and we’re sure glad he did.

Feldmann’s first solo exhibition in Hong Kong references strong tropes and motifs from his 40-plus-year career. Classic statues and oil paintings are colourfully altered, with a red nose perched on the nose of an aristocratic lady, and peroxide-bleached hair in place of the usual muted marble grey of Michelangelo’s David. One can almost hear Feldmann’s mischievous chuckle echo throughout the gallery, as he archly flicks an eyebrow at the hoity-toity construct of ‘high’ art. Feldmann famously refuses to limit the number of editions of his work, and does not sign them. Most of the works in this exhibition are simply Untitled.

It’s unfair to call his art a caricature, though; as a student of traditional oil painting, his Untitled portraitures radiate a similar effervescent light seen in Victorian-era works. The impact of these paintings, however, doesn’t lay in showcasing artistic talent, but rather subverting the power of the art market. It’s a bold statement, and perhaps a little strange, seeing as the works are displayed on the white walls of a well-established gallery that holds its own place in the art world. We’re reminded of Banksy’s recent adventures in New York – where he attempted to sell off original works under the guise of a humble park stall, shucking extravagant price tags and placards.

Feldmann’s handmade triptych Seated Women in Paintings is a collage crafted from colour Xerox copies of females in paintings, such as the Mona Lisa. The papers have been tacked on in a rather haphazard way, like a montage that a college student might have created, briefly bringing to light the desensitisation of art and ready-made artwork. Other works, like his gold stilettos covered with upright thumbtacks (beauty is pain), or his semi-nude female with solid black bars across her eyes (the suppression of female identity) are less subtle in their declarations. On a superficial level, the works are playful, even fun, but engaging with them on a deeper level requires some effort. The tongue-in-cheek effect quickly fades and the resulting aftertaste is similar to the empty vacuum of everything that’s wrong with the modern corporate art world. Perhaps this was Feldmann’s intention. Perhaps not. Ysabelle Cheung

Hans-Peter Feldmann Simon Lee Gallery, until Nov 19, simonleegallery.com.

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