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"Narcissus sends his greetings"
The press on Douglas Gordon’s "The Vanity of Allegory" at the Deutsche Guggenheim

For The VANITY of Allegory, artist curator Douglas Gordon transformed the Deutsche Guggenheim into a chamber of mirrors that he filled with an array of very different works of art ranging from Perugino’s Saint Sebastian to Walt Disney’s Peter Pan. His personal and fantastic equation for transience and vanity met with some controversial reactions among the press, running the gamut from enthusiasm to rather sharp criticism. Sabine Vogel in the Berliner Zeitung, for instance, found Gordon’s exhibition idea far too transparent: "Narcissus sends his greetings. Gazing at his reflection, even the least sharp-witted of visitors eventually figures out that it’s a matter of looking at oneself here." Also, to her mind, the fact that the artist has slipped into the roles of Marilyn Monroe and Kurt Cobain in his self-portraits amounts to nothing more than hogwash: "For children, it’s a simple game of role playing and Mardi gras, but when the artist does it, it’s suddenly called ‘performative transvestitism.’" On the other hand, the works of the artists Gordon has chosen somewhat reconciles her to the "idiotically obvious conceptual blah blah of curator’s art." Because at the same time, the exhibition contains "some really exciting works from Matthew Barney, Robert Mapplethorpe, or Damien Hirst, and the film program featuring Kenneth Anger, Francis Ford Coppola, Stanley Kubrick, Andrei Tarkovsky, Pier Paolo Pasolini, and Luchino Visconti can compete with the best of them."

Actually, Klaus Lüber, critic at the Süddeutsche Zeitung, immediately felt at home in Gordon’s show. To his mind, "relaxation and comfort are usually the last things one expects to feel upon entering the narrow white exhibition space at the Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin. Here, it’s usually the cool atmosphere of an art laboratory that prevails." Even while Lüber warms up to the artistic self-portraits in the show, such as the "diva-like, dolled-up Andy Warhol ," he’s nonetheless puzzled by the "artist’s aggressive and tacky self-advertisement." In particular Perugino’s painting of St. Sebastian, according to Lüber one of the most important stations in this "cryptic self-representation," presents problems: "Should the artist’s urge to immortalize himself in the work find expression in, of all things, a portrait of a dying boy?" Yet while the exhibition offers no clear answers, at least the film program holds a possible key to the show: "Gordon’s search to express the creative and sometimes monstrous development of human identity in the face of death."

Christina Tillmann from the Tagesspiegel allows herself to be considerably more enchanted by Gordon’s concept. "Yet the moment he declares the entire exhibition he’s curated to be his own work of art, the mirrors suddenly cast very different reflections." For her, the exhibition is a "looking glass land" that lives from an "eternal play on references… this is already alluded to spatially, by the multiply mirrored, dizzying architecture. The works themselves are nothing more than a door to an enchanted land. And even Alice had a hard time finding her way back." Yet in order to follow the white rabbit as Alice did, Ralf Hanselle from the Berlin city magazine Zitty would have required a bit more food for thought. In his opinion, Gordon is once again serving up one of his "favorite philosophical ready-to-eat dishes… what the visitor to the Guggenheim actually gets to see is a kind of check list for a philosophical lexicon. Visitors entering the exhibition space, which has been divided by a large mirror, without first familiarizing themselves with the basic vocabulary of 30 years of trendy French philosophy will quickly lose their aesthetic grip." True symptoms of bewilderment do not, however, set in with Christiane Meixner from the Berliner Morgenpost . On the contrary: "Anyone who’d like to turn their back on the way new questions are posed and additional planes of meaning are generated here is met by a shining Exit sign by Cerith Wyn Evans. Unfortunately in reverse! A paradox, but highly interesting."

For Vera Görgen from the Welt am Sonntag , Gordon is even "one of the few contemporary artists who dares to address the larger themes of religious art: good and evil, virtue and vice, innocence and guilt, salvation and damnation." Yet he could just as well be a "British working-class soccer fan,”"with his "short-cropped hair," his tattoos, and the "shiny gold inlays in his front teeth." In his extensive essay in the taz, Harald Fricke also investigates Gordon’s role playing in this vein: "Gordon is a real guy, he feels at home in the soccer stadium – and he made it to the Museum of Modern Art anyway, which will be showing a retrospective of his work shortly." The author finds the relationship between the Briton and the art stars he has exhibited at the Deutsche Guggenheim particularly interesting: to his mind, Gordon in Berlin is everything wrapped into one: curator, interior designer, provider of ideas, art director, and exhibiting artist: "He is an equal among equals no less prominent, and at the same time their pre-thinker according to whose concept everything becomes reflected by everything else, from Jeff Koons’ stainless steel block to the wall-sized text apotheosis of a Lawrence Weiner." According to Fricke, in the end, a "new, considerably more contemporary allegory arises – in the self-portrait of the artist as a network provider." His conclusion: "Even Warhol would have marveled at all the marketing savvy."