HUMLEBÆK.- Louisiana Museum of Modern Art
presents the first major survey exhibition in Europe of the Venezuelan-American artist Alex Da Corte (b. 1980). The artist occupies space with colour. For Louisianas West Wing, Da Corte has designed an all-encompassing and relentless scenography with custom-made floors, brightly coloured walls, neon lights and distinct scents. Inviting us into a parallel reality, an intensely visual experience.
Presenting the first in-depth exhibition of Alex Da Cortes work at a European museum, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art is following up on its strong engagement in the artist. In 2014, Louisiana acquired its first two works by the artist, the installation Delirium I (2014) and the film Chelsea Hotel No. 2 (2010). In 2019, the museums collection was supplemented with the installation Rubber Pencil Devil (2019), which was shown at that years Venice Biennial.
The exhibition brings together new and old works (the oldest is from 2003) in an all-embracing scenography. Adding colour to almost every surface in Louisianas West Wing, Da Corte makes it impossible for the viewer to keep a safe distance. The artist's body of work implies an idea of identity as unfixed and continuously performed using costumes, props and everything we consume. In Da Corte's rendition of life, every day is Halloween.
As the exhibition title suggests, Mr. Remember, which is a play on misremember, memory is a key concept for Da Corte. Through remembrance, the past joins the present, and provides paths for negotiating the future.
The exhibition is the first European survey of Da Cortes work, focusing on the last decade, when the artist has amped up the formal complexity of his work. Da Corte has also made several ambitious new works for the occasion, while custom-designing the exhibition to fit every detail of the museum. Moreover, the sculpture As Long as the Sun Lasts is displayed on the museums Calder Terrace.
Da Cortes work spans a variety of media, centring on sculpture, video and installation. The artist employs an array of different materials and references from low-cost, mass-produced objects to high-end design, from childrens TV to the masters of art history, from French poetry to American pop music.
While some (or all) of the references may be familiar, Da Cortes treatment gives them an edge, producing a sense of alienation or displacement. Shuttling between light-hearted and dark, his work strikes a deeply emotional note.
Selected works in the exhibition
RUBBER PENCIL DEVIL (2016)
Rubber Pencil Devil is a portrait of America put together from 57 short films. The films reference iconic American childrens TV shows and movies like The Wizard of Oz, Mister Rogers Neighborhood, Sesame Street, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and The Daffy Duck Show, along with horror movies like Scream and Halloween. All the while, art-historical references to artists like Marisol and Martin Kippenberger abound. With its unique set designs, which can be highly elaborate even to produce just a few seconds of film, the work makes a point of being analogue in a digital age.
Many of the characters are played by the artist himself in full makeup, with assistants cast in other roles. The appropriation of iconic characters is often funny, even as the slowed-down pace of the film sounds a note of melancholy and alienation.
MOUSE MUSEUM (VAN GOGH EAR) (2022)
Made especially for this exhibition, and in celebration of the 50th anniversary of its source, Mouse Museum (Van Gogh Ear) is based on a work by the American artist Claes Oldenburg. First presented at documenta V in 1972 in Kassel, Germany, Oldenburgs Mouse Museum was a black, square building with two circular rooms attached on either side to make it look like a Mickey Mouse head and ears. The entrance was a structure shaped like the character's tongue. Inside this museum, Oldenburg presented hundreds of objects: found and readymade items alongside models and maquettes from his studio.
Da Cortes Mouse Museum (Van Gogh Ear) is an exact, albeit incomplete, replica of Oldenburgs work. In Da Cortes version, one ear has been cut off, hence the reference to Van Gogh. The ear is displayed separately, attached to the tongue entrance. Da Cortes work showcases 146 items found and readymade objects, props from his films, models and maquettes for sculptures. Mouse Museum (Van Gogh Version) is an earnest take on a cartoonish concept: if you look in someones ear, youll see their brain.
A SEASON IN HELL (2015)
A Season in Hell, Bad Blood and The Impossible are a trilogy of films based on the French poet Arthur Rimbauds (1854-1891) prose poem A Season in Hell. Written in 1873, the poem shows Rimbaud struggling with his work, his homosexuality and the loss of his great love (the poet Paul Verlaine), on top of his fraught relationship to his family and his Catholic faith. Drugs and alcohol also play a key role in the poem as a path to enlightenment and a less troublesome existence.
The titles of Da Cortes films are all derived from the poem. Shot in slow motion, the films feature the same young man standing at an altar-like table against a monochrome backdrop, doing things that could be associated with drug use, but through Da Cortes framing become ritualistic, even liturgical.
HELL HOLE (2022)
Hell Hole is a one-room cabin on fire, made especially for this exhibition. Through burning neon windows, we see an interior in all shades of blue. An old man sits at a table, pondering a large alchemical vanitas or memento mori of blue objects. Blue bunnies, glass grapes, blue fish and ice cubes litter the scene. The man is naturalistically modelled on Da Cortes own facial features (previously seen on the man in the apple costume in the first gallery of the exhibition), but modified to make Da Corte resemble the old man in the blue-period Picasso painting The Ascetic (1903) at the Barnes Collection in Philadelphia. Asceticism - a concept of denying yourself to become whole, making do with a bare minimum, limiting your appetite for life is both a cool and a hot feeling. Hell Hole is the fire in the belly of remembering who you are, what you want, where you came from and where you're going.
AS LONG AS THE SUN LASTS (2020)
As Long as the Sun Lasts is located outside on the Louisianas Calder Terrace. The sculpture combines Calders iconic style with the Little Tikes Activity Gym, a mass-produced toy that can be reassembled in different ways without tools. The red base of the sculpture is constructed in this way. Replacing some of Calders coloured discs at the top of the sculpture, Big Bird, the beloved character from the American childrens TV show Sesame Street, is perched on a crescent moon with a ladder. While TVs Big Bird is usually yellow, Da Cortes is blue. In a 1985 Sesame Street film, bandits capture Big Bird and paint them blue. Unrecognizable, Big Bird is forced to perform in front of an audience, singing Im So Blue, referring to both their colour and their mood. As Long as the Sun Lasts is a prime example of Da Cortes art, deftly fusing disparate elements of high and low culture, in a world of bright colours, disguises and humour, with an undercurrent of great sincerity.
THE SUPƎRMAN (2017)
THE SUPƎRMAN is an installation exploring themes of identity and gender performance as related to white heteronormative masculinity. During an extended stay in Paris years ago, Da Corte received a late-night text message from a friend with a photo of the artist in front of the Mona Lisa. The following day, Da Corte realized that it wasnt him in the photo of him but Eminem. Da Corte had mistaken himself for the persona of a misogynistic, homophobic, white rap superstar. Spurred by this momentary fracture in his self, Da Corte began his Eminem project with the video TRUƎ LIFƎ (2013). Dressed as Eminem bleached hair, blue contact lenses, white T-shirt, dog tags around his neck Da Corte sits at a table eating cereal. The video was inspired by an iconic scene from the Danish filmmaker Jørgen Leths 1982 film 66 Scenes from America, which shows Andy Warhol eating a hamburger.
In 2017, Da Corte made three more films as Eminem, respectively untangling PlayStation controller cords, smoking weed out of a bong and dying his hair with yellow mustard. In 2018, the artist combined all four videos into THE SUPƎRMAN.
WELL FOR SENSITIVE BOYS (2022)
Made especially for this exhibition, Well for Sensitive Boys is based on a 2016 two-minute Saturday Night Live comedy sketch written by Julio Torres and Jeremy Beiler. The sketch is a spoof commercial for a Fisher Price toy marketed to sensitive (read queer) boys who dont fit the conventional gender roles normally promoted by toy companies.
Da Cortes Well for Sensitive Boys is a replica of the well in the commercial, but significantly bigger and not for kids anymore. Inside the well, the sound of dripping water is a reminder of the wells eternal existence. Wishes and sensitivity persist. Toys and childhood vis-à-vis lifelong identity and gender play an important role in Da Cortes work, not least in Rubber Pencil Devil and the imposing sculpture As Long as the Sun Lasts.
Easternsports is a five-act drama based on Our Town, Thornton Wilders iconic 1938 play about small-town life in America. The city portrayed in Easternsports is Philadelphia, Da Cortes hometown. The four-channel film is peppered with references to Philadelphian culture, not least in the final scene, where a horseback rider in a parade outfit alludes to both the New Years Day Mummers Parade (the oldest annually recurring event of its type in the US) and the community of black cowboys in North Philadelphia.
The five visually distinct scenes unfold at a slow pace to the accompaniment of Mussons text, first as a voice-over in French with English subtitles and later only as subtitles. Alternating between high and low, philosophy and banality, the text touches on issues of class, race and gender, with humorous everyday observations thrown in. Da Cortes scenes and Mussons texts do not illustrate each other but unspool as poetic parallels with occasionally convergences of meaning.
Alex Da Cortes first multi-screen video installation, Easternsports, was made in collaboration with the musician Devonté Hynes and the artist Jayson Musson, who wrote the subtitles that alternate between high and low.