In a grey winter dressed in Berlin black, David Shrigley’s miniature exhibition at oftentimes collaborator BQ Berlin is a sweet treat, embodying a vibrancy and playfulness fitting for the new Turner Prize candidate. For the uninitiated, the Scotsman’s work targets the absurd in the mundane, exposing the hypocrisy or frivolity underlying everyday norms through blunt aphoristic phraseology, an OCD eye for the off-putting detail, and weird childish doodles. You can say that he acts the knowing fool, but an industrious one nonetheless, moving easily between film, painting, and (ahem) literature.
The BQ exhibition is a textbook example of Shrigleyish humor. The show, christened Big Shoes, demonstrates it from the entrance, which is flanked by a monochromatic poster of a booted behemoth, replicated on the invitation cards. Floating above the large and in-charge slogan “LICK MY BOOTS”, it’s unclear if Shrigley’s thug, rendered in the artist’s characteristic intentional juvenilism, merely has large feet or is leering down at the visitor. Either way, the viewer finds him or herself in comic submission to a fictional oaf, in danger of being trampled. Despite the graphic simplicity, this dry twist on a typically sexy and materialistic command – fetishistic or sadomasochistic, depending on how prudish you feel at the moment – highlights the sheer unsexiness of this decontextualized act. The viewer faces an unusual dilemma: metaphorically speaking – though obviously one has free will to do as s/he wishes – to lick or not to lick Shrigley’s offerings? The image manifests the artist’s self-conscious metacommentary on the actual exhibition.
David Shrigley, LICK MY BOOTS, 2013, BQ Berlin Exhibition Invitation; Courtesy of the artist and BQ, Berlin.
Past the greeting, the main spectacle is held in stark contrast to the black and white poster. As BQ explains, “the shoe has always been subject to refinery and defunctionalization”, “a status symbol or... an object of a similarly irrational collector’s passion.” Taking this association to a caricature extreme, Shrigely’s gigantic, size twenty-four, ceramic-glazed cartoon heels glisten with lollipop hues and allure, perhaps recalling Warhol’s shoe illustrations. Beckoning bystanders to give them names like Glenda and Cindy in weird parody of luxury handbags, they emanate sparkle atop their pristine white pedestals. Several associations pop into mind: languorous models, eighties pop TV ads, unreachable dream girls, Barbie, Minnie Mouse, LSD, and obviously, a galleria shoe department. BQ’s compactness, boardroom minimalism, and huge slatted windows coolly enhance this shoe store showroom effect. Despite the shoes’ extra large dimensions, the atmosphere is teen feminine, giving off a sense of that mindless juvenile excitement unique to spaces of incredible materialism.
David Shrigley, installation view of Big Shoes, 2013, BQ, Berlin; Courtesy of the artist and BQ, Berlin.
Offsetting the glossy sculptures are tiny brown turds scattered amongst the shoes, their pedestals creating a sort of obstacle course in the room. Executed with equal style and technique, they share equivalent status with the shoes despite their fecal content. Moving on to the inner chamber, one finds posters painted with pithy quips in an elementary schooler’s hand. Interspersed between pictures of dinosaurs and a purple dissident are echoes of the original invitation, "LICK MY BOOTS", and such churlish addendums as “WE ARE ALL PROSTITUTES” and “YOUR ARTWORK IS TERRIBLE AND YOU ARE AN IMBECILE THEY SAID.” This last poster gets to the exhibition’s core, which is built around variations of theme and approximations of meaning – linguistic (“boots” and “shoes”), contextual (stepping on crud), and material (the works’ unified palette). By metaphorically creating a brand of a highly stylized commodity and shit alike, Shrigley makes a self-deprecating poke at the commercialized world of art taste-makers of which he has incidentally become a darling. His shoes are literally too big for even himself as a product of artificial quality control. While the exhibition recommends itself on aesthetic draw alone, Shrigley’s modest reflexivity elevates it to more substantial fare, deserving of a second visit.
(Image on top: David Shrigley, installation view of Big Shoes, 2013; Courtesy of the artist and BQ, Berlin.)