Dieter and Björn Roth “Islands” at HangarBicocca, Milan / MOUSSE CONTEMPORARY ART MAGAZINE

Dieter and Björn Roth “Islands” at HangarBicocca, Milan

by mousse

November 23~2013

From 6 November 2013 to 9 February 2014, HangarBicocca, the Pirelli contemporary art space, presents Islands, an anthological exhibition by Dieter Roth and Björn Roth. This is the first in a series of exhibition projects curated by the artistic advisor Vicente Todolí.

For the first time in Italy, the event brings together over 50 works by Dieter Roth (Hanover, 1930 – Basel, 1998), a key figure on the international art scene of the past fifty years. It is being put on with the collaboration of his son Björn. The display is quite unique in the way that the imposing installations interact with the former industrial space of HangarBicocca. The public will be taken on a journey through thematic “islands” in the multidisciplinary creative universe of this brilliant artist, whose work has revolutionised the way art is made and seen.

Economy Bar (2004-2013) is a bar open to the public and fully operational, with a long counter, some sinks and a beer tap, musical instruments and a module of the closed-circuit surveillance system, used until recently in the entrance to Pirelli, added to the version of the work made for HangarBicocca . This work greets the visitors at the entrance of the exhibition: capturing them in an uninterrupted flow of art production and daily life, which is the stylistic feature of all the work of Roth and his assistants.

Among the most impressive works in the exhibition, The Relatively New Sculpture was specially made for HangarBicocca by Björn Roth, together with his sons Einar and Oddur Roth and Davíð þór Jónsson. It appears as a large walk-through installation that engages the viewer, divided into two square platforms connected by a passageway, on which, together with lights, old 1950s signs and desks, there are various musical instruments, salvaged shortly before being thrown away. At the heart of the work is the idea of being able to make music with broken instruments, which can be played by the viewers themselves, thus creating new sounds.

This aspect runs through all the works in the exhibition, such as The Floor I (1973-1992) and The Floor II (1977-1998), both of which consist of floors from the artist’s studio in Iceland. Here they are taken out of context and transformed into abstract images, forming the backdrop to a real kitchen (New York Kitchen, 2013), which has also been used by Roth’s staff to prepare some of the works on show.

An insatiable researcher in every field of creativity and knowledge, Dieter Roth was a graphic artist, poet, expert in music, and designer. He explored every medium and type of art, combining painting, sculpture, printing, photography, videos and sound in all-encompassing works. Fascinated by the transformation, Roth used a vast array of materials and objects such as utensils, furnishings, monitors, and food in a process that revealed the constant mutability of the work. His interest in the olfactory, chromatic and sculptural characteristics of organic materials and their decay led him to transform an old house in Hamburg into the Schimmelmuseum (Mould Museum). This exhibition space, where the artist displayed his works, made mainly between 1964 and 1971, was open to the public until 2004.

To this interest refer the creations in chocolate and sugar, of which the towers made of little self-portrait and zoomorphic sculptures – Zuckerturm (Sugar Tower) 1994-2013, and Selbstturm (Self Tower), 1994-2013 – and the work Coquillen-Zwerge (Coquille Gnomes) 1994/2013,,).

Roth’s artistic vision, which includes knowledge and action, experience and manual skills in performative works, is fully illustrated at HangarBicocca. During the one-and-a-half month installation, the 4500 square metres of exhibition space devoted to the display have been turned into a workshop – a craftsman’s studio where the “Roth dynasty” has continued to hand down ways of creating art in the making.

The works have been not just installed but also, in some cases, produced by Björn Roth, who worked with his father for over twenty years, and by the artist’s historic collaborators – who include his grandchildren Oddur and Einar – breaking down the barriers between the personal and the artistic spheres. Some of the works on show are the result of cooperation between the artist and his son. These include Material Paintings, assemblages of abstract painting and superimpositions of materials such as clothes, fabrics and instruments, and Grosse Tischruine (Large Table Ruin). Begun in 1978 as an organism in perennial transformation, this work started out from a pile of objects on Roth’s own workbench, rearranged in different ways for each exhibition.

Real-life experience and art intertwine and blend together also in the large Solo Scenes installation (1997-1998), one of the artist’s best-known works, for it was also shown at documenta11 in 2002 and at the most recent Venice Biennale. 131 monitors show everyday and intimate scenes of the artist, creating an open, real-time diary of the last years of his life. die Die DIE VERDAMMTE SCHEISSE (the The THE DAMNED SHIT) of 1974/1975, on the other hand, consists of 52 prints placed in a wooden box, formed of a series of images obtained by recycling copper plates rejected by a printing shop as “defective”. The work asserts the value of the recovery process that appears in all Roth’s works, in this case applied not just to the materials but also to the images themselves.

The exhibition also celebrates Iceland, so loved by the artist, who lived there with his first wife, the mother of his four children. The island is a powerful part of the iconography that he produced right up to the time of his death. Reykjavik Slides (1973-1975 and 1990-1998) is an exceptional documentation of the over 30,000 buildings that existed in the island’s capital until 1998, while the SURTSEY and SURTSEY – Dinner series (1974) consists of 36 prints of the island of Surtsey, which formed in 1963 after the eruption of an underwater volcano.

The over 60 Piccadillies prints, here shown together for the first time, constitute one of the artist’s most original and interesting projects. Created between 1969 and 1974, they became a stunning example of Roth’s passion for prints and graphic art, which played a key role in his work. They are the result of an innovative process perfected by the artist himself: the pictures of the famous square in London, taken from postcards in the collection of Rita Donagh, the wife of Richard Hamilton and herself an artist, were blown up and reprocessed with broad swathes of colour, creating unique pieces that invite us to reflect on the concept of the original and of reproducibility in works of art.


at Hangar Bicocca, Milan

until 9 February 2014

Dieter Roth, Solo Scenes (Video Still), 1997/1998

Dieter Roth “6 Piccadillies”,1969-70

Dieter Roth, Reykjavik Slides Part 1: 1973-1975; Part 2: 1990-1998


Dieter and Björn Roth “Islands” at installation view at Hangar Bicocca, Milan, 2013

© Dieter Roth Estate. Courtesy: Hauser & Wirth, Fondazione HangarBicocca. Photo: Agostino Osio.