The Jette Rudolph Gallery is very pleased to present Berlin artist Dennis Rudolph’s fourth solo show at the gallery.
All utopias have failed. They all originated in Europe. With an presumptuous Land Art project, artist Dennis Rudolph sets out to mark the threshold of Western thinking. In the spring of 2013, Rudolph will set up a two-sided gate on a hill on the outskirts of California City: one side symbolizes the entrance to hell, the other the entrance to heaven. The gate’s threshold simultaneously marks the threshold from city to desert, from Occident to Orient, and from art to cult.
The central motif in Rudolph’s latest series of works is a “model city,” California City: a failed urban planning utopia founded in the Mojave Desert in 1958 by Nat Mendelsohn (1915–1984), who, at the time, was a successful real estate developer and sociology professor and is now almost completely forgotten. With his California City project, Mendelsohn’s goal was to design a model city that would one day compete with the megacity of Los Angeles. In terms of demographics, the city didn’t even come close (in 2010, California City had an estimated 14,000 residents), but plans archived in the local Land and Property Office that are also presented in Rudolph’s cyanotypes, show that plans did in fact exist for an extensive street network and that countless land parcels had been registered. Satellite photos also clearly show that the model city had been outlined in the earth. Today, California City is still California’s third biggest city, at least geographically speaking.
Studies conducted during Rudolph’s three-month work stay near Los Angeles, as well as found material and research material are part of the exhibition and add a documentary level to the project. They include a series of medium to large format cyanotypes, a tableau-like video work that captures the unique atmosphere of California City, notes, portrait studies based on missing person ads from California City, countless sketches and an extensive photo archive. Moreover, the exhibit features two monumental studies on the gates to heaven and hell, one on canvas, the other on tile. Rudolph’s decision to use tile as his artistic medium for the gate is a reference to the traditional Mexican fayence technique. Thematically, iconographically and stylistically, Rudolph pushes boundaries, mixing Californian modernism with European baroque, punctuating it all with kitschy scenes that recall Mexican murals and Hollywood images.
Throughout the exhibition, Dennis Rudolph propels the viewer’s gaze and thoughts, directing them towards the contradictions inherent in utopian approaches and the question of the power of idealistic thought-constructs, on the one hand; and towards the danger that these approaches might fail, on the other. This can, for example, be seen in the cyanotypes that Rudolph made under the bright California sun, where painting styles from landscape and portrait painting contrast with a photogram-like downtown skyline or building plans for California City. The contrasting media and iconography overlap, creating stunning superimpositions that also have a really irritating and provocative effect on the viewer – both in terms of the viewer’s visual experience and in terms of the effect they have on the images stored in the viewer’s memory.
Nothing seems to be certain; yet the longing for Arcadia propels us forward. In this respect, “PARADISE LOST” – the title of Dennis Rudolph’s exhibit – is dedicated to a recurrent theme in history, to utopia as an inspiration for artistic creation that mainly fails due to the paradox of its totalitarian requirements. This is exactly what happens in Thomas Morus’ 1516 novel, Utopia, where the contradiction between idea and practice is what causes the hope for a just society to crumble. Moreover, the idea of the ‘total work of art,’ which underlies the aesthetic program of the ideal city, is also associated with social-utopian projections in fictitious city plans from the eras of the renaissance and baroque to the cross-genre work theories found in the modern avant-garde after 1918, where art assumes a holistic and socially critical role.
As an artist, Dennis Rudolph does not create his own utopia. Rather, he poses the following question: If a final utopia were to prevail, what would it be? Would the familiar models still be valid? “PARADISE LOST” alludes to the unmistakable changes in today’s economic, political and cultural relationships, to what happens when Oriental and Occidental parameters mix.