"Primitiv," Olaf Breuning's first exhibition in New York, features "Apes," a large installation of a jungle scene with earth, trees and ape-like figures in shadowy darkness amidst smoke and shifting lights choreographed to an electronically-generated soundtrack. Also included is "Group", a video shot in New Zealand this August. The film follows a band of young men through one inexplicable guise and behavior after another. It begins with bearded, fur-costumed pre-historics washing ashore and lumbering along a beach and ends with camouflage-painted "natives" racing with flares through a tropical forest. Like the installation and photos, the film juxtaposes Western notions of the primitive and the ritualistic with fashion and rock culture.
Tribal clichés and current trends also converge in eight new photographs of individuals with staring white eyes painted on their eyelids, in frontally-posed groups or alone with props. The photographic works include "Primitives," four males in twig skirts and holding staffs, their brown-painted bodies covered with white dots; "Cavewomen" wearing pelts and holding chunks of rock; and "Vikings" using characters from the film - men in fur pelts and Viking helmets standing on a beach with wooden surfboards. The associations and references in Breuning's work are so multifold and non-contextualized, though strangely familiar, that deconstruction offers no explanation for the work's humor and illusion of comprehension.
Breuning is Swiss (born in Schaffhausen in 1970) and currently resides in New York City. His work has been exhibited widely in European galleries and museums during the past several years; he has had one-person exhibitions at the Kunstverein Freiburg, Germany; the Museum zu Allerheiligen, Schaffhausen, Switzerland; and the Centre d'art Contemporain, Geneva. The recent and much-traveled exhibition "Let's Entertain," organized by the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, was Breuning's first exposure in the U.S.; the show traveled to the Portland Art Museum and the Miami Art Museum, as well as the Centre Pompidou in Paris.
A mongraph on Breuning's work titled "Ugly" was published in 2001 by Hatje Cantz in English, French and German editions.