Thorsten Brinkmann, SUPRA Novali @Pablo’s Birthday

JTF (just the facts): A total of 25 artworks, variously framed/displayed, and hung against white and light green (with blue/white scalloped edge) walls on the two floors of the gallery. 10 of the works are individual c-prints (some in artist’s frames), while another 10 of the works incorporate c-prints together with other found objects into larger clusters and installations. The show also includes 4 sculptures/gatherings of objects and 1 video. All of the works were made between 2003 and 2015, with most made in the past two years. C-print sizes range from roughly 9×11 to 50×38, with additional included objects enlarging the overall dimensions of some of the works. The individual photographs are generally available in editions of 5+2AP, while the prints with additional items are unique. (Installation shots below.)

Comments/Context: Thorsten Brinkmann’s sprawlingly eclectic new show extends his particular brand of photographic bricolage even further into the realm of the physical. Merging equal parts photography, sculpture, installation, and performance, his recent artworks mix fresh from the attic mustiness with an elegant eye for spatial balance, colonizing the walls with second hand junk and taking over the gallery space with brash wall interventions. It’s as if the controlled studio aesthetic we have come to expect from his still lifes and self-portraits has been allowed to run loose, the gleeful excess latching on to finished photographs and continuing to sculpturally morph them.

Inside Brinkmann’s frames, his seemingly effortless ability to gracefully combine found materials verges on a kind of scavenger ikebana. In one work, a wooden hangar, a shelf bracket, a curved hook, and a leafy vegetal support are woven into a bouquet of swooping forms; in another, what might be a bent dish rack and the plastic end of a window blind are twisted into a sinuously sophisticated blossom stand in. And an additional pair of random object gatherings have deliberate echoes of Morandi, with bottle forms and simple curves grouped into undulating skylines.

Brinkmann’s self-portraits have always had a jaunty interchange with high fashion couture, and his newest stylistic concoctions continue that wry dialogue. The upturned planter on the head, the black leather bag as hat, the furry red bunting as boa – he’s constantly testing the edges of what might be plausibly reused. Several of his new images take on a knightly heraldic air, with elongated trash cans on heads like helmets and chair legs held ready like improvised swords; suddenly a brocaded table runner or a crocheted tea cozy can become a lushly tactile sign of medieval status.

In many of his recent works, Brinkmann has jumped the frame edge and moved out onto the surrounding walls, adding additional found objects to his already carefully balanced compositions, making them more open ended and sculptural. Two of the knights stand at attention on old carpets; in one case, a circular shield stand-in is multiplied out into repeating arcs and circles that billow outward. Upstairs, a jumble of curves and arcs resembles a kind of seashore, with a headboard, a beveled wooden frame, and a dark semicircle (decorated with a tiny seahorse) doubling the wave motions. In other works, a piece of plastic slot car track, a pink belt, and a handyman’s level jut in from the sides, like perfectly balanced interventions from Fischli & Weiss. Again and again, he breaks the sanctity of the rectangle, pushing his photographs to interact with elements of physical reality.

The fact that Brinkmann’s unlikely junk juxtapositions don’t dissolve into head scratching randomness is a testament to his ability to see overlooked relationships and textures. His work is evolving further toward an interdisciplinary intersection point, where photography is just one piece of the much larger artistic puzzle, but his forays into sculpture and installation haven’t diluted his ability to crystalize formal connections. Even when he wraps a dog in an orange suitcase or white tape like a reverse zebra, we’re still intrigued by his quirky eye for visual echoes. And while there is a real danger of getting lost in artful décor, Brinkmann seems to be smartly keeping photography as the central focal point, using the additional materials to embellish and extend rather than to compete. Recycling ideas from his eccentric yard sale grab bag, he’s boldly pushing the rigid conventions of still lifes and formal portraits into three dimensions.

Collector’s POV: The works in this show range in price from $1800 to $30000, based on physical size, edition size, and complexity, with the single image photographs topping out at $12500. Brinkmann’s work has little consistent secondary market history, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

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