*CAUTION* when entering the Veneklasen Werner gallery in Mitte, be prepared for a bit of a shock. I have seen my share of crazy art in this city, but I have to say David Harrison’s “Pink Hermaphrodite” 2009 is in a league of it’s own. I know the sight of a hot pink rabbit with gigantic boobs and a foot-long erect penis is sure to induce side-splitting laughter, but do try to control yourself. Personally, I find that burying your face in your scarf to stifle your uncontrollable giggles is a good solution, or just let it out and roll on the floor laughing until you cry (better out then in, I always say!).
Whatever you do, don’t OD on humor before you make it into the next room to see the rest of the exhibition because it only gets better from there. From beautiful woodland night scenes to mind-boggling sculptures, all permeated by a plethora of phallic subjects, this exhibition is like Alice in Wonderland for grown-ups.
Fairies Gone Bad
Pink bunny penises aside, Harrison’s exhibition “Second Nature” manages a remarkable feat: being humorous while sending a serious message, all while remaining visually appealing. The beautiful soft landscapes and rich color palette of turquoise blues, chartreuse green, and brilliant violet give the paintings the aura of an illustrated children’s book. In fact, Harrison actually drew inspiration for his scenes from the post-World War II ruins of London, an environment which he describes as “a fairytale-like cityscape of bombsites, derelict homes, and vast green urban spaces overrun by nature.”
“Bad Fairies” by David Harrison at Veneklasen Werner gallery, oil on canvas. Photo by: Chris Phillips
At first the scenes appear sweet and innocent, although the subject matter is anything but sweet. Similar to Hieronymus Bosch or Otto Dix, Harrison’s congregations of different characters are comical but also somewhat unsettling. The mystical world brings to mind a Midsummer Night’s Dream with satyrs, human-like animals, and fairies. An atmosphere of sexual freedom pervades with scenes of masturbation and nudity. This hypersexuality even pops up when you least expect it. One of my favorite sculptures, “Hand of Fate,” depicts a small owl whose wing looks like an outreached hand; it is only after you walk behind the sculpture that you see that the owl has an exposed, pink human-like buttocks (again, your call on how you want to direct the irresistible laughter).
Message That Lies Beneath
Although much of the work is light-hearted and playful, there is a strong political undertone throughout Harrison’s exhibition. During Harrison’s childhood in post-war London, he grew to see the city as a magical and mystical place where through man’s destruction, nature reclaimed the land. Much of his work deals with his lamentation for this lost nature such as “Green and Pleasant Land (An English Country Stream)” which depicts a polluted waterway. Influenced by Pre-Raphaelite classicism, Harrison’s work is an amalgamation of traditional painting and contemporary political subjects. This show truly has something for everyone: whimsy, visual beauty, thought-provocation, and irresistible humor. It is not to be missed.
- Veneklasen Werner David Harrison: “Second Nature” – November 8th 2012 – January 12th 2013 [Price Range: Sculptures: 2,000-10,000 euros, Paintings: 8,000-20,000 euros]
Article by Kirsten Hall