Manfred Menz commits ‚Art Malpractice‘ at the cmay Gallery

Enter Manfred Menz’s latest exhibition, “Art Malpractice.” The first work to the left, “For Sale,” is a red print of the U.S., the ink carved out with the words For Sale. The first works to the right are “Homeless Signs” a cluster of just that: handwritten cardboard signs that read, “Old man down the road please help!” and “It’s harder than it looks to start over w/no money or people to help.” The juxtaposition set up at the beginning guides you into the rest of the exhibit, where there is often pairing of text and image, as well as reappropriation of technical writing. For example, “Friends in Hell” joins a photograph of an abandoned and decaying refrigerator, food spilling out of it, with the instructions for how to shoot a pistol. These words, though, are in stanzas and columns so that it looks like a poem from afar. Further, in reading it, the viewer automatically pauses at the line breaks, gracing the instructions with a performative aspect. Relatedly, a piece such as “Ultra Violent Lights” couples a blurred photo of an exquisite sunset with a fictional news article about a housewife being sued for “not killing her husband.” Affixed to the photo is a toy spider trapping a toy butterfly. Works such as this one draw out the irony and dark humor that often runs through many of these works, works that often illicit morbid laughter.

The pieces surrounding the center of the exhibition test the limits of what a viewer will consume – how much will you let yourself be disgusted? Disturbed? When is it too lewd? Too offensive? What is too far for you? These questions circle around “Euthanasia Solicitation,” a sculpture of an enormous mousetrap alongside a request for euthanasia. The request, written in first person and requiring the narrator’s signature, reads, “I have decided for the following reason to end my own life: Subversion of public morals…” In the viewer’s reading of this document, “Euthanasia Solicitation” requires an answer to the questions that the other pieces posed. And, of course, the answer is for no one but the viewer who must respond it.

Cecilia Latiolais, June 2016

Art Malpractice

Life is short, and the Art [of Medicine] long; the occasion fleeting; experience fallacious, and judgment difficult. The physician must be prepared to do what is right. — Hippocrates

Like the physician’s circumstance, Manfred Menz‘s Art Malpractice is also fleeting, fallacious, judgmental, difficult — and long. Its current iteration opening this May in LA comprises works first executed between 1992-95, augmented by new, related works from 2015 and 2016. Taken together, Art Malpractice is an epic poem of scientific and instructional dogma misappropriated for purposes of political, social, cultural, erotic, poetic, conceptual and aesthetic satire. To deal with it, the viewer must have total freedom.

The structural armature of the series has always been the artist’s deft — and slightly daft — pairings of words and images; disaffected photographs of phenomenological banalities (cast shadows, reflected views, impressions in sand, a gun in a block of ice) with eccentric texts lifted from technical writings (users’ manuals, news desk blotters, twee luncheon menus, fictional courtroom transcripts). This basic DNA of the word/image helix remains intact, including the four early works further expressed as dimensional sculptures — most especially the monumental suicide trap “Euthanasia Solicitation” that still provides the show’s emotional and physical climax. The most recent work, especially the large-scale “America For Sale” and the related series of seven hand-painted signs purchased for cash from the homeless people who had made them for their own use, blur the lines not only between image and picture, but between performance and sculpture, authorship and appropriation, conceptualism and satire, gesture and polemic.

In between, Art Malpractice offers more than a dozen diptychs juxtaposing an image/object and a facing text. The degree to which the halves are truly interdependent or self-contained is a matter of discourse, because their power as pairings is often derived from an insistent sense of cognitive disconnect. Menz’s is a deadpan surrealism, in which the brain can’t help but try to figure out the connection; the more tenuous, liminal, and counterintuitive it is, the more seductive the puzzle. “It was Stanley Kubrik who said of his own work,” quotes Menz, “that, ‘All interpretations are correct.’ And so it is. There’s no wrong answer, but neither is there an obvious one.”

Menz reimagines the iconic graphic plaque from Pioneer 10 — the first object to leave our solar system, in 1976 — but with soldiers instead of Adam & Eve representing humanity. He goes sci-fi with “Strong AI” — in which a futuristic humanoid being voices abrasive, money-crazy, misanthropic snark. Menz imagines the courtroom defense of a sentient, articulate simian made the scapegoat of puerile human desire and ego. He recasts the explosive rage-release of a firearm juxtaposed as a frozen gesture of silence, with the help of an ice machine’s instruction kit. And in “Paranormal Masturbation” (in one of the few texts written by Menz himself) he uses the alluring allegory of discovering alien-life to send-up the power- and money-hungry ambitions of disingenuous political calculations. It’s all very uncomfortable and ambivalent and hilarious in this maniacally poetic way, like something is lost in translation but you’ll never know what. The homeless signs (“Smile Dammit” and six more like it) alone are not satirical. If they are, then the art world’s consumerist element is the target of their irony — together with any other hypocritical, un-original power structure that threatens “the freedom of each individual” to which the artist has dedicated the entire exhibition.

Shana Nys Dambrot, May 2016