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Elina Brotherus, The Avantgarde doesn't give up

Solo show
Martin Aesbaek Gallery, Copenhagen
Until October 31, 2021

In contrast to most of her works, Brotherus is not alone in this picture: she stands alongside three young women artists from Oman whom she met in connection with a residency there organised by The Wapping Project. In the photograph, the women are arranged in a row, dressed in black, and look directly into the camera – another atypical feature of Brotherus, who usually averts her eyes and face in her images. All four have one hand in their pocket while using the other to hold a moustache on a small stick up to their upper lips. The moustaches and their bold, almost defiant expressions bring issues associated with gender into play. Clearly, these figures do not adopt the traditional role of women as models or objects of desire, opting instead for the role of strong-willed, rebellious artists, as emphasised by the print on one woman’s t-shirt: ‘We’re dressed in black from head to toe, we’ve got guns hidden under our petticoats’. The militant and satirical tone is in keeping with the avant-garde history in which this work inscribes itself.

The title is associated with one of the Danish artist Asger Jorn’s so-called disfigurations, also known as modifications, a series of work in which he would paint on top of existing older paintings – a critical gesture that distorts the original paintings’ aesthetic expression, their role in the art market and the meanings they carry. In L’avant-garde se rend pas (1962) he has taken a picture of a young girl with a skipping rope and a very forthright gaze and given her a moustache and goatee – a clear reference to Marcel Duchamp, who in 1919 did the same on a postcard of Mona Lisa in an aggressive, avant-garde attack on the traditional outlook on art. In this way, Jorn recycled a banal, semi-kitsch painting and repeated a provocative moustache-based gesture that is equally banal – albeit in a different, Jack-the-Lad way. The title of the picture is written in white letters against the dark background, creating a text that points to the avant-garde as a stubborn, pubescent figure with a false moustache. The disfiguration encapsulates and manifests Jorn’s ambivalent relationship with the avant-garde, simultaneously criticising and paying tribute to it through a subtle distortion of its means.

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