Review: Claire Fontaine, “May our enemies not prosper”

Galerie Neu, Berlin.

Reflecting on complicity with the status quo and the necessary role of political art, the artist collective Claire Fontaine takes on the refugee crisis in Europe, economic exploitation, and environmental collapse for the current exhibition here.

Symbolic gestures in painting and sculpture are presented as counterpoints to the general mood of resignation about these calamities, illustrating quotes in the press release by NietzscheKafka, Deleuze and a reference to the El Khomri labor-reform laws that sparked violent protests in Paris this spring. At the entrance of the gallery, a snowman made from soil-covered polystyrene, titled Earthman (all works 2016) disconsolately stares out the window, projecting nostalgia in an adulterated world without the levity of snow. Mounted high along the main wall is a row of security fencing, Untitled (Rotary spike: Black-Red-Yellow, Black-Red-Mustard, Black-Red-Shit)—defiantly painted with the colors of the German flag—and flanked by gray and black monochrome panels thickly covered in the nondrying anti-climb paint used to stain trespassers. Correspondingly, Untitled (Hanging) is used like a clothesline for towels, children’s shirts, and a hooded tunic—all suggestive of refugees’ personal items, or ghosts of those missing or drowned while fleeing imminent devastation.

How many shocks does it take to draw out compassion, sincerity, and response—scores dead in a nightclub, hundreds from drone strikes, or thousands at sea? Fontaine confronts audiences with implicit connections to social breakdown: The stakes are grave, and no one is innocent. When there is nothing left to fight for and nowhere to go, who remains to blame but ourselves?

First published on, June 23rd, 2016.

arielle bier