Cosima von Bonin: ‘What If It Barks?'

At Petzel Gallery, New York, an installation of anthropomorphic sea creatures explores sinister forces of authority and violence

Who, in Cosima von Bonin’s plush and plastic zoo of cutesy fish, sharks, rhinos, orcas, purple lobsters and hippos, will survive to see the end of the century? Each creature’s fleshy analogue has found itself and its comrades on some watch list for nigh extinction: the seas have run dangerously low of our gilled friends; nearly all the world’s rhinos have been shot for trophies by some member of the Trump family or their kind; and orca and shark populations have declined precipitously. Only the purple reef lobster (found here in an orange cement mixer, its claws dangling out of the machine’s hole) has thrived – but captive, in aquariums across the globe. In the wild, its status remains ‘data deficient’, though worldwide coral collapse suggests its time in saltier seas is nearly up. ‘What If It Barks?’ Von Bonin asks in the exhibition’s title. Given that none of the artist’s creatures make nary a dog or seal’s cry, we would be forgiven for misreading it as, ‘What if it balks?’ That is, refuses to go on. Declines to thrive. ‘You must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on,’ the featureless creature in Samuel Beckett’s The Unnamable (1953) famously proclaims to his readers. Is the world over, or about to begin again? Von Bonin likewise oscillates between the sweet and the dire, the endangered and the dangerous, going on or going nowhere. ‘Enough romance,’ one fabric flag from 2016 hanging from the gallery ceiling declares, and beside it: ‘Let’s fuck.’

web_cvb-18_xxx11-cmyk.jpg

Cosima von Bonin, 'What If It Barks?', 2018, installation view, Petzel, New York. Courtesy: the artist and Petzel, New York

The exhibition is Von Bonin’s eighth at Petzel Gallery, and continues the artist’s long-running interest in marine life, which culminated two years ago with her travelling exhibition, ‘Who’s Exploiting Who in the Deep Sea?’, featuring its own retinue of false flotsam and jetsam, including stuffed oysters, sharks, colourful lobsters and octopuses; stacks of blow-up dolphins; and porcelain shells and starfish. In this new show, Von Bonin brings together a different school of nautical effluvia, including a large band of mackerel, equipped with electric and acoustic guitars and chained to surfboards and stray, chequered articles of clothing. They surround their tin can – labelled ‘Authority Purée’ – while a low, musical accompaniment plays throughout the gallery. (The entire 2018 installation shares a title with the can’s label.)

Their lips hang open in frozen stupidity, as fish tend to look when they lie flat on the icy beds of outdoor fish markets, and their circular arrangement is somehow haunting in its evocation of the wine-dark future of our rubbish-littered seas. Fish aren’t meant to be strapped to human stuff, and yet here they are, encircled like a Stonehenge in honour of fish and chips aficionados, with instruments they are unable to play chained to their fins. One might even imagine sculpture like this guarding the entrance to one of musician Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville restaurants, common in airports and obscure Florida beach towns, where many fish meet their doom.

web_cvb-18_xxx16-cmyk.jpg

Cosima von Bonin, 'What If It Barks?', 2018, installation view, Petzel, New York. Courtesy: the artist and Petzel, New York

In von Bonin’s anthropocenic fusion of surfer and surfed-upon, a sense of impending dread hangs in the air like a fishhook, ready for us to take its bait, as her sharks seem to have done. Emerging from wooden barrels, open-mouthed in the style of the iconic Jaws poster (1975), the artist’s sharks – What If It Barks 8 (Shark Dust Bin Version) and What If It Barks 9 (Shark Dust Bin Version II) (both 2018) – have caught black and white chequered missiles in their mouths. It’s a funny, but also somehow implacably sad, meeting of two violent forces that have long occupied our collective imagination: the instinctual killing desire of the fish, and the instinctual killing desire of the fisherman (or drone operator). One from below, one from above. The first, of course, is innocent, and here, even a little cute. The second is worthy of our scorn, despite its plush disguise.

Cosima von Bonin: What if it Barks? runs at Petzel Gallery, New York, until 21 April.

Main image: Cosima von Bonin, 'What If It Barks?', 2018, installation view, Petzel, New York. Courtesy: the artist and Petzel, New York

Andrew Durbin is the author of Mature Themes (2014) and MacArthur Park (2017), both from Nightboat Books. A monograph on Raymond Pettibon is forthcoming from David Zwirner Books in May 2018. He is a Senior Editor of frieze and lives in New York.

Issue 195

First published in Issue 195

May 2018

Most Read

The punk artists’s invasion of the pitch during the Croatia vs. France match reminded us what Russia’s new ‘normality’...
In further news: Brexit voters avoid arts; New York libraries’s culture pass unlocks museums; Grayson Perry-backed...
If artificial intelligence were ever to achieve sentience, could it feasibly produce art? (And would it be good?)
The punk activist-artists have been charged with disruption after they charged the field during the France vs Croatia...
27 educators are taking the London gallery to an employment tribunal, demanding that they be recognized as employees
In further news: Glasgow School of Art to be rebuilt; Philadelphia Museum of Art gets a Frank Gehry-designed restaurant
Highlights from Condo New York 2018 and Commonwealth and Council at 47 Canal: the summer shows to see
Knussen’s music laid out each component as ‘precarious, vulnerable, exposed’ – and his conducting similarly worked from...
Nods to the game in World Cup celebrations show how dance has gone viral – but unwittingly instrumentalized for...
‘You can’t reason with him but you can ridicule him’ – lightweight as it is, Trump Baby is a win for art as a...
Anderson and partner Juman Malouf are sorting through the treasures of the celebrated Kunsthistorisches Museum for...
From Capote to Basquiat, the pop artist’s glittering ‘visual diary’ of the last years of his life is seen for the first...
‘When I opened Monika Sprüth Galerie, only very few German gallerists represented women artists’
Can a ragtag cluster of artists, curators and critics really push back against our ‘bare’ art world?
In further news: German government buys Giambologna at the eleventh hour; LACMA’s new expansion delayed
Gucci and Frieze present film number two in the Second Summer of Love series, focusing on the history of acid house
Judges described the gallery’s GBP£20 million redevelopment by Jamie Fobert Architects as ‘deeply intelligent’ and a ‘...
Is the lack of social mobility in the arts due to a self-congratulatory conviction that the sector represents the...
The controversial intellectual suggests art would be better done at home – she should be careful what she wishes for
Previously unheard music on Both Directions At Once includes blues as imposing as the saxophonist would ever record
In further news: Macron reconsiders artist residencies; British Council accused of censorship; V&A to host largest...
In our devotion to computation and its predictive capabilities are we rushing blindly towards our own demise?
Arts subjects are increasingly marginalized in the UK curriculum – but the controversial intellectual suggests art is...
An exhibition of performances at Foksal Gallery Foundation, Warsaw, unfolds the rituals of sexual encounters
An art historian explains what the Carters’s takeover of the Paris museum says about art, race and power
Artist Andrea Fraser’s 2016 in Museums, Money and Politics lifts the lid on US museum board members and...
The Ruhrtriennale arts festival disinvited the Scottish hip-hop trio for their pro-Palestinian politics, then u-turned
The Baltimore’s director on why correcting the art historical canon is not only right but urgent for museums to remain...
Serpentine swimmers complain about Christo’s floating pyramid; and Hermitage’s psychic cat is a World Cup oracle: the...
The largest mural in Europe by the artist has been hidden for 30 years in an old storage depot – until now
Alumni Martin Boyce, Karla Black, Duncan Campbell and Ciara Phillips on the past and future of Charles Rennie...
In further news: po-mo architecture in the UK gets heritage status; Kassel to buy Olu Oguibe’s monument to refugees
The frieze columnist's first novel is an homage to, and embodiment of, the late, great Kathy Acker
60 years after the celebrated Brutalist architect fell foul of local authorities, a Berlin Unité d’Habitation apartment...
The British artist and Turner Prize winner is taking on the gun advocacy group at a time of renewed debate around arms...
The central thrust of the exhibition positions Sicily as the fulcrum of geopolitical conflicts over migration, trade,...
The Carters’s museum takeover powers through art history’s greatest hits – with a serious message about how the canon...
The 20-metre-high Mastaba finally realizes the artist and his late wife Jeanne-Claude’s design
‘What is being exhibited at Manifesta, above all, is Palermo itself’
With the 12th edition of the itinerant European biennial opening in Palermo, what do local artists, curators and...
In the age of Brexit, why Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s pledge to return the ‘stolen’ Parthenon marbles has never been...
The curators seem set to ask, ‘how civilized is the world’s current state of affairs?’
US true crime series Unsolved takes two formative pop cultural events to explore their concealed human stories and...

On View

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

April 2018

frieze magazine

May 2018

frieze magazine

June - August 2018