Jonathan Meese’s Ned Kellys de Feuerloch mashes up Nazi paraphernalia.
JONATHAN MEESE at Greener Pastures Contemporary Art (1188 Queen West), to November 8. 416-535-7100. Rating: NNN
Ever asked a young German person about the Holocaust? Talk about awkward, and potentially way worse. World War II's horrific legacy conflicts mightily with the progressive, eco-friendly contemporary image in which many Germans take pride.
One way to understand the notoriety of Berlin art star Jonathan Meese spins off of such considerations. Rather than suppressing, ignoring or presuming to move on from the past, Meese manipulates tons of Third Reich imagery in his work.
Whether it's holding his fist in a prolonged Nazi salute during performances, painting swastikas on ceilings or pasting pics of an Eva Braunesque Scarlett Johansson to gallery walls, Meese makes no bones about acknowledging his nation's sordid past.
At Greener Pastures, he mixes up such imagery with his other signature bad-boy themes: porn mag clippings, semen-like white coagula, blood-red paint and more than a few hints at genitalia.
The difficulty, as with any art like this, is getting past the artist's reputation and image shockfest to an actual point of view - either his or your own.
For my part, I enjoy the messy, all-encompassing way Meese approaches the gallery, staple-gunning political trading cards, dog breed/"race" information, ripped-up exhibition posters and old clothes to the walls. Also strangely enjoyable are his bronzes of floppy, flaccid, junky objects. In these, dignified form leavens messy reality.
What I didn't enjoy was seeing those swastikas and Hitler pics - symbols still used by extremists today to advocate genocide - reproduced so casually. While it seems Meese tries to use them in a therapeutic way, others will find this the very opposite of healing.
Awkward, and potentially way worse, for certain.