A lounging bronze crocodile, an oversized leather bandage, an animated rat singing Bruce Springsteen: Peter Wächtler’s practice oscillates between the prosaic and the outlandish. The artist’s fascination with pop culture—“I am attracted to bestsellers, page-turners, tearjerkers, blockbusters,” he has written—is grounded in his attention to the frailty of everyday life. His works are neither ironic nor sentimental: though composed of familiar elements and executed in earnest, they acknowledge a limit to their ability to communicate, often to comedic effect.
Wächtler is a prodigious writer, and these texts inform the rest of his practice, which also includes drawings, sculptures, and film. The tales he spins—whether embodied in an object or relayed in prose or moving image—feature protagonists mired in various degrees of disquiet, melancholy, and ineptitude. Repetition is a key element, representing ongoing attempts by the characters, narrator, or even the artist himself to overcome the gap between intention and affect. The sympathy of the artist for his subjects and their travails is underscored by a homespun, heartfelt aesthetic.
Secrets of a Trumpet features a new body of work by Peter Wächtler, commissioned by the Renaissance Society and largely produced during his stay here in Chicago in January 2016. This is the German artist’s first solo museum exhibition in the United States.
Framed by a wall text at the exhibition’s entrance that offers a confessional monologue from an unspecified, yet emblematic figure, Secrets of a Trumpet presents sculpture, painting, drawing, and objects. A series of large-scale watercolors depict laundry drying on clotheslines, scenes that toe the line between domestic, landscape, and portraiture. A bronze relief and sculptures of mass housing structures render the small details of quotidian subjects with a bittersweet affection, while the painted surfaces of wooden structures feature storyboard scenes from the life of a Teddy Boy. Just outside of Cobb Hall, a bronze otter mascot watches over the University of Chicago’s Classics Quad for the duration of the exhibition.
Peter Wächtler (1979, Hanover, Germany) lives and works in Brussels. He has recently had solo exhibitions at Reena Spaulings, New York (2014), Westfälischer Kunstverein, Münster (2014), and dépendance, Brussels (2013). His work has been featured in numerous international group exhibitions, including 2015 Triennial: Surround Audience at the New Museum, New York (2015), the Liverpool Biennial (2014), La Biennale de Lyon 2013, and Pride Goes Before a Fall – Beware of a Holy Whore at Artists Space, New York (2013). A book of his texts, Come On, was published in 2013 by Sternberg Press.
This exhibition is supported by the Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen and the National Endowment for the Arts.