A solo exhibition of work by Alexandra Bircken (Cologne, 1967) opened in the museum on 22 February 2014. Bircken makes dynamic assemblages out of materials and objects of all kinds - wool, branches, tights, motorcycle leathers and other found objects. The exhibition took an associative approach to her work from the moment she made her debut as an artist in 2004 to the present day. Some forty of her works were on display in this exhibition.
Bircken’s objects are made from recognizable objects and materials and yet the combinations she makes are always unexpected, playful and suggestive. She places the original functions and values of these materials and objects in new contexts, implicitly referring to the beauty of the everyday. It is the overall composition, not the individual parts or materials, that is key. In the obviously hand-made and irregular way these compositions are put together and the combination of the sometimes soft, sometimes hard components, Bircken’s works can be described as composed clusters. A prime example of this is ‘Pamela Combat’ (2010) - a horizontal ski with straight fake hair hanging from it. The combination of false hair and a ski is alienating, and the title adds a frivolous element to this assemblage.
Bircken trained as a fashion designer at Central St Martins College of Art and Design in London. After completing her studies she spent a number of years working in fashion design. Her studio in Cologne was next door to Galerie BQ, which later moved to Berlin. After seeing some of her more outré designs, BQ offered her a one-woman show in 2004. Since then Bircken has presented herself as an artist, although her background shines through in her appreciation of the tactile qualities of materials. Her objects, even the motorcycle leathers that she stretches as if they were cowhides, do not reference their practical value or wearability. Her oeuvre so far can be conceived as series of works that correspond with one another - much like the sort of coherent season’s collection that fashion designers produce.
Bircken’s work chimes with that of artists like John Bock, Sarah Lucas and Abraham Cruzvillegas. In 2007 she exhibited with them in The New Museum in New York, under the title ‘Unmonumental’. This group exhibition showed contemporary artists working with fragmented shapes and with everyday materials and objects. Combining all kinds of components creates contemporary assemblages that come across as ‘unmonumental’ and informal.
About the artist
‘Nothing is what it seems. We are brought to see afresh objects which have been rendered invisible by familiarity, to bypass the cultural associations with which they have automatically come to be linked and discover new ones.’
- Mark Prince, Frieze. 2009.
Bircken has exhibited her work in such places as the Kunstverein Hamburg and Bonn (2012), Studio Voltaire, London (2011), Ursula Blickle Stiftung ,Kraichtal (2008) and the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam (2008). As well as her one-woman exhibition in Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen she will be putting on a solo show at The Hepworth Wakefield, Wakefield (UK) in 2014.
The Süddeutsche Zeitung described her solo exhibition in Kunstverein Hamburg (2012) as ‘Objekttheater’. According to the German newspaper, Bircken links a new value system to commonplace materials and everyday objects and creates a world between Toy Story and Joseph Beuys.
Click here for an article written by Paul Teasdale for Frieze d/e
‘Bircken’s organic and anthropomorphic minimalism implicate the body - the feminine body and historically feminine work in particular - yet in a way that suggests alienation from their physicality, problematizing the notion that the reclamation of feminine work can fully de-alienate the body in a post-Fordist society in which even physical labors of love and leisure are commodified.”
- Nicole Demby, Bomblog, 2012.
Bircken in the museum’s collection
The inventive way Bircken engages with tradition and the innovations added by artists like Brancusi and Man Ray, yet at the same time frees herself from tehm, prompted the museum to purchase four of her sculptures in 2010. Director Sjarel Ex said of these acquisitions, ‘I can’t take my eyes off them … Robust and suspended, with feet on the ground or on the way up’. The museum has continued to follow her development over the past few years and has now invited her to mount a solo show.