This Undreamt Descent | Wangechi Mutu Exhibits at Kunsthalle Baden Baden

With a striking mise-en-scène, This Undreamt Descent, the solo exhibition of mixed media artist Wangechi Mutu at the Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden could hardly find a title more befitting. Between object, installation and setting one finds themselves pulled into a lurid domain, jostled between wonderment and repulsion, a world I would be hard pressed to describe without having seen it first-hand.

Wangechi Mutu | This Undreamt Descent.

Wangechi Mutu, Exhuming Gluttony : Another Requiem | Image from exhibition postcard catalogue.


Further to my recent introduction of Mutu’s oeuvre in the feature, “The Catatonic Bliss Of Violent Incidences the artist shortly thereafter requested it be included in the upcoming exhibition’s catalogue.  Another Africa was consequently invited to attend the opening of the exhibition which took place earlier this month in Baden Baden.

German contemporary art aficionados are likely to be familiar with Mutu’s work; as the first recipient of the Deutsche Bank’s Artist of the Year award in 2010 she subsequently presented a solo show at the Deutsche Guggenheim Berlin. However this second solo exhibition in Germany presents her body of work on an unprecedented level. A scale made possible through the joint efforts of Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden, Victoria Miro Gallery (London), and the Gladstone Gallery (Brussels) as well as numerous pieces from several private collectors.

The opening soirée began with Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden Chief Curator, Johan Holten‘s welcoming words. Attended by various distinguished guests, art literati and members of Studio Wangechi Mutu, Holten’s polarising speech captivated even those of us non-German speakers in the audience.

Though quite familiar with Mutu’s work, what immediately astounds me is the very presence of her art in the flesh; the scale, the complexity and materials, all crescendo into a visual banquet that makes for a truly compelling experience.

Entering the 1st exhibition space, visitors are immediately taken in by the astonishing installation Exhuming Gluttony : Another Requiem. At the center of a cavernous room set as if from the paleontological era, a ginormous table cut from a single wood slab stands on a forest of scored legs. Above hang countless fur-lined bottles of red wine with necks faced down, their contents slowly dripping to ultimately cover the surface and floor beneath with puddles of metaphorical blood. Stiflingly, the room alludes to the unbearable stench of what appears to be a banquet deserted by a long gone aggregation of celestial demons. The piece, is a live manifestation of Mutu’s Mylar series of paintings.

Wangechi Mutu, Exhuming Gluttony : Another Requiem | Image from exhibition postcard catalogue.

Facing this grotesque ensemble, a sculptural panel made from various animal pelts stands as a sort of morbid trophy. The opposite wall is pierced with a multitude of backlit bullet holes as if symbolising a constellation of the improbable. Surrounding the entire room, a giant curtain with a diaphanous print featuring an expanding tumour is placed as a cosmic poetry that frames this uncomfortable romance between wealth and waste, western affluence and third world poverty.

Another impressive installation summons our attention. Suspended Playtime consists of countless bundles of garbage bags of varying dimensions wrapped in gold thread and suspended in mid-air. Frozen in a sort of abstract spider’s web, the balls fill a vast room lit with beams of neon light. A sort of allegory on the improvised ‘play things’ made by African children, the installation renders a poetic and socio-political message about privation.

In the next room awaits Mutu’s hauntingly defiant blackthrones sculptures that tower precariously over the heads of visitors. With seats nesting atop long, slender legs, the fifteen thrones appear as a gathering of alienated ghosts. Each decorated with materials as varied as rubber, cassette tapes, aluminum ribbons, feather boas, glitter, trash bags and other garbage compounds. These shamanistic totems are far more than mere symbols of power and royal lineage. Mutu’s blackthrones echo back to Hush Harbor‘s, those secret places where African-American slaves would gather out of view from their white masters, to freely engage in various aspects of public life. Standing as damning reminders of their deposed kings and queens, these empty thrones are vacuous witnesses to the atrocities perpetrated on the African continent by the hegemony of Western colonialization.

The experience leaves us both exhilarated and overwhelmed as we head out to view The Ark Collection, a series of postcards collages. Displayed in 4 large vitrines, the pornography inspired pieces explore poetic strains of African mythology whilst confronting the idioms of sexuality. On view are Mutu’s hybrid figures, allegories of the black female body and form, imbued with both traditional and so-called modern traits, bearing marks of scarification while adopting the sensuous poses of sex vamps.

Other compelling works displayed in this stellar exhibition include some of Mutu’s most iconic collages such as La Petite Mort, Before Punk Came Funk, Humming, The Birth Of Cackaling, Epiglotus II and many more.

Wangechi Mutu, Epiglotus II | Image from exhibition postcard catalogue.


This Undreamt Descent, on exhibit until September 30th is one not to be missed if in the vicinity, and well worth the excursion otherwise. The catalogue published especially for the occasion is a collector’s item in it own right; a pristine slipcase holding 32 post cards : 21 coloured images with text in German and English by Johan Holten, Johannes Honeck, Franklin Sirmans and Joyce Bidouzo-Coudray.

This Undreamt Descent | Works by Wangechi Mutu
Jul.14 – Sept.30.2012
Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden | Lichtentaler Allee 8a 76530 Baden-Baden | more info

For more insight on the work of Kenyan born, New York based artist Wangechi Mutu |

Written by Joyce Bidouzo-Coudray.


All exhibition images courtesy of Joyce Bidouzo-Coudray for Another Africa and Studio Wangechi Mutu.

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