Art

Friedrich Kunath Plays With Scent, Sense, and Sentiment

Friedrich Kunath’s latest exhibition is fragrant with nostalgia, melancholy, and whimsy.

Installation view, Friedrich Kunath, Frutti di Mare (2017), Blum & Poe Los Angeles (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

A melancholic melody draws me closer to a film, and I take a seat on a bright orange couch that looks like it was made in the ’70s. It’s the kind of couch that would fit perfectly into the set design of Valley of the Dolls, which feels like a good starting point for the general aesthetic of Friedrich Kunath’s Frutti Di Mare at Blum & Poe in Los Angeles. Explosive psychedelic moments combine with unhinged desire to convey the potential for excitement, pleasure and doom ahead, like all good romance novels should.

I make myself comfortable on the couch and watch the opening scene. An older man walks down a set of train tracks while the title text reads “The End is My Beginning.” The character is an artist, and I quickly get the sense that he is perhaps a projection, an older version of whom the actual artist, Friedrich Kunath, imagines himself to be. The film takes on classically romantic themes through a seemingly fruitless search for eros and an ominous acknowledgement of mortality, the combination of which displays itself most vividly when the protagonist stares intensely at a Calvin Klein perfume bottle labeled “Eternity.”

The exhibition seems to model a kind of love story, with many of the paintings and sculptures also serving as props in the film, as though they were the detritus of its narrative. The work consists of everything from vast mirrored walls to penguin sculptures, and a particularly successful room-sized installation, in which a piece of fabric spread across a bed featured in the film reads “Gee, it’s nice to be alone.” Clusters of perfume bottles near a painting form a tiny installation, and for reasons I don’t quite understand, the artist has chosen to sprinkle the entire first gallery room with brightly colored socks.

The air is filled not only with the soundtrack from the film, but also with a light floral scent, a striking olfactory detail that is indicative of the level of care the exhibition has received. In the press release the artist speaks of the desire “to become one with painting.” The main romance here is not so much erotic, as it is the tale of the artist and the art piece, of the creator and the creation. Kunath, like the protagonist of the film, comes across as married to his work.

Friedrich Kunath, “Love Shouldn’t Make Sense” (2017), oil and acrylic on canvas, 72 x 60 x 2 1/4 inches (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

What thankfully keeps this admittedly dated sentiment from dripping over into nostalgia is the general light-heartedness Kunath brings to the space in the form of bright colors, funny cartoons and sincere but silly decisions, such as a couple of television monitors covered in, inexplicably, more brightly colored socks. This mixture of almost painfully sincere gestures with the occasional sporadic, irreverent moment keeps the viewer guessing much like the romantic impulse it depicts. The aphrodisiac effect of the the exhibition’s titular seafood works its magic, and I leave satisfied.

Frutti Di Mare continues at Blum & Poe through October 14.

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