The grotesque and the adorable come face-to-face at Newport Street Gallery

10th December 2018

Newport Street Gallery in Vauxhall, south London, has been open now for three years, housing Damien Hirst’s collection in a generous space that won the prestigious Stirling Prize for its innovative architectural redevelopment by Caruso St John in 2016. A vast expanse of gallery space is a perfect setting for awe-inspiring modern and contemporary art, and the satirical twists and kitsch turns in German artist Martin Eder’s work truly find themselves settled in the space.

Installation view, Parasites, Martin Eder at Newport Street Gallery. Photo by Prudence Cumming Associates

There are countless art historical references in the exhibition, and at points this comes across as rather self-indulgent, losing a narrative in favour of concepts such as overtly kitsch objectivity or the female nude. In fact, ‘Parasites’ is best enjoyed when the viewer can abandon the pretense of all of the above; the sheer horror of large-scale hyperrealist paintings like ‘Exodus/Paradise’, where two young people, potentially underage, are having sex while filming themselves on a now-retro handheld camcorder is revolting, grotesque and intriguing all at once; the latter comes into play when the viewer wonders what Eder’s intention is with the work.

Martin Eder, The Reaper, 2013-2018. Oil on canvas, 1500x1100mm ® Martin Eder all rights reserved VG Bildkunst Bonn 2018 Courtesy Newport Street Gallery. Photo Uwe Walter

The show is split alternately between kitsch and grotesque, remaining hyperreal throughout with both human and animalistic detail, and constant questioning of right and wrong, whether this is the flagrant nude form of young girls, young women being intimate with much older men and, as mentioned, young people having sex. When viewed as a list like this, you wonder whether you have stepped into the playden of a pervert; in truth, this is never fully pardoned or justified. Eder’s use of nature is truly intriguing too, as the constant motif of cute puppies and kittens, rainbows and garish bright colours provide a welcome respite from the gratuitous nudity. The artist is such a talented painter that all the figurative elements start to look familiar, something like a Windows desktop image or a Hallmarks greeting card.

Martin Eder, Lunacy, 2018. Oil on canvas, 2850x3800mm ® Martin Eder all rights reserved VG Bildkunst Bonn 2018 Courtesy Newport Street Gallery. Photo Uwe Walter

2018’s ‘Lunacy’ is the key work of the show, being used all over the internet and press to mark the exhibition and entice audiences to Vauxhall. The bright colours and clickbait-friendly kittens make it a sound choice on the part of the gallery’s PR people, as the image is so sweet and cuddly that it almost goes full circle and the viewer is left wondering what the dark meaning is to the painting. This fascination with age, sexuality, gender and the ‘attractive image’ is very much of the moment, however the lens through which not only the artist but the gallery as institution and Eder’s viewers see this content is questionable and at times alarming. ‘Parasites’ raises more questions than it answers, which in contemporary art is certainly a positive; it truly seems that each individual will take a unique stance from the various angles Eder adopts in his oeuvre.

 Words by Issey Scott 

Martin Eder: Parasites is on until 13 January 2019 at Newport Street Gallery, London

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