Anne Speier

Watch and learn

08_wp_anne_speier-5367_CMYK.jpg

How We Arrange Ourselves, Background to the Fore, 2014, Papier, Bleistift, Tinte, Kreide, Druck, Lack,  (courtesy: What Pipeline, Detroit & die Künstlerin)

How We Arrange Ourselves, Background to the Fore, 2014, paper, watercolour, pencil, ink, crayon, inkjet print, laser print and varnish, (vourtesy: What Pipeline, Detroit & the artist)

In Anne Speier’s large-scale works, black and white photographs – often of domestic spaces such as a bedroom or kitchen – serve as backdrops for cartoonish scenarios invol­ving an exaggerated cast of actors. Using an amalgam of painting, photographic and cutout techniques, her collages serve a purpose: providing layered stages for the performance of social roles, some from the artist’s own observations.

Two related pieces in the artist’s show Lurk-Hive Balance at What Pipeline in Detroit last summer exercised a characteristic perceptual shift. For How We Arrange Ourselves, Background to the Fore (2014) the shadowy outlines that appear in the background of How We Arrange Ourselves (2014) switch places with the brightlypainted individuals formerly in front. Instead of exact copies though, the cutouts are near approximations – as are the repainted figures now relegated to the background. Previously hidden, the faceless extras now occupy that privileged foreground position – a pair of silhouettes shake hands as if to celebrate their promotion. Mean­-while, all wincing eyes and open mouths, their predecessors show their shock at this upstaging.

This shifting, sorting, collapsing and repurposing allows Speier to maintain flexibility between images before settling on the right combination. The performed theatrics in her work often come from observation. I was reminded of this when someone spilt their soup at the Viennese cafe where I met with the artist before visiting her studio, the scene unfolding as an almost caricatured micro-drama. Sometimes her figures humorously visualize situations that resemble Erving Goffman’s observations in his 1959 book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. For instance Observing a Conversation and Observing the Observation of a Con­versation (both 2014) make reference to a passage by Goffman, in which a woman watches three figures’ interaction to observe their actual impressions of each other. Yet the artist uses her imagery evasively rather than as analysis. Speier’s portrayals of social scenes are more Saul Steinberg’s Techniques at a Party (1953) than say, Italian painter Renato Guttuso’ Caffe Greco (1976). Whereas Guttuso tends to sexualize women in his paintings, Speier’s females usually out­number the men, or her characters are often androgynous, genderless, abstractions (such as a grey nebulous figure in Observing the Observation of a Conversation). Feat­ures too, for Speier, range from the lumpen to the comically illustrative, and, as with Steinberg, personality comes by way of a facial expression or gesture that asserts a social position.

Untitled-(Red-Cabbage-Laughing-Cooks)_CMYK.jpg

Untitled (Red Cabbage/Laughing Cooks, 2014, Papier, Wasserfarbe, Acryl, Bleistift, Druck, Lack, (courtesy: Neue Alte Brücke, Frankfurt am Main, Silberkuppe, Berlin & die Künstlerin)

Untitled (Red Cabbage/Laughing Cooks, 2014, Paper, watercolour, acrylic, pencil, inkjet print and varnish, (courtesy: Neue Alte Brücke, Frankfurt am Main, Silberkuppe, Berlin & the artist)

In these two-dimensional works, figures are usually dressed up in attire fashioned from curved or crumpled photographs. Prints are firstly bent into position, then re-photographed, cut out and finally placed within the composition to suggest the folds of fabric or surrogates for clothing. Among the pictures that Speier uses are glossy images of food such as stacks of toast, homemade ‘broken glass jelly’ or an ‘egg in a basket’ (an egg fried in a hole cut out of the middle of a piece of bread) that look like they could be found in a cookery magazine. Tantalizing and alluring, notions of aspiration and taste are also subtly codifed within these images.

Food appears centre stage in Untitled (Red Cabbage/Laughing Cooks) (2014) with an image of two halves of an oversized sliced red cabbage, which form the surface of a table. Around it stands two waiters and two cooks in a restaurant kitchen – yet another social arena represented in Speier’s work. Three of the figures are coloured blue, yellow and red, while the fourth is more recognizably defined: a rosy-cheeked, grey-haired woman, probably the head chef. In place of photographic garments their painted uniforms show their roles. Together they are all wide-mouthed in laughter, but what’s the joke? What makes the waiters and chefs snigger within this famously hierarchal workplace? Is this a polite laugh in front of the boss, or hysterical kitchen insubordination? Typically something is amiss in Speier’s work, whether it’s hidden from view or withheld in the content. With no clues as to the gag in Untitled (Red Cabbage/Laughing Cooks) for example, the viewer is left somewhat estranged. The feeling is that you have arrived just a moment too late: just after the punchline, just missing the joke.

Saim Demircan is a curator and writer based in Berlin, Germany. He is currently curator-in-residence at the Academy of Fine Art in Munich. 

Issue 18

First published in Issue 18

Mar - Apr 2015

Most Read

A report commissioned by the museum claims Raicovich ‘misled’ the board; she disputes the investigation’s claims
In further news: Jef Geys (1934–2018); and Hirshhorn postpones Krzysztof Wodiczko projection after Florida shooting
If the city’s pivot to contemporary art was first realized by landmark construction, then what comes after might not...
Ignoring its faux-dissident title, this year's edition at the New Museum displays a repertoire that is folky, angry,...
An insight into royal aesthetics's double nature: Charles I’s tastes and habits emerge as never before at London’s...
In other news: Artforum responds to #NotSurprised call for boycott of the magazine; Maria Balshaw apologizes for...
At transmediale in Berlin, contesting exclusionary language from the alt-right to offshore finance
From Shanghai to Dubai, a new history charts the frontiers where underground scenes battle big business for electronic...
Hauser & Wirth Somerset, Bruton, UK
Zihan Karim, Various Way of Departure, 2017, video still. Courtesy: Samdani Art Foundation
Can an alternative arts network, unmediated by the West's commercial capitals and burgeoning arts economies of China...
‘That moment, that smile’: collaborators of the filmmaker pay tribute to a force in California's film and music scenes...
In further news: We Are Not Surprised collective calls for boycott of Artforum, accuses it of 'empty politics'; Frida...
We Are Not Surprised group calls for the magazine to remove Knight Landesman as co-owner and withdraw move to dismiss...
Paul Thomas Anderson's latest film is both gorgeous and troubling in equal measure
With Zona Maco opening in the city today, a guide to the best exhibitions across the Mexican capital
The question at the heart of Manchester Art Gallery’s artwork removal: what are the risks when cultural programming...
In further news: Sonia Boyce explains removal of Manchester Art Gallery’s nude nymphs; Creative Scotland responds to...
Ahead of the India Art Fair running this weekend in the capital, a guide to the best shows to see around town
The gallery argues that the funding body is no longer supportive of institutions that maintain a principled refusal of...
The Dutch museum’s decision to remove a bust of its namesake is part of a wider reconsideration of colonial histories,...
At New York’s Metrograph, a diverse film programme addresses a ‘central problem’ of feminist filmmaking
Ronald Jones pays tribute to a rare critic, art historian, teacher and friend who coined the term Post-Minimalism
In further news: curators rally behind Laura Raicovich; Glasgow's Transmission Gallery responds to loss of Creative...
Nottingham Contemporary, UK
‘An artist in a proud and profound sense, whether he liked it or not’ – a tribute by Michael Bracewell
Ahead of a show at Amsterdam’s EYE Filmmuseum, how the documentarian’s wandering gaze takes in China’s landscapes of...
In further news: Stedelijk explains why it cancelled Ettore Sottsass retrospective; US National Gallery of Art cancels...
With 11 of her works on show at the Musée d'Orsay, one of the most underrated artists in modern European history is...
Reopening after a two-year hiatus, London’s brutalist landmark is more than a match for the photographer’s blockbuster...
What the Google Arts & Culture app tells us about our selfie obsession
At a time of #metoo fearlessness, a collection of female critics interrogate their own fandom for music’s most...
A rare, in-depth interview with fashion designer Jil Sander

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

October 2017

frieze magazine

November - December 2017

frieze magazine

January - February 2018