19 April 2016


"Cosmic Latte" exhibition at Galerie im Turm, © and courtesy Moritz Frei; photo: Trevor Good

What comes first, the chicken or the egg? Moritz Frei must have asked himself that question, when planning his current exhibition COSMIC LATTE at Galerie im Turm in Berlin. The central work, a half-hour long film, shows Frei forcefully cuddling a rooster while another scene displays an ostrich egg slurping milk in a stop-motion-aesthetic. The film primarily documents the process and development of Frei's show, for which he hired seniors to paint minimalist paintings for him. The exhibit is monotonously beige, it is dedicated to the integration of an older and perhaps forgotten generation, and it eventually questions the value of artistic genius. Frei, who was born in Frankfurt, studied at the HGB Leipzig and now lives and works in Berlin, is an artist working on the threshold between performance, photography and conceptual intervention. Each of his projects tell another narrative and seduce his audiences with irony and sharp social criticism. I spoke to him about his current show and past projects.

Anna-Lena Werner: Moritz, you once said that you don’t like the term performance. Why is that?

Moritz Frei: Because it sounds so cool, especially being used while speaking german. It is a phenomenon with a lot of english words: Style for example; I really hate when it is used surrounded by German words. And coolness in art is counterproductive for me. 

ALW: If at all, how would you like to have your diversified practice and often long-term projects described?

MF: It seems to be a human need to categorise everyone and everything. For me and my practice it would be a limitation. 

ALW: Last year you published the book “Tausche Ölbild für gebrauchtes Auto (nicht älter als 5 Jahre)” (Offering oil painting for used car not older than 5 years), which contained a collection of funny newspaper small ads by artists who offered their services or looked for an art dealer or a financial sponsor. When and why did you start being attentive to these ads?

MF: Humour is one of the cohesive elements in my work, but the book's content isn't just funny. The ads, which I started to collect in 2008, are very diverse and many are actually quite the opposite of funny. For example one artist wrote an ad, looking for a psychiatrist specialised in treating artists. Although some people might think this sounds amusing, it actually contains a sad story. In other ads people look for financial support. This shows the precarious situation, that many artists cope with. Nevertheless, the majority of the ads are written in an involuntary, comical way, which is the reason why most people laugh reading it.

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"Cosmic Latte" exhibition at Galerie im Turm, © and courtesy Moritz Frei; photo: Trevor Good

ALW: For your current show COSMIC LATTE at Galerie im Turm you published your own small ad.  You invited local seniors older than 65 to paint paintings following your guidance for a small salary and a small share, if they would be sold. It reminds of Kippenberger’s project “Dear Painter, paint for me”, although you commissioned ordinary persons and no poster painters. Are you challenging the notion of the artistic genius?

MF: Believing in artistic genius is like believing in god – I leave it to others.

ALW: While you eventually cooperated with four seniors and exhibited their works, what kind of reactions did you get from the people who contacted you? 

MF: The reactions were generally interested and friendly, but also a bit sceptical. The motivation of my four assistants were very different. One of them is still working, and she does a lot of writing and drawing in her spare time, which is the main reason why she was interested in participating. Another one seemed like she wasn't doing much anymore, so she saw the project as a possibility to do something at all. I really liked not being able to control everything and observing what will happen between me and them, and also among them. 

ALW: Did you encounter something unexpected?

MF: Yes and no, because I expected the unexpected.

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"Durchschnittliches Bild" © and courtesy Moritz Frei; photo: Trevor Good

ALW: The exhibited paintings are all exclusively beige – not only a reference to the current minimalist art trend, but also to the particular colour that most seniors prefer to dress up with. You even installed a beige carpet in the gallery space. What did you gain from exploring this cultural phenomenon in a context of contemporary art?

MF: I made the first exhibition with exclusively beige pictures and I am exceptionally pleased with the result. The process of entering unexplored and new territory is more important for me. I have never showed paintings, have not made a long film and haven't worked with assistants. It proved to myself that there is a real quality in doing new things and it never showing the same exhibition twice.

"Cosmic Latte" exhibition at Galerie im Turm, DV-Film, 29'11 © and courtesy Moritz Frei

ALW: The centre piece of COSMIC LATTE is a film that documents the process of your project. It also underlines a sense of the urban senior community surrounding the gallery in Friedrichshain, which begin not to feel home in the area anymore. Has the exhibition also been an attempt to re-involve them into the life happening at Karl-Marx-Allee and, if so, did it succeed? 

MF: It was not my intention to do so, though I am afraid that it did not succeed.

ALW: For “Ladri di biciclette” (2015) you removed pavement stones that were covered with a bicycle sign and exchanged them with blank ones. Somewhat ironically related to rebellious guerrilla strategies, do you consider some of your works political statements? 

MF: I never intended my works to be neither political nor black or white, but if someone receives any of them as such, it wouldn't be wrong but rather subjective.

“Ladri di biciclette” 2015, “Divide et Impera” 2013 © and courtesy Moritz Frei

ALW: Many of your projects are concerned with social habits and behaviour. For example your 2013-performance “Divide et Impera” (2013), in which you separated and sorted the different ingredients of a cereal box, evokes the notion of time-wasting, bureaucratic office work. This project, however, is not exclusively ironic – doesn’t it actually emphasise the nonetheless beautiful and aesthetic outcome of such a laborious task?

MF: The work was a reaction to the chaos that I encounter every morning, opening a cereal box, which contains about a dozen different ingredients that are all mixed up. To sort them and carefully arrange them, gave me a feeling of inner peace, forgetting about the selfishness and stupidity of mankind. I did this several times. At home, then in Kunstverein Leipzig and at insitu in Berlin. It always took me at least four hours. On the contrary, the aesthetic outcome reminded me of an ancient roman warfare formation, and this thought led me to the title.

“ohne Anleitung” 2012 © and courtesy Moritz Frei

ALW: Contrary to this neat outcome, your work “ohne Anleitung” (2012) (without instruction) shows the wild assemblage of lego pieces glued together as a chaotic object. In your mind, does real creativity ask for full freedom – without instructions?

MF: Creativity is a complicated term. There are about six German translations and not all of them fit the way I work. Working, by the way, is another complicated term - but that is another story. I usually start with an idea or an observation, and for this process I do not need instructions – they can, however, play a role in the process, like the instructions I gave to my assistants for COSMIC LATTE. My brain probably needs them, but that does not interest me at the moment. So, I would say that real creativity asks for full freedom, even though this statement is a bit vague, and even more, sounds pretty cheesy.

Moritz Frei
Curated by Melina Gerstemann
25.03 - 24.04.2016

Frankfurter Tor 1
10243 Berlin
Opening Hours: Tue – Sun, 11 – 19h
Finissage: 24.04.2016, 16h

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"Cosmic Latte" exhibition at Galerie im Turm, © and courtesy Moritz Frei; photo: Trevor Good