Adults, Alex Frost’s multifaceted show of drawings and sculptures in Berlin is, despite the title, no X-rated affair. The world of adulthood dealt with here is a recognisably bourgeois milieu and relates to notions of gentrified acquired taste. We are presented with sculptures of moulded biomorphic shapes, pillow-like forms made from ceramic tiles, grout, polystyrene and glue. Their surfaces are decorated with the logos of, to the British eye, instantly recognisable shopping products: After Eight Mints, Twinings tea and Ryvita slim-breads. These Adult works, all 2007, thus elegantly cross reference Warhol’s Brillo boxes, Oldenburg’s soft constructions and Gaudí’s Parque Güell tile decorations. Advertising suggests that these treats are specifically targeted at a mature audience, that by merely purchasing them we in some way become more sophisticated. Frost’s works seemingly imply that adulthood too is a somewhat artificial construct full of sops and props to compensate for the loss of youth. These weak, insubstantial delights now run the risk of appearing anachronistic. What was trendy and desirable yesterday seems tatty and naff today. Obsolescence is clearly one of Frost’s themes—witness ‘Adult (Compact Disc, digital audio)’ with its CD logo that once heralded a bright and shiny future. Now the technological hopes that it once represented appear as transitory as the delights of a thin piece of minty chocolate.
Also on show are Frost’s ‘Blind Drawings’, all 2007, those of yukka plants and lilies again recalling Warhol’s ideas of acceptable decoration and the banalities of taste. Four self portraits reveal the artist with his eyes closed—to paraphrase the title of one of Gavin Turk’s works—something he will never see. Frost achieves these images by first puncturing paper with tiny holes that he then fills delicately with enamel emulsion. The result, the sense of technique, looks as flashily show-off as Chuck Close say, or, coincidentally on show elsewhere in the city, the excellent charcoal drawings of the young American Scott Hunt. Frost though achieves his effects with adapted software originally used for transferring photographs into patterns for knitting machines thus subverting our notions of technical precocity.
This then is an attractive show revelling in the tame distractions of maturity away from the heavy stuff that truly concern us as adults—sex, death and mortgages. One senses that Frost has a hard won light touch. In discussing Adolph Menzel’s limpid ‘Balcony Room’, 1845, the critic Michael Fried quotes Kierkegaard: ‘People usually talk as though one became light by casting off one’s burdens, and this view of the matter is the basis for all trivial outlooks on life. But in a higher, poetic or philosophical sense, the opposite is the case: One becomes light by means of… heaviness. One swings up high and free by means of—a pressure’. Frost’s nuanced approach to adulthood avoids the ten ton heaviness of, say, Thomas Hirschhorn’s bisected corpse imagery or the ketchup and mayo excesses of a Paul McCarthy. Maybe sometimes just what you need is a wee cracker and a nice cup of tea.
John Quin is a writer living in London and Berlin