Mark van Yetter Plunderbund Charity Ebensperger, Berlin 5 September – 23 October
Everything about Mark van Yetter’s art speaks of between-spaces. The Pennsylvania-born artist, who’s in his mid-forties, makes oil paintings, but here at least only on paper and with a fair amount of crayoning folded in. His compositions – often multipart, suggestive of absurdist comic-strips or montaged film frames and painted on time-yellowed scraps – are full of describable objects and figures, but their parts don’t fit.
Fifteen of the loosely brushed paintings (all Untitled, 2022) in Plunderbund Charity oer two triptychs stacked one above the other, often with an altarlike symmetrical feel. In the upper half of one, a bearded priest feeds a communion wafer to a battleship-grey supplicant pinioned by an attendant; this image is bracketed, mutely, by giant pot plants. Below, framed by blue and pink fronds, a white cat strides across a rug, intent on unknowable business. You have to zoom out beyond the individual work to parse this optical stuttering at all. Animals, often elevated in stature, populate van Yetter’s deadpan broken narratives – dogs wear crowns or stand Snoopyishly upright between blue humanoid legs and above dangling testes – while people often seem to be tangled up in religion and miserable. (See van Yetter’s hatchet-faced nun.) Patterns emerge, then dissipate.
Other paintings, when cross-referenced, point mordantly towards unlikely rituals, from sumo fights and weightlifting to tuba-playing and ice skating. There’s an impression, amid anachronistic touches like a man wearing an Elizabethan ru and modern glasses, of the self-seriousness of human beings and their varied divertimenti; but note that van Yetter, in a 2018 interview, said, ‘I’m not a storyteller and I’m not trying to teach anyone anything’. Instead, he gets you wriggling on hooks, via a complex of familiarity, estrangement and a skewed humour that, more than anything, redeems fairly commonplace broken-narrative antics. Six oil paintings on paper break the multipart pseudo-narrative format and present ostensibly standalone images. One, a headand-shoulders portrait of a balding man with a handlebar moustache and pursed lips, is in black and white; visual coherence delays your noticing the pair of erect penises jutting towards his cheeks. This single image somehow still feels collagelike; old-fashioned psychological portraiture upended by a crass punchline
(or two), debonair past meeting pornographic present. Right next to this, meanwhile, van Yetter has placed another, somewhat Kippenberger-esque painting, a rocky landscape overlaid with the handwritten legend ‘If you can aord it/reach for it!’ Read that, and its smutty neighbour vibrates anew. Martin Herbert