Dieter Roth / Björn Roth, “The Floor II” 1977-1998, Found object, wood, paint, Installation view
Photograph courtesy of Hauser & Wirth Gallery
Dieter Roth / Björn Roth, Installation view
(In between “Floor I” & “Floor II”)
Photograph by Katy Hamer
Courtesy of Hauser & Wirth
This year, 2013, marks the 20th anniversary for Hauser & Wirth. The gallery has chosen to celebrate this important milestone with the inauguration of a massive new gallery space in Manhattan’s Chelsea district and a monumental exhibition featuring the work of father and son duo, titled Dieter Roth. Björn Roth. The elder Roth died in 1998 and his son has chosen to carry on his father’s legacy. In fact, the entire exhibition at the West 18th Street location was installed under the watchful eyes of Björn Roth who with his own sons, Oddur and Einer, was present in New York for one month prior to the exhibition opening. Much of Roth’s work was meant to respond to elements of time and Björn and his sons have recreated much of the pivotal installations that were made before the senior Roth’s death. Björn Roth, an artist himself, always played an important role in his father’s studio process. Currently based in Iceland, he was present with his father when they decided to remove the entire floor of their Iceland based studio and turn it into an artwork. It then inspired a partner piece taken from the floor of another studio. Combined, the extremely large sculpture is titled “Floor I” (1973-1992) and “The Floor II” (1977-1998) respectively, and is installed in the new Hauser & Wirth gallery, informing a dialogue with painting, sculpture and of course the readymade.
Dieter Roth (1930-1998), Solo Scenes, 1997-1998
Video Installation, 128 Monitors, Dimensions variable, Installation view Hauser & Wirth
Courtesy of Hauser & Wirth
Upon entering the gallery for the press preview, one was immediately struck by the overwhelmingly sweet smell of chocolate wafting inside the cavernous rooms. The Roth’s constructed “New York Kitchen”, 2013, in the gallery which will remain on view for the duration of the exhibition. Assistants were busy making brightly tinted sugar and chocolate molds for the then unfinished “Shokoladeturm (Chocolate Tower)” and “Zuckerturm (Sugar Tower)”. Four basic molds including “Selbstportrait (Self-portrait)”, the “Löwenselbst (Lion-self)”, the “Sphinx” and the “Portraitbuste mit Löwenkopf (Self-portrait with lion head)” have been used to construct two towers, one of sugar, the other of chocolate. The original tower collapsed in 1994 and Dieter Roth instructed his son to continue to rebuild the piece after his death, using the damaged busts from the original sculpture. As press were led through the gallery and allowed to wander at will, we were invited to taste the circular bits of chocolate before they had been melted into a mold. The smooth, dark chocolate was soft to the tongue and a perfect mix between bitter and sweet. Tasting the chocolate, a guilty pleasure, was a way to feel present and at one with the sculpture. Not a huge fan of the delectable sweet, I actually found myself back for seconds. Somehow in the presence of this particular artist lineage along with the almost cathedral-like ceilings of the gallery, the experience likened to taking art communion. Versions of these chocolate molds will open at the Museum of Modern Art as of February 17th, 2013 in an exhibition titled, Wait, Later This Will Be Nothing: Editions by Dieter Roth and will be on view through June 24th, 2013.
Dieter Roth / Björn Roth, Installation view at Hauser & Wirth new 18th Street gallery, 2013
Photograph courtesy of the gallery
Commencing with the walk-through, Björn Roth, was introduced and immediately revealed himself to be amicable and approachable, even blushing several times during his talk. A tall man with a sturdy build, he has somewhat of a resemblance to his late father, but since I never met Dieter, I can’t attest if he also had a glimmer in his eye.

Upon speaking of Dieter Roth. Björn Roth now on view at Hauser & Wirth he states:

“[Given the opportunity to show in a] huge space in Manhattan, the project [initially] had the concept of big things. I’m not the best curator, but I am a good installer and like my own paintings. The concept was to bring in the bigger paintings and [works] that would fit Manhattan well. So I looked into our inventories and picked out works that I felt would hang well together. The first piece considered was the floors. The idea of making “Floor I” into a painting came to fruition in 1992 when we were working on a huge installation at a show in Switzerland and we didn’t have enough art to fill the exhibition. We had one wall that we still needed to fill and my father had this idea and said “What about the studio floor?” We had been working for several months in Switzerland and asked our assistants, who cut the floor out and it arrived two days before the opening and was quickly installed. However the entrance [shared the same] wall where we installed the floor. We had to cut a door into the floor, so that people could enter the gallery. On the other side, “Floor II”, was from another studio. Most pieces in this exhibition are made with found materials which have had another life [outside] from being an artwork or a painting, such as a tablecloth. One day, Dieter said, “I want to make some paintings.” Yet we were broke so he went out and bought tablecloths which had been used. And we said “What are we supposed to do with that?” and he replied “Paint on it.”They (the paintings) were in the studio for about ten years and worked on very slowly.”
Iwan Wirth and Björn Roth at Hauser & Wirth, NY
(West 18th Street location)
Installation view at Dieter Roth. Björn Roth
Photograph by Katy Hamer
Courtesy of Hauser & Wirth

Continuing, “When I look at them, every little line of these paintings brings memories from different times. Now here, (pointing to “New York Kitchen”, 2013) we didn’t have time to finish “Shokoladeturm (Chocolate Tower)” before the opening so we decided to keep the kitchen active until it’s finished so that it becomes part of the show. Although this is not the theme of the piece, I like how people often say that it looks like a skyscraper. It is impossible to make a tower like this with cheap chocolate, it would fall apart. Here we are using E. Guittard, (originally from France and the oldest family owned and operated chocolate company in the US). It’s very good dark chocolate that I invite you to taste. “

On “Clothes Picture” a series of mixed media works dating from 1984-1987 made by Dieter Roth:

“This again [has been] painted on pre-made material, here being Dieter’s clothes. He made these self-portraits, in the late 80s when he was close to killing himself with eating and drinking. His clothes didn’t fit him [and this included] his handmade shoes from Vienna, tailored suits and so on, so he made these self-portraits [with the remnants of his personal belongings no longer useful], a portrait of him as a fat man.”

Then walking to “Grosse Tischruine (Large Table Ruin)”, started in 1978, made by  Dieter Roth along with Björn Roth and Eggert Einarsson:

“There are very few collectors who would dare to have such a piece as it is constantly evolving, but this is in the Hauser & Wirth permanent collection, so it can be maintained. The table is the central element and a place where we could eat. Also the brands of the beer (stacked on shelves on a far wall) are relative to his travels. Reading the labels, one will see that there is beer from Iceland, beer from Germany, beer from Ireland. It’s not only an aesthetic element but a visual story about the piece. As part of the installation, beer will be placed in the refrigerator from New York, possibly Brooklyn Lager.”

Dieter Roth / Björn Roth “Incomplete Painting” 1980-1982
Oil, acrylic and felt pen on canvas, framed
Photograph by Katy Hamer,
Courtesy of Hauser & Wirth

Motioning to “3 Persons, Several Times” (1976-1993), Wall object, assemblage and sheepishly grinning Bjorn Röth stated;

“I don’t know what this is but I love it because it breaks all the time and needs to be repaired but has elements from the late 70s when he (Dieter Roth) declared war on galleries. We moved to Switzerland where he could rely on collectors. The first thing he did was to screw a telephone onto the painting so you had to go to the painting to make a phone call.”

Obviously this, and many of the works in the exhibition speak of Dieter Roth’s humor. His artwork has a wild haphazardness about it, however one that is calculated and precise. Even now it is possible to recognize his regard towards the gritty process of making art, his and his son’s relationship to the concept of the readymade and an avid focus on aesthetic exploration. Dieter Roth. Björn Roth is the most comprehensive exhibition to date in the United States introducing a large, always eager audience to an artist and now son, whose fame has for some reason resided mostly in Europe.
Björn Roth: “I started working with my father in 1978, he died in 1998 so we worked together for 20 years. I was born in Iceland and have always felt like an Icelander even though I [also] have a Swiss passport. Dieter never felt Swiss, he always related to Northern Germany. Whenever we were there it was obvious he felt like he was home. That was the main difference between us, I am an Icelander and he was a Northern German.” When asked about the paint on his hands; “My sons and I were here until 3 in the morning working on the bar and I was so tired, I didn’t have time to properly clean the paint off.”
You’ve read correctly, as part of the inauguration of the new space, The Roth Bar, 2013, has also been established and will remain open, although private, in the gallery. It is a full service bar with alcohol, soda and coffee. Something that I noticed and very rare at this time for New York, were the numerous ashtrays scattered near the windows on the side of the bar facing the street. The presence of The Roth Bar and the smokers who later partook in the provided ashtrays gave the exhibition and gallery a more European feeling. Even from beyond the grave, I think that Dieter Roth would be proud.
The Roth Bar, Hauser & Wirth new 18th Street Gallery, NY, 2013
Photograph by Katy Hamer
Dieter Roth / Bjorn Roth is on view at the new Hauser & Wirth Gallery in New York from January 23rd – April 13th, 2013.

More soon.