In manifold ways and in any medium the work of Dieter Roth continually revolves around the self. A special exhibition at the Aargauer Kunsthaus brings together the self-portraits from every creative period of this major artist.
Dieter Roth (1930-1998) was one of the great universal artists of the twentieth century. He was a graphic artist and designed furniture, he painted and drew, he created sculptures and expansive installations, working with all sorts of materials. He was a poet, a musician, he edited artist’s books and he filmed, photographed, collected etc.
The first major Dieter Roth retrospective following the artist’s death took place in 2003. Organised by Schaulager Basel, it was shown in Basel, Cologne (Museum Ludwig) and New York (MoMa) and provided many valuable insights into his widely ramified artistic oeuvre. Yet today Roth’s universe is still awaiting further systematic analysis.
A central aspect of Dieter Roth’s oeuvre is the self-portrait. In manifold ways and in any medium the work of this artist continually revolves around the self. At times ironic yet also frequently relentless, Roth questions himself and what he does - his artistic practice as well as his everyday activities - both in his creative work and in journals and autobiographical texts.
Given that, in the case of Dieter Roth, the subject suggests itself and self-portraits are, in fact, omnipresent in his work, it is surprising that this central aspect, until now, has not been seized on. The exhibition at the Aargauer Kunsthaus assembles self-portraits from Roth’s entire career. Conceived as a retrospective, it covers the full range of media in which the artist worked.
The exhibition starts with early drawings from his student years, in which the young artist portrayed himself. It reaches a first point of culmination with the chocolate busts from the late 1960s and continues with the extensive group of works from the following years titled “Selbstbildnis als’”, or “Self-Portrait as’,” in which the self is split up into an endless sequence of selves, thereby radically calling into question any glorification of the individual. As Roth became increasingly interested in recording the events of life in an artistic manner, the journals took on major significance in his late work, to some extent superseding the selfportraits. The exhibition concludes with the large Panopticon of his 128-part video installation titled “Solo Szenen” (1997-1998), in which his autobiographical observations and reflections culminate in an uncompromising look at himself and his own existence.
To Dieter Roth radical self-interrogation became a concern of overriding importance. The unrelenting way in which he made his own self the focus of his work, while at the same time deconstructing it by all available means, is unprecedented in the history of the genre. Thus the exhibition, on the one hand, aims to make a substantiated contribution to the discourse on Dieter Roth’s work and, on the other, puts forward for discussion a subject, the self-portrait, which in the late twentieth century became problematic for many artists and could only be advanced anymore through the kind of very firm artistic statement that Dieter Roth made.