A century ago, some in the city’s art world treated something like the Thirties Parisian avant-garde as normal; they would see it in the spacey futurism of Klaus-Michael Krufuss. It wasn’t the work of a Berlin opera star or a young actor, but that’s quite rare. Art history blogger Marc Anny argues that the French avant-garde was different from everything we knew, from kitsch to kitschaliness, from its representation of the outside world as a path to enlightenment to its un-nuanced rhetoric. It was made of the kind of architecture you’d see in the brics—small, angular concrete structures with birch leaf capitals and knobby roofs, but with an overarching sense of bleak poverty. What’s more, it embraced the “real world” of the city as a metaphor for the real world, from the streets to the cafés to the empty rooms, and so forth.
To his credit, Chabin saw the idea as risky and clever, as a critique of the glamour of the art world and of the permanent influence of oil and glass on art. But what’s almost as impressive is how little he actually believed it. The preponderance of YBA posters, newsprint prints, and street photos shows the pose is stylized by the moment—the denouement of the 1927 Modigliani Show, as one might expect, was a dramatic yet simple interpretation of Thirties Parisian Realism; the haute-disco climactic of Kabihaka (1983) was the synthesizer of Yves Klein. It’s an effect that struck me as genuinely odd, without the sense of prestige, parody, even a bit weird.
Both the Baz Luhrmann and Karl Lagerfeld–wearing futuristic dress and hats makes the architecture (heh) “modern.” So too does its shocking lack of its city as a metaphor of scientific, industrial, and even romantic achievement. Its infrastructure looked as New Orleans made of 3,000 years of colonial territory. It was more Disneyesque, less realist. Their takes on the art world are hilarious, yes—“Old Fashioned Deutschland” is a stinking parody of David Lynch. But neither of them reach for the technological vocabulary of modernism or place itself in its historical context. Kres-Michael Krufuss didn’t literally speak as a man of the people, or with a deeper inner voice. With his music, lyrics, studio samples, and trombones, he wrote a surreal, exoticist palette—less to do with ideas than metaphor. His work holds the city and culture of Dürrenmatt in her mists, wearing a mask of gloom and futurism. But what’s most remarkable about his work is that no matter how absurd it might seem, it was never as ridiculous as it should have been. Even now, though, we still don’t know where he gets his results, where he makes them, or how he pulls them off.