Visual Arts

Finding Renaissance from Junk Yards and Thrift Shopping

Artist Thorsten Brinkmann blends Renaissance-era portraiture with make-believe in The Great Cape Rinderhorn

By Camilla Cook January 29, 2016

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Thorsten Brinkmann collecting objects at General Supply and Equipment Co. Inc., Houston, Texas, 2015

Image: Nash Baker

The expression, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” has never been more true than it's been for German artist Thorsten Brinkmann, whose exhibit The Great Cape Rinderhorn opens next Thursday at Rice Gallery. You could say Brinkmann has an eye for junk. Where most of us see useless found items as garbage, Brinkmann sees art.

For more than 15 years, Brinkmann has foraged through junk yards and thrift stores, collecting materials to use in his shows. “I was taking pictures through walks in Hamburg, Germany, where I was studying. I took pictures from objects I saw there, and then I began to collect them,” he says ahead of his first museum solo-exhibition in the United States. “After a while, I had quite a lot of stuff.” The work became physically demanding for Brinkmann, so naturally, he wondered how he could combine the physical work with his body, and the objects.

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EL d`Or, 2015 
Thorsten Brinkmann & VG Bildkunst Bonn

According to Rice Gallery Assistant Curator, Joshua Fischer, “Thorsten recognizes the integrity of the object that is found. He breathes new life into chaos, by reimagining objects in the everyday world, in a strange, slightly weird way.”

In addition to found objects, Brinkmann also incorporates sculpture and photography into his work. He gathers objects he has collected, including buckets, coat hangers, cracked vases and rods, to name a few, that he will assemble into still-life masterpieces. Walking through the installation, art-goers can see portraits of Brinkmann that resemble stoic Renaissance-era paintings. But with one caveat—his face is covered. “I was really into the performance art of the ’70s. But I didn’t like how [the artists] became very important as people. You can see from performance artists that you can’t really divide their work, from their personality.”

Apart from a 20-foot-long cow horn the artist acquired at a general supply store here in Houston, art-goers should be on the lookout for an Alice-in-Wonderland–type journey through a “secret” tunnel door made from crates. Guests have to find a secret door, which Brinkmann warns, “may or may not be open.” It’s up to the museumgoer to find the hidden passageway.

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Goldo, 2016
Thorsten Brinkmann & VG Bildkunst Bonn

“People may feel silly, almost childlike, crawling in the small space. You have to be curious to find the space or you won’t find it,” he explains. “You have to crawl; you have to crouch down. Your whole body is involved. You get to experience the installation with all your senses.”

“In terms of installation, this is the first time that an artist has incorporated disguised and hidden elements, where you could almost see the show without maybe knowing it existed,” explains Fischer. If you do happen to find the tunnel that leads to the hidden room, you may just find yourself in a cozy bedroom, which so far, is outfitted with a bed, a wardrobe and a record player.

“I like to combine objects. I like to produce new meanings with the combination of objects. I like to collect words,” Brinkmann says, touching on the show’s unique title. “I like to switch languages. I’m using English, French and German… I try to create a new meaning, something I can’t always explain.”

Opening reception Thursday, Feb. 4 at 5. Feb 4–May 15. Free. Rice Gallery, Rice University, 6100 Main St. 713-348-6069.

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