Surrounded by the works in Father Figures Are Hard to Find, fifty or so attendees sat on the concrete floor of neue Gesellschaft für bildende Kunst (nGbK), awaiting the lecture–performance Da Da Daddy Hasselhof by Mysti, who appeared in drag, wearing a cascading blonde wig and bright halter and miniskirt combo. Her academic talk began with a slow-building critique of object-making and market-driven aesthetics, and came to a crescendo in a takedown of identity as an impervious shield against making bad or exploitative art. She challenged 02.02.1861 (2009–) by Danh Vo, a work that consists of a letter by J. Théophane Vénard, written just before his execution, to his father. Vo’s own father mails hand-copied versions of the French letter (which he cannot read because he doesn’t speak the language) to buyers in an unlimited edition until his death. A copy, rendered in flawless blue calligraphy, was prominently displayed in the next room.
Mysti is an emerging, U.S.-born performance-based artist interested in “queering theory,” while art star Danh Vo was born in south Vietnam and became a political refugee when his family fled in a handmade boat and was later rescued at sea before settling in Denmark. But both have fathers who were disappointed when their sons decided to become artists. These kinds of divergent yet overlapping narratives are echoed again and again in the transgressive, queer-centric exhibition, where father figures of all kinds are revered and rejected through entirely individual gestures.
At the entrance to the exhibition, the patrilineal status quo of identity is confronted by two self-portraits by Juliana Huxtable, Sympathy for the Martyr (2015) and Lil’ Marvel (2015). Rather than clinging to identity, Huxtable molds it like putty in her hands, shapeshifting into a superheroine or trans-Christ. Her self-aware, Cindy Sherman-like transformations are otherworldly but human, and thus gloriously imperfect. Much like Sherman’s earliest works, the tension between self-determination and others’ projections is well crafted. At the far end of the gallery, Rotimi Fani-Kayode’s performative images Under the Surplice (1987), Nothing to Lose IX (Bodies of Experience) (1987), and Bronze Head (1987), made nearly three decades earlier, critique the limitations of cultural inheritance through the lens of a queer, HIV-positive Nigerian expat.