A-|A+

MoMA

WAIT, LATER THIS WILL BE NOTHING. NO REALLY, I’VE SEEN IT FOR MYSELF.

Wait, later this will be nothing. No really, I’ve seen it for myself.

Exhibition research often takes curators to archives, museums, private collections, and galleries. These are usually pristine spaces, where voices are hushed, light levels are low, and temperature and humidity are carefully controlled. But I experienced something very different as I investigated the work of Dieter Roth (Swiss, born Germany. 1930–1998), featured in the current exhibition Wait, Later This Will Be Nothing: Editions by Dieter Roth.

Among Roth’s primary interests was decay, a process he often encouraged by using organic materials—cheese, sausage, and, most notably, chocolate—that would break down over time. And so, I spent the last several years comparing examples of Roth’s rotting banana slices, reviewing recipes for Roth’s book sausages, or literaturwursts, and examining crumbling self-portrait busts.

Dieter Roth. P.O.TH.A.A.VFB (Portrait of the artist as a Vogelfutterbüste [birdseed bust]). 1968. Multiple of chocolate and birdseed, overall: 8 1/4 x 5 1/2 x 4 3/4″ (21 x 14 x 12 cm). Publisher: Hake Verlag, Cologne. Fabricator: Rudolf Rieser, Cologne. Edition: 30. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III Endowment Fund and acquired through the generosity of Peter H. Friedland. © 2013 Estate of Dieter Roth. Photo by John Wronn

Dieter Roth. P.O.TH.A.A.VFB (Portrait of the artist as a Vogelfutterbüste [birdseed bust]). 1968. Multiple of chocolate and birdseed, overall: 8 1/4 x 5 1/2 x 4 3/4″ (21 x 14 x 12 cm). Publisher: Hake Verlag, Cologne. Fabricator: Rudolf Rieser, Cologne. Edition: 30. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III Endowment Fund and acquired through the generosity of Peter H. Friedland. © 2013 Estate of Dieter Roth. Photo by John Wronn

Chocolate and garden gnomes at Roth's Schimmelmuseum, Hamburg

Chocolate and garden gnomes at Roth’s Schimmelmuseum, Hamburg

Perhaps my strangest and most memorable visit was to the remains of Roth’s Schimmelmuseum (or Mold Museum) in Hamburg. There, behind a vault door, I came face to face with the proof of Roth’s assertion that “later this would be nothing.” The concrete bunker was filled floor to ceiling with decaying works made of chocolate and sugar. Flies swarmed, the heavy smell of bad sweets hung in the air, and maggots squirmed on partly decomposed blocks of chocolate into which Roth had sunk garden gnomes.

It was a riot of rot, a temple of mold, alive and changing every minute. Later, as I hosed the grime off my shoes, I remember thinking, “that was definitely more fun than an afternoon at the library.”

Of course, museum conservators aren’t as thrilled as Roth was at the idea of a vermin infestation. The care of works made of organic materials offers an interesting challenge, one explored here in our video, Dieter Roth: Staying Fresh.

Be sure to stop in and see Roth’s decaying chocolate masterpieces for yourself. Wait Later This Will Be Nothing: Editions by Dieter Roth is on view at MoMA through June 24.

Comments

Wild stuff!

If I was a conservator I’d feel bad that I was going against the intention of the artist — he wanted all this stuff to go away and now it’s being preserved. How do you guys feel about that issue?

Leave a Comment

* required information
Name*

E-mail address*

Your comments*

Spam check*
Cri_71602 Please enter the text in the image.