Wolfgang Stoerchle

This review of “Wolfgang Stoerchle (1944-1978)” at MACRO appeared in Flash Art Italia:

Wolfgang Stoerchle, Untitled (Mattress and Tire Tracks), 1968 and Untitled (Folded Mattress), 1969. Exhibition view: MACRO 2021. Photo credit: Agnese Bedini and Melania Dalle Grave of DSL Studio.

Sex, Lies, and Videotape – the title of Steven Soderbergh’s Palme d’Or-winning 1989 film – sums up Wolfgang Stoerchle’s artistic journey charted in this intriguing solo exhibition. Drawing on extensive archival research and interviews with the German-American artist’s students and peers, the presentation at Macro is a showcase for editor Alice Dusapin’s forthcoming monograph dedicated to this eccentric, well-loved, and yet somewhat forgotten figure of the Californian art scene in the 1970s. This makes Stoerchle a perfect fit for the Arrhythmics section of Macro’s Museum for Preventive Imagination, which this show inaugurates.

Stoerchle’s all-too-brief career, cut short by a car accident that claimed his life at the age of thirty-two, is distilled into the “10 Things We Know” placed at the outset. “In 1962,” point two informs us, “he leaves Toronto for Los Angeles with his brother on a pair of horses, crossing the entire United States during eleven months in the saddle. Ten years later, he reclaims this journey as his first work of art.” The show features an 8mm film Dusapin discovered while rummaging through the archival materials held by Stoerchle’s first wife, showing the moment of arrival in LA on the eve of Christmas 1962 – the two brothers on their respective mounts followed by a packhorse. The epic journey laid the foundation for subsequent myth-making, fueled by some genuine media interest, rumors, and even “fake news” generated and successfully disseminated by the artist himself during his student years.

The exhibition brings together a well-judged selection of works, ranging from paintings depicting suggestively folded spotted mattresses to actions captured in black-and-white photographic stills and “sculptural events” involving the participants’ bodies and sundry objects, such as a rolling pin that was being passed between the artist and a fellow performer, even as they swapped all their clothing items in a public plaza. The lion’s share of the performances on view were made for video – as opposed to being videos merely documenting performances – in a studio setting, using a portable camera. The resulting videotapes, shown on three monitors resting atop their cases, explore the artistic possibilities of what was then a new medium, one that Stoerchle taught for two years at CalArts as part of the brilliant inaugural cohort of staff members recruited by Allan Kaprow.

A family likeness characterizes two of the artist’s memorable performances that vastly contributed to the subsequent myth, despite or perhaps because of their apparent failure. “Attempt Public Erection” and the so-called “The Last Performance” – effectively his last – took place in Robert Irwin’s and John Baldessari’s Los Angeles studios respectively, three years apart, as if Stoerchle refused to admit defeat when it came to controlling the body’s functions in the most private of spheres. Not just his own body, which refused to “perform” on demand back in April 1972, but also that of a male volunteer who failed to get aroused when Stoerchle gave him a blow job in front of a discomfited audience in October 1975, shortly before the artist’s untimely death. Rescued from oblivion, into which it has gradually fallen ever since, Stoerchle’s unsettling oeuvre is ripe for a rediscovery.