Matthias Hermann Action Figure

Essay for Matthias Herrmann’s HOTEL V, Art Metropole, Toronto, 2007


Matthias Herrmann is a living action figure with a constant hard-on, like those popular Billy Dolls that can be dressed up like this or like that. He’s the prince and the pauper, the king and the queen, the art star and the porn star. The doll’s hard-on is always there but you can hide it with different props and fabric, or you can proudly display/present it in so many ways. The name of the game is PHALLOCENTRISM, and most experienced players will testify: one thing that matters most is SIZE.

 Matthias Herrmann is a walking representation of so many great and tragic ideals and concepts, some of them long vanished and some very much present. To what extent will the artist go to obtain the love and attention of his imaginary audience? And does the audience matter at all? Who is the real Matthias Herrmann? An exhibitionist? A poser? A poet? A loner? An existentialist? A sex addict? Or all of the above?

 As with most of his famed predecessors—particularly Pierre Molinier, Robert Mapplethorpe and Peter Berlin, Herrmann’s most honest and personal work comes from the sacred act of making love to his camera. But Matthias has taken this process to the next, extreme level. There’s nothing more to hide, each inch has been exposed, every angle exploited.  

 We live in the time when porn has successfully penetrated all the areas of mainstream culture, from high fashion to high art. As a point of fact, porn IS the new high fashion, just like the new high art IS porn. Ironically, this recent trend makes Matthias Herrmann one of the most stylish and “cool” art stars out there (whether they are actually out or not). This very trend also makes him one of the most politically correct artists of the moment.

Herrmann’s work is a great commentary on the sickening nature of celebrity in the age of superficial values and the triumph of tabloid culture. Having voluntarily and happily deprived himself of the slightest notion of privacy, Herrmann presents himself as a self-styled sex symbol, making his genitals or bodily fluids available in each and every photograph, each and every page of his books.

This persistent showing off, twisting and masquerading of his well-trained and proportioned body is a carnival mirror reflection of BODY FASCISM, which has been the central aspect of gay culture and gay mythology from the get-go. Whether it makes his art more or less gay, post-gay or anti-gay is a whole different story. What I personally like most about Matthias’s work is that his sexuality doesn’t seem to be such a big issue and is presented in a plain matter-of-fact way: What you see is what you get! Love it or hate it! Take it or leave it!

Herrmann’s victorious, disarming narcissism is always layered with an ever-permitting self-irony, sometimes bordering on self-mockery and self-humiliation. This grotesque kaleidoscope of masks and identities has turned into a life- and career-long journey of self-exploration, an obsessive exercise in re-defining his inner self, a proud demonstration of all his fears and weaknesses, living dramas and traumas. That’s when the textual captions usually come into play, and for every occasion he has a smart “fortune cookie”-like saying, quote, or proverb up his sleeve.

Herrmann’s art is all too human, and that’s what makes it so appealing and touching: “do-it-yourself” or “try it at home”… if you dare!