Isabel Mehl is a Berlin based art historian, writer and art critic. Her texts have been published in frieze, Texte zur Kunst, and elsewhere. Her current areas of interest include the intersection of criticism and fiction, the social figure of the female art critic, museum scenes in painting/film, “autofiction” (for lack of a better term), as well as self-portraits by women artists. She studied art theory, media studies, media philosophy and media art in Marburg, Oslo, Karlsruhe and New York. She completed her doctorate on the fictional art critic Madame Realism that was created by writer and cultural critic Lynne Tillman in the 1980s while being part of the research training group “Cultures of Critique” at Leuphana University Lüneburg in 2020. From 2021 until the beginning of 2023, she was a Postdoc at Ruhr University Bochum. In April 2023 she joined the research training group “Normativity – Critique – Change” at FU Berlin.
Besides her academic work she co-founded the feminist working collective (FAK) in 2012 in Karlsruhe and was co-editor of their magazine “Body of Work” (2015). Since 2016 she collaborates with art historian Oona Lochner under the label “From Where I Stand: Feminist Art/Writing. Subjectivities, Genealogies, and Critique” offering writing workshops, writing collaboratively and giving talks. She realized several audio plays (Deutschlandfunk Kultur, WDR) as well as short films, most recently “Agent of Doubt” (2022) together with artist Alina Schmuch.
Critical Impressions – Correspondences
In my research project "Critical Impressions - Correspondences" I focus on art critical practices that can be found outside of art magazines and beyond the dominant (often male) discourse. This project is dedicated to writings that have received little or only sporadic attention to date: Diaries, correspondences, novels, and notes by women artists and writers (women, but also other oppressed voices) concerned with art in the broadest sense. These texts do not fulfill the criteria of traditional art criticism (e.g. objectivity, judgment) and they are not addressed to "the public" (e.g. an art magazine), although there is an addressee of these texts indeed. The examination of art can be found here between everyday observations, self-reflection and documentation and thus constantly refers to the connection between art and life. Starting from the texts, I will turn to the art that is mentioned in the writings. What art comes into view in these practices; is it other than the works of art foregrounded in public discourse, or is it a different view of art? To what extent is the rupture with norms in art addressed in the writings? Regarding the potential of these possible shifts in gaze, artist Kara Walker recently noted that "there are works of art that are read very differently, depending on the background of the viewer. They can also be read differently than official art history has previously claimed." It is these "other" readings that I am concerned with. In my research, I thus embark on a search for other ways of writing and places of art criticism in order to be able to discover those voices that fell (and still fall) through the institutional cracks.
In a parallel narrative, I turn to the motif of the writing and reading woman in the work of women artists.
Im Zeichen des Zweifel(n)s: Madame Realism oder: Die Funktion der Fiktion in der Kunstkritik, edition metzel, München, 2022.
Critique: The Stakes of Form, Sami Khatib, Holger Kuhn, Oona Lochner, Isabel Mehl, Beate Söntgen (Hrsg.), diaphanes, Zürich / Berlin, 2020.
Body of Work, Munitionsfabrik #24, Feministisches Arbeitskollektiv (Hrsg.), Hochschule für Gestaltung Karlsruhe, 2015.
Papers/Art criticism (Selection)
Posing As…Anti-biografische Erkundungen einer fiktiven Kunstkritikerin; in: Pseudonyme in der Kunstkritik, Oona Lochner, Astrid Mania (Hrsg.), in Vorbereitung.
Interview with German Art Historians Oona Lochner and Isabel Mehl by Sharon Hecker and Catherine Ramsey-Portolano: Writing Like a Feminist—in Dialogue with Carla Lonzi, S. 383–395 ; in: Female Cultural Production in Modern Italy, Sharon Hecker, Catherine Ramsey-Portolano (Hrsg.), Palgrave, London, 2023.
How Bad Was He? Let Me Count the Ways: Auguste Renoir and His Critics of the 1980s. Isa- bel Mehl and Beate Söntgen in conversation, mit Beate Söntgen, S. 283–307; in: Stephanie Marchal, Beate Söntgen, Hubert Locher, Melanie Sachs, Elisabeth Heymer (Hrsg.): Judgment Practices in the Artistic Field, Edition Metzel, München, 2022.
A Drifting Mind, zu Lynne Tillman’s „The Matisse Pages from Madame Realism’s Diary“, S. 284; in: Why Art Criticism?, Beate Söntgen, Julia Voss (Hrsg.), Hatje Cantz, Berlin, 2022.
Lonzi Lesen, mit Oona Lochner, S. 179-189; in: Selbstbewusstwerdung. Schriften zu Kunst und Feminismus von Carla Lonzi, Giovanna Zapperi (Hrsg.), bbooks, Berlin, 2021.
Short Cuts, über Faux Pas. Selected Writings and Drawings (2020) von Amy Sillman, Texte zur Kunst, Berlin, Januar 2021: https://www.textezurkunst.de/articles/isabel-mehl-short-cuts/
Feedback Systems. Artwriting as Critique?, S. 175–183; in: Critique: The Stakes of Form, Sami Khatib, Holger Kuhn, Oona Lochner, Isabel Mehl, Beate Söntgen (Hrsg.), diaphanes, Zürich / Berlin, 2020 (Peer-Reviewed).
On Slowing Down and Not Being Shy. A Conversation Between Chris Kraus and Isabel Mehl, S. 185–196; in: Critique: The Stakes of Form, Sami Khatib, Holger Kuhn, Oona Lochner, Isa- bel Mehl, Beate Söntgen (Hrsg.), diaphanes, Zürich / Berlin, 2020 (Peer-Reviewed).
Blind Spots on the Move, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, Februar 2020: https://newal- phabetschool.hkw.de/blind-spots-on-the-move/
Die Ich-Funktion, Texte zur Kunst, Berlin, September 2019: https://www.textezurkunst.de/ articles/die-ich-funktion/
Poetische Sezierungen, S. 214–217; in: Texte zur Kunst, Heft Nr. 115, Berlin, September 2019.
Why Is Kathy Acker So Maddeningly Difficult to Memorialize?, frieze, London, April 2019: https://www.frieze.com/article/why-kathy-acker-so-maddeningly-difficult-memorialize
Lynne Tillman’s Critical Fictions. Fragments from an Encounter between Isabel Mehl and Lynne Tillman, S. 98–107; in: PROVENCE Report, Spector Books, Leipzig, Herbst/Winter, 2018/19.
Travelling to Greece. A Written Correspondence, mit Oona Lochner, Brand New Life Maga- zine, Zürich, 2018: https://brand-new-life.org/b-n-l/travelling-to-greece-en-us/
„Überlast“ und Emanzipation. Ich weiss nicht, ob mein Stand es erlaubt, S. 210–214; in: Tex- te zur Kunst, Heft Nr. 108, Berlin, Dezember 2017.
A Collaborative Glossary / From Where I Stand, mit Laura Kowalewski und Oona Loch- ner, Feministische Studien, Berlin, August 2017: https://blog.feministische-studien. de/2017/08/a-collaborative-glossary-from-where-i-stand.
#ilovedick – Selfies mit Textreferenz, Pop. Kultur und Kritik, Siegen, Juni 2017: https://pop- zeitschrift.de/2017/06/16/social-media-junivon-isabel-mehl16-6-2017/
„Stell‘ Dir einmal vor wie schön das wäre...“, Isabel Mehl im Gespräch mit Tatjana Turanskyj, Body of Work, Karlsruhe, 2015.