November 6, 2013

Hip Hip...! Birthday Celebrations of Artists - Dead or Alive

 Celebrating Andy Warhol's 85th birthday. Earth cam image from New York Times 

I always refuse to memorize the dates of birth or death or an artist. Although it is a frequent question during guided tours I stay immune to the request. I usually solve it by making generalizations, for instance, at the Painting Forever show in the New National Gallery I present the four artists as (white, male, and) middle-aged. That should do. Yet it might not be that smart of me in the end, especially as a curator. When an artist’s round-numbered birthday is coming up (preferably older than 60 - sorry, 30 or 40 just won’t do) that is reason enough to think about curating an exhibition. Foundations/ sponsors will totally dig it. Round-numbered anniversaries are holy - it’s a plus when the artist in question is deceased. This summer it was the 85th anniversary of Andy Warhol’s birthday. For the occasion the Andy Warhol Museum organized a 24-hour live stream recording of Warhol’s gravesite in Pittsburgh. I don’t think Warhol would have cared much about this tribute at his tombstone. “I never understood” Warhol said, “why when you died, you didn’t just vanish, and everything could just keep going on the way it was only you just wouldn’t be there. I always thought I’d like my own tombstone to be blank. No epitaph and no name. Well, actually, I’d like it to say ‘figment.’”

Regarding birthday celebrations - luckily there are exceptions on the round-number rule. Galerie Mila (this is the new gallery in the middle of the middle - Linienstrasse corner Tucholskystrasse - directed by my friend Katharina Raab) celebrated the 56th birthday of the Berlin artist Wolfgang Müller on October 24th with an audio play of Frieder Butzmann to Müller’s alter ego in Iceland. Wolfgang Müller usually doesn’t celebrate birthdays but he thought that 56 was a nice number to give it a try (and so it was!). Last summer the 126th anniversary of the birthday of Marcel Duchamp didn’t go unnoticed either. Berlin artist Johanna Thompson  (with whom I co-founded a new art services business called das kunstberlin - check it out, like it on facebook!) took the occasion to do her long-time desired combo of chess and art - of course, Marcel Duchamp embodied the perfect match.

Werkleitz Festival, entering the exhibition Utopien Vermeiden, 2013

By the way, it seems to me that Marcel Duchamp is on the rise lately - slowly but surely outdoing Pablo Picasso. That impression can be overrated since I tend to associate every art thing that goes with a toilet, a urinal or its fluids as a tribute to Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain - aka the beginning of contemporary art. Visiting the Werkleitz Festival in Halle I had for instance to admire the location of the movable toilet box right in front of the exhibition entrance. The exhibition was titled Utopie vermeiden (To Avoid Utopia) so I was seriously contemplating this to be a curatorial move to, from the start, nip every thought of utopia in the bud. Yet it could also have been one of these many German rules that create absurd situations (maybe the restroom had to be in the proximity of maximum 1,2 meter of the exhibition exit?). A great toilet-tribute to Marcel Duchamp was done in the 1980s. The Westberlin punk-artistband Die Tödliche Doris took a promotional picture in the restroom and it was displayed as a huge poster on a skyscraper in Shibuya, Tokyo. 

Die Tödliche Doris in the restroom, 1980s

In her performance Johanna Thompson was generous and invited people to be Marcel Duchamp. She reenacted the chess game he played with Eve Babitz at the Pasadena Museum of Art, she herself slipping into the role of the naked lady. (Visitors of the Meret Oppenheim-exhibition at Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin know that also Oppenheim presented Marcel Duchamp with a chess game: bon appetit, Marcel. By the way: the Martin Gropius show celebrates Oppenheim's 100th anniversary of her birthday. Spicy detail: the MoMA in New York, when asked to give works for the Berlin exhibition on loan, got so excited about the idea (or the number - one can never top 100!), refused the loan and created an own exhibition. Ha!) Unlike Eve Babitz, Johanna Thompson did not lose a chess game against Marcel Duchamp, actually she won them all except for one. Would Marcel Duchamp have been a good loser? He seemed to have been totally free of the need for recognition, so probably he could not be bothered. When asked why he didn’t create art anymore, he replied: “Oh, I’m a breather, I’m a respirateur, isn’t that enough?”

Here an exclusive interview with Johanna Thompson about her performance Being Marcel Duchamp. Please take note I just happened to discover iMovie and when doing this interview, I made all the beginner mistakes you could imagine, like picking the loudest corner of the Friedrichstrasse and changing perspectives every second. So I made it black/white to cover that up and I succeeded in removing almost all the noises I apparently make while other people are talking. Thanks to Johanna for her indulgence! 

August 30, 2013

Christine Sun Kim with Thomas Benno Mader Online. About the Website of the MoMA Show "Soundings"

Christine Sun Kim. All. Night. 2012. Score, pastel, pencil, and charcoal on paper, 38.5 x 50″. Courtesy the artist

I have been drooling over the website of the MoMA New York, wishing I could go jet-setting and see the exhibition Soundings. A Contemporary Score, the first sound art exhibition of the museum. Then I suddenly discovered I was lucky. My favorite artist Christine Sun Kim - the reason überhaupt why I would go to see the exhibition - has an art piece online (for free!) on the MoMA website to check out. I can now draw the conclusion that Soundings. A Contemporary Score is a success. A show with at least one great piece in it is much rarer than one would think.  

Thinking about Christine Sun Kim’s work the name of John Cage might come to mind. Both have a conceptual and experimental approach to sound. Many believe that after Cage an expansion of music is no longer a possibility. Yet from a very different perspective Christine Sun Kim steps in conceptually with what one can consider to be a musical-artistic expansion. John Cage comes from hearing culture. Christine Sun Kim comes from deaf culture. One is tempted to draw the quick conclusion that silence is what brings Cage’s and Sun Kim’s approach together in the first place. But that would be a too easy short-cut. Not only because Christine Sun Kim seems to have by character - her energy, the red lipstick -  an intense presence and drive: meeting her you can think a lot except silence - in contrast I imagine Cage to have been one of these persons who keeps quiet most of the time.

Could one say that Cage, in all his interest for silence, thought sound to be dominant, showing in his 4’33’’ that there is never an absolute silence? In a soundproof studio he discovered that even in these ideal circumstances he could hear two sounds, one of his blood circulation and one of his nervous system. In her TED-talk  (she was awarded in 2012) Christine Sun Kim brought forward a different approach: silence is imposing in music, she argued, as it is inherently used to shape sound. She concluded that calling her an expert in silence, is a big misconception: “Since I do not have direct access to sound, what does silence equate to then? Maybe, silence as you know silence, as we supposedly know silence, doesn't exist in my book.” The audience of the TED-award must have had a moment to think that through. Christine Sun Kim’s artistic work takes you off guard because it opens up a space for a new thought that you’ve never thought before. Isn’t that remarkable, such kind of art? In my opinion one can say it is the ultimate definition of good art.

The funny thing is that Christine Sun Kim doesn’t produce such new thinking by looking for the exceptional. No, she just looks deep into “plain” reality and shows what is apparent, yet hidden. She thereby irritates the culturally produced borders. In the piece that is online, with the title When Not Concentrated,  she worked together with her friend, the Berlin artist Thomas Benno Mader. Mader told Sun Kim that she makes a particular sound when she is concentrating as if she has “a very heavy weight” on her chest. Sun Kim asked Mader to put that sound into words. She used his text to reenact her unconsciously made sound. An impossible endeavor for both deaf and hearing people. First, Sun Kim takes a situation where also hearing persons are “deaf” to their unconsciously made sounds. Second, it is quite impossible for Mader to put the sound exactly into words. Third, it is impossible to reenact consciously an unconsciously made sound, thus the title “when not concentrated”. In this collaboration with Thomas Benno Mader Christine Sun Kim challenges and explores her own limitations and starting with that she irritates also the ones of others. Yet her work is radical but not invasive. That is another great thing about Christine Sun Kim’s work: she shifts borders but is at the same time very well aware of keeping certain ones intact.

August 18, 2013

Meeting Friedrich von Borries. About My Worst/Best Job Interview Ever

Trying to get the face right for the photo on my German CV

People have asked me how I feel about the new piece that interacts (or not) now with The Right to be Lazy by John Knight in Hamburger Bahnhof. It is called “Weltverbesserungsmachine” (“world improving machine”) and it is a huge pyramid. It’s made or curated by Friedrich von Borries and his design office. I didn’t see the object yet. But I did meet Friedrich von Borries once. That meeting did not exactly take place in the best circumstances. It has been labeled in my memoirs as my best and worst job interview at the same time. That might seem impossible, but I can tell you, it is possible. The story goes like this:

It was a few years ago in the art school in Hamburg where Borries is a teacher. I’m there for a job interview for a post-doc for his project “Urban Interventions”. The interviewees are invited for the closing party/exhibition of the art academy the night before the interview. Excellent. So I take the train to Hamburg, go to the party, and introduce myself to Borries. That’s where it starts to go wrong. Borries is apparently so super interested in me that he can’t wait to ask me questions. I joke that the interview is supposed to be happening the next day at 9am. But to no effect: Borries thinks it is good to have a first impression without having his colleagues nosing around. Alright, in the mid of this party I do my best to come up with smart answers. It is very hard to do so in a consistent way since we get constantly interrupted by Borries’ cell phone or by people saying hello (for the non-Germans reading this story: no, this is not the occasion where I get exclusive introductions to the arty people Borries knows. This is not America, this is Germany where “us knows us” so you must imagine me being transparent, which did not exactly improve the consistency of my answers). 

Okay, I was a little bit shaken by that “interview party”, I admit, but what the heck: the next morning at 9 I show up in the academy for the real interview, all dressed up in a suit - that’s what they taught me in the European workshop “For Women Scientists to Advance”: wear a suit because otherwise women don’t convey authority during the job interview. Thanks European Women to Advance: I’m totally out of place at the art school that morning at 9am. It smells like beer all over the place, dripping out of left-behind bottles from the party the night before. A bunch of people is waiting in front of Borries’ office door. We look at one another with great surprise. We were expecting a private job interview. At 9am Borries comes out of his office and that’s when I look even more out of tune. His shirt is hanging out of his trousers, his hair is messed up. He looks as if he just jumped out of his bed... and he apparently did. Everything under control: I just try to play it cool and change my face accordingly. 

We are all called into Borries’ office and he explains the “concept” of this job interview. We get colors, scissors (not enough for everyone of us, we have to share), and a paper and we have to make something creative out of it... I’m forgetting the details of the assignment because we are all so baffled  (our jaws dropped, there goes the coolness) being in the (apparently wrong) belief that we left kindergarden a long time ago. We don’t have a space to be “creative” but we can just chill and sit down somewhere in the academy. On the door there is a paper that tells us what time we can come back for the private interview. After that, at around 2 in the afternoon, we have to come back to interact with one another. This way Borries can see from up-close how we do socially and who is most fitting for his project. A job interview of half an hour for a half-time job is so passé: you can spend a whole day with your (hopefully) future boss so you reveal your authentic self and drop your act.  

My personal interview is at 11.30 am. It’s still 9 in the morning, no living soul except for us, the poor victims of Borries’ originality, and no open coffee shop nearby. We are all standing there kind of lost. Somebody tells me that Borries made already clear to him the night before that this is a half-time position, but one is expected to work full-time - a very common practice in the German academic world (about the anti-intellectual tendencies in Germany, that’s another story). That is the final drop that makes the bucket run over, so to speak. I head out of the academy deciding to call it a quit. Yet the little devil on my shoulder is having its impact and so midway between school and train station I turn around and walk back. I ask the interviewee who is waiting in front of Borries’ office if I can have 5 minutes of his interview time. He welcomes it. So I walk in and tell Borries where exactly he can stick his “Urban Intervention” project. I was totally out of line, I guess, but hey, what seemed to be the worst job interview ever - actually in the end it turns out I have even fond memories of it.  

August 14, 2013

About Deja Vu, Originality and Being First. "Wir sind hier nicht zum Spass", Julia Voss and Hedy Lamarr

Thanks to Patrick for borrowing me this book: Jochen Foerster & Anthony Loder, Hedy Darling. Hollywood-Ikone. Technik-Pionierin. Gefallener Stern. Das filmreife Leben der Hedy Lamarr erzaehlt von ihrem Sohn,  2012

Sometimes one thinks one is doing something of his/her own, then to discover it has been done before or somebody is doing exactly the same thing at the same moment. Synchronies, Zeitgeist and those kind of phenomenons.  I had a moment of deja-vu last week when walking through the exhibition Wir sind hier nicht zum Spass curated by Paul Paulun in cooperation with Stéphane Bauer in Kunstraum Kreuzberg/Bethanien. I was so surprised I couldn’t focus on the art on display. The display reminded me of the exhibition Gesture Sign Art. Deaf Culture / Hearing Culture that I myself curated there last year together with Wolfgang Müller. To me, it was as if was walking through its double - the same atmosphere, the same constellations. I’ve never thought that exhibition set-ups could be repeated with totally different art, and “work”. Because it did work: it’s a good exhibition (although I did not see the art pieces, ha! It worked visually at least.. but I might have been biased). 

To be the first - that was the topic of an art review by Julia Voss about the artist Hilma Af Klint. Julia Voss is an art critic for the FAZ. I read two of her reviews - the first one made me think she is great, the second one made me think the opposite. No problem, I’m now waiting to read the third one to balance that out. Some philosophical dialectic thinking underlies this expectation of mine - no doubt of a male philosopher, his name is on the tip of my tongue... bummer... No wonder Julia Voss is out to rewrite history, more specific, in her case, art history, so dominated by men that we can’t even think outside that box. Voss is definitely right in her wanting to set things “straight”. Therefore I really liked her article about Georg Baselitz and her critique on his calculated ways of dealing with the art market. Yet in her article “Die Thronstürmerin” (The Crown Striker) about the Swedish artist Hilma Af Klint, Vos aims to write the woman painter into the history of mankind. Not by pointing out the quality of the artist’s work, but by a very mainstream art market strategy - indeed the same art market she was criticizing in the Baselitz article. Hilma Af Klint, so claims Julia Vos, was the first abstract art painter, starting her abstract work in the year 1906. 

Julia Voss ends her victorious article with an heroic sentence: “Noch 2008 wurde Kandisnky in München, New York und Paris in einer riesigen Schau als Erfinder der Abstraktion gepriesen. Es dürfte die letzte grosse Feier aus diesem Anlass für ihn gewesen sein.” ("In 2008 Kandisky was still celebrated in an enormous exhibition as the founder/inventor of abstraction. It could have been his last one.") Héhé, take that one Kandinsky! Revenge is sweet! I always get stomach ace when I read in exhibition texts that the artist in question is “the first one to” ...  - it goes in the same category as “... is one of the most significant artists of the ... century”. Especially in the case of abstract art it seems to make no sense to claim to be the first. This art market strategy is on top of it such a male discourse that I wonder why Julia Voss even bothers to take it over for her own (or okay Hilma af Klint, but is she really doing this female artist a favor?) purposes now. A male discourse like in: discovering America, being the first man on the moon, and other male colonial endeavours.
"Secret Communication System" by Hedy Lamarr and George Antheil

So on the one hand I have this kind of repulsion for these claims to be the first (although I kind of did it too in the first paragraph of this writing, uhu), on the other hand I totally think there is a woman who deserves to be acknowledged as an inventor of new things. Her name is Hedy Lamarr. Sounds unfamiliar to you? Well, she made it possible that we are using cellphones, WLAN, Bluetooth, ect. nowadays. Hedy Lamarr used to be a famous film star, celebrated “as the most beautiful girl in the world”, in the same range as Marilyn Monroe, but now she is totally forgotten. Lamarr was intellectual, interested in politics, and she created together with the composer George Antheil during the Second World War the “frequency-hopping spread spectrum” invention. This system for frequency hopping was intended to make radio-guided torpedos harder for enemies to detect. Andy Warhol made a film about Hedy Lamarr in 1968, The 14 Year Old Girl, also known as Hedy or The Shoplifter. Hedy Lamarr was also an artist and I would love to see what she created. I do know the poem she wrote as a “pardon me” for her son and it’s pretty awesome:

Don’t get a tan
Your skin’s too fair
You’re a brunette
Don’t bleach your hair
You’re getting too thin
You must gain weight
It’s because you never ate
You can’t wear bluejeans all the time
You are a star and you must shine
After listening to this for many years
I stopped ------
I like myself the way I am
If you do not, well,
I don’t give a damn

August 7, 2013

"thank you silence." Ugo Rondinone in M - Museum Leuven

Ugo Rondinone, the river, 2011. © studio rondinone

I made a detour to M - Museum Leuven on my way back to Brussels airport, Belgium. It was the third time that I visited the museum and each time I am impressed by the exhibitions on contemporary art in this relatively new museum. Curator is Eva Wittocx and she has an amazing exhibition space to work with. That definitely eases the curatorial job yet Wittocx has, on top of it, a great, generous way of playing with these huge spaces. Her exhibitions - up till now I saw Dirk Braekman, Sol LeWitt and Ugo Rondinone - don’t clutter. They leave space around the exhibited art pieces. And that also counts for the spectator. Eva Wittocx’s exhibitions make you breath.  

That might sound like mindfulness, and why not. The exhibition on the Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone with the beautiful title thank you silence made me think of lines that I recently read in Kurt Schwitters’ Literarische Werke. In an autobiographical text “About me by myself” of 1929:  “If any one asks me why I go on living in this mad-house, I can give him the same answer as to the question why I have visited that museum where “the lemon trees bloom”: in order to observe and to register. Ecco.” Ugo Rondinone’s exhibit in Museum M gives the spectator an hour of splendid “Ecco” (in translation this latin word seems to have an exclamation mark added: See! Behold!). At least an hour in my case (airplane was waiting) but the after effect was much longer. Kurt Schwitters about the purpose of art in “Merz”, 1920: “Art is a primal concept - sublime as divinity, inexplicable as life, indefinable and pointless.”

Exhibition view Ugo Rondinone, 2013, M - Museum Leuven © Dirk Pauwels

Ugo Rondinone made new works for thank you silence: hanging, standing and leaning landscapes. These landscapes are enormous chunks of earth, which are hanging, standing and leaning - like humans do (except for the hanging, I guess, although as a figure of speech, “I’m hanging”). These landscapes are shown in combination with Rondinone’s sculptural series nude: hyper-realistic human figures (without clothes of course, yet with what seems to be a swimming cap on the head). These statues are in a seated position on the floor, and they are resting, taking a break from what Schwitters called the insane asylum that is our world. The figures all seem to have a moment of inner peace and stillness. There is only being. And isn’t that the only way to reach the state of no noise? (about the impossibility of silence, see John Cage).

The exhibition starts, however, with small sculptures of birds - many birds occupying the front space, not flying, but like the nudes squatting on the floor. And it is hard not to imagine the chirping that goes with them. The birds have names like “the water”, “the thunder”.”the river”, “the mountain” and “the storm”. Indeed, not “Rain”, “Summer” or “River” (Phoenix). The definite article is included. In the middle of these natural phenomenons there is another one, which did not take the form of a bird but came as an installation titled thank you silence: a kind of snow machine up in the air that has thrown little white paper cuts on the floor. True, also snow can create a situation of absolute silence.

Ugo Rondinone's exhibition finishes with the sun. In the top room of museum M, after climbing quite some stairs, one enters a space with a huge grey concrete rectangle form (or square... so huge, I couldn’t see) suspended in the air. One can slip underneath it to get into its center. The inside is decorated with children drawings of the sun -  a cooperation of Ugo Rondinone with children of Leuven. A mantra that my friend Stefano told me a long time ago, came to mind: “Imagine you are surrounded by a bubble of white light and all the negativity just gets absorbed by this bubble and transformed into pure love, that is the color of gold...”

My newest acquisition: Die Literarische Werke of Kurt Schwitters!

July 7, 2013

The Whole Earth. Or Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?

On Sunday I went to the last day of the show The Whole Earth in the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin. A fascinating topic, and definitely a lot of fascinating material to discover in the exhibition. Yet I was left with an ambivalent feeling about the presentation. It was more of a catalogue than an exhibition and there was a lot to read. So it was more about text than it was about  art. No, actually, it was not even a catalogue. I think the experience of watching this exhibition is best described as surfing on the internet for hours and hours, reading wikipedia and going on youtube. It might be that this was really the aim of the curators, Anselm Franke and Diedrich Diederichsen, and then they did their job well. But it is questionable if it is an endeavor that is critical or if it just not repeating the state of our earthly beings right now, mimicking its own subject “The Whole Earth”. After hours of surfing, one link leading you to the next one, and discovering interesting stuff, and then getting info on wikipedia about it, and surfing some more - well, it leaves you exhausted. It is an activity one knows it would be better to avoid - it just takes up time and keeps you from living. To double it in “real life” - making an exhibition virtual yet occupying space... Still feeling ambivalent.

It seems like Anselm Franke and Diedrich Diedrichssen got on this hallucinant internet trip researching for their topic, and then they decided to keep it there, in that research state:  the case of presenting instead of interpreting. Not making a form out of it. Of course there was a format: cardboards. Anselm Franke seems to be a fan of displays on cardboards, small screens integrated in those ugly things with lots of text next to it. I’ve seen it before in an exhibition he did in Antwerp: one feels like one is watching the screen of an ATM, so my friend Andreia Birkenbach remarked. Another activity one tries to avoid. Cardboards seem to be so 1970s to me, and wasn’t that decade empty?

The Whole Earth set-up reminds me of a text by Jean Baudrillard - his last book of 2007: “Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared”? An exhibition as a parade of commentaries, audio-visuals, showing of interpretations of interpretations. Yet Baudrillard wonders: there is always a “trace” left behind. To quote: “Everything that disappears seeps back into our lives in infinitesimal doses, often more dangerous than the visible authority that ruled over us. In our age of tolerance and transparency, prohibitions,controls and inequalities disappear one by one, but only the better to be internalized in the mental sphere.”

June 30, 2013

Weary Dreary Holiday Time. Hildegard Knef, Sven Johne, Legacy

Two blogs are bound to make one schizophrenic, so for an optimistic, upbeat view on the upcoming holiday times check out my blog entry La Ballade des Gens Heureux about Die Toedliche Doris. If you happen to be looking more on the downside of summer time, continue reading this one.

Yesterday night I ran around town trying to catch the last art happenings before the  summer slump sets in on the first of July. For the summer season they have the most beautiful expression in German: "das Sommerloch". One of Germany's greatest singers, Hildegard Knef catches the mood perfectly in her Song Holiday Time. We are talking the summer of 1971: "You go for a walk. Read the papers. Slaughter in Pakistan. Slaughter on the Autobahn. A plan crashed. Politicians are cooling their heels. In Munich there will be a beer festival. They had a bank robbery. Police shot the hostage. Olympic Games next year. Lazy days, Leo days, August time, not my time. Hate this weary dreary holiday time". 

Hildegard Knef, Holiday Time, 1971

The Youtube commentators of the 21st century are surprised that the news has not changed a bit since that summer of 1971. Well, we were wondering the same thing last night at the new project space of Christof Zwiener. It is a gatekeeper's house at the entrance of the ADN (Allgemeinen Deutschen Nachrichtendienstes/ General German Newsagency) of the GDR. The building of the former news agency is now being renovated and the artist Christof Zwiener used the occasion to get hold of the small gatekeeper's house that he has been watching for years. His 2 square-meter project space will now be traveling around town, but the first happening took place at the original location in the Wadzeckstrasse near Alexanderplatz. For the occasion the artist Sven Johne was invited to do something with the space. He went to the archives of the ADN and selected articles about West-Berlin. These articles pasted on the windows of the gatekeeper's house told us about rising rents, a lack of housing, and child slavery in West-Berlin. Maybe not child slavery, but slavery at 5 euros and 50 cents an hour is definitely still trending in Berlin of 2013, not to speak of the housing problem. So we stood there, reading those articles and being stupefied how time does not change things.

Project Space by Christof Zwiener

Afterwards I went to the open studios of Mengerzeile, where i just caught a view of the newest work on chicken and Nietzsche by Kate Hers and a collaborative called Kegels for Hegel. But in general I must have been too late because people were playing a game that involved words stuck on their fronts about which they had to ask questions, only to be answered with yes or now: "Am I organic? Am I bigger than a house?" Too existential for a Friday night, I thought, so I called it a quit. To end harmonically and to link this blog to my other blog, let me finish with this rap video that I took on the train from Brussels to my latest holiday destination Ostend. The band is called Legacy. Indeed, things tend to happen on the train in Belgium, like finding this poem by a certain Nanoyo on the train ride between Antwerp and Brussels, written to change the passenger's life: "Tu n'as pas a suivre ces moutons. Ils n'avances qu'a reculon. Ton rythme sera le bon. Evite de tourner en rond. Offre  toi la derision. De croire a l'illusion. D'une vie hors des prisons. Loin de ta contrefacon."

Rap by Legacy

June 17, 2013

Fresh! New! My Blog about Die Toedliche Doris

Underwear made me start this blog. And you're welcome to add any thought-provoking thoughts to this think tank about the Westberlin art and music band Die Toedliche Doris:

Underwear as Outerwear

May 15, 2013

Memorabilia. Backstage at the Art Bookstore

It was in the Strassenfeger, a Berlin magazine of the homeless, that I read the best review about the current Martin Kippenberger show in Hamburger Bahnhof - Museum of Contemporary Art. I like the writing style of its author Urszula Usakowska-Wolff. She uses the platform of the Strassenfeger regularly, as a kind of free space in the stuck-up world of art critical magazines. Her vocabulary is particular, using words such as "reüssieren" and inventing new concepts like "Tutti-Künstler" (artist covering all disciplines and media) and "Überzeugungskünstler" (artist by conviction, or artist by choice).* Her reviews consist of extensive descriptive information. Yet while reading you get the feeling that the author is not as innocent as the harmless description might suggest. It is hard to put your finger on what Urszula Usakowska-Wolff is actually driving at -- you wonder if the direction that you are heading in, is the one intended. In a subtile way Usakowska-Wolff tricks you into her critical mindset. She does not explicitly utter an opinion herself yet she makes you think one. No wonder Urszula Usakowska-Wolff is also a poet who knows how to play with words and their suggestive power. Her poem book is, appropriately, called Perverse Verse

Perverse Verse, Pop-Verlag 2009

At least Kippenberger would have enjoyed Usakowska-Wolff baffling the saleswoman at the Walther König bookstore in Hamburger Bahnhof. She inquired if Kippenberger’s white oversized underpants were up for sale there. Kippenberger’s underwear has become such a Chose in the exhibition, Usakowska-Wolff argues, that she naturally expected it to be available as a memorabilia in the store. I wondered if Usakowska-Wolff really had had the guts or if it was just the free imagination of the writer. Since I myself am hanging out at that same bookstore quite a lot, I decided to verify. I asked the salesman if such an event had occurred. He told me he hadn't heard about it. That only confirmed my suspicion that much worser things are being asked in the art bookstore. And that on such a day-to-day basis that a question about artist’s underwear becomes trivial and not even worth mentioning to the colleagues. 

Some more underwear in Stereo Total's Wir tanzen im 4-Eck
a cover of Die Tödliche Doris, Tanz im Quadrat

Indeed, the art bookstore is like the backstage of the art world. I have watched drama unfold at its counter. Passions roar high. Relating to the Kippenberger art show, so far as I’ve seen, people get really excited when they hear there is no accompanying catalogue.  A simple “no” won’t do in that case -- people react with incomprehension and disbelief: “Sie können mir ja alles erzählen!” (You can tell me whatever!) There are two possible answers that can calm and satisfy the customers. Tell them there was no money for the catalogue: the customers always show utmost consideration for the money argument. Or make up a most incredible story, for instance that everything was ready for print when a computer crash made the whole script disappear. Customers love such disaster stories and will not raise doubt about your sincerity.

New in the bookstore: a beautiful edition of Marcel Broodhaers' writings

The salespersons at the art bookstores have a privileged look on the art world. I bet they know exactly what and who is inflating or deflating. I would like to pick their brain but I guess they have kind of a work ethic that does not allow them to speak out. I proposed the Walther König bookstore salespersons to do live stream blogging from the bookstore, giving fresh updates on what is happening in the shop. I’m still warming them up to the idea because they are doubting its commercial value. It is true that my idea is not so much about what is being sold or what is new in the shelves: it is the customer who would give away the show. The bookstore in the museum is the nearest place that visitors can think off to vent their opinions - those agonizing impressions they can no longer keep for themselves. Also artists drop by at the museum art bookstore - checking the presence of their catalogues as a barometer of their fame. The museum art bookstore seems to represent the space where transition to exhibition space and the director’s office quarters is possible. It’s like floor 7½ in the movie Being John Malcovich. 

Talking about movies: even the hollywood stars make their appearance in the museum bookstore while visiting the city. It was Jeffrey Deitch, director of MOCA Los Angeles, who made contemporary art into a celebrity event. During the Berlinale it is better to check out the museum bookstore than to go to Potsdamer Platz. Is knowing what a celebrity reads not as close as one can get? That way I saw Jeff Bridges, whose looks are as impressive in real life as on screen. I was so impressed I forgot to check what he was reading or buying. But upon checking later, I found out he apparently had bought something for kids... Giving guide tours at the museum I don’t encounter VIPs as such, but once in while I encounter eye witnesses, which is probably even more interesting because you really get to talk and hear first-hand gossip. A French lady told me she met Andy Warhol in the 1980s. He did not say a word, just watched and taped the whole conversation. Can it get more pop! 

Being surrounded with art books all day long, the art bookstore salespersons absorb the funniest details. I sometimes catch snippets of that knowledge. Did you know, for instance, that Laura Ashley died by stumbling over her own flower dress? And here a list of famous people who were spotted in the art bookstore - feel free to add if you had any prominent experiences yourself! Drew Barrymore, Charlotte Rampling, Cate Blanchet, Kim Gordon, Tom Waits, Caroline von Monaco, Patti Smith, Jill Sander, the Kessler twins, Pierce Brosnan.

* both words are used in her recent article on Wolfgang Mueller's book Subkultur Westberlin 1979-1989. Freizeit (Philo Fine Arts) in Der Strassenfeger, "Beruehmt zu seine bedeutet gar nichts.", 10/2013, p. 16-17.

May 12, 2013

Valeska Gert - Wolfgang Müller in conversation with Ernst Mitzka

Last Friday, May 10, 2013, we celebrated the publication of Valeska Gert. Bewegte Fragmente. Eine Quellenedition / Fragments in Motion. A Source Book (published by Hybriden Verlag) in Gallery Maifoto in Kreuzberg. For the occasion my co-editor Wolfgang Müller talked with media artist Ernst Mitzka about Valeska Gert. I videotaped the conversation with my i-phone. It seems my camera was focusing on the luring red cover of the book instead of on the faces behind it! At least the sound is ok. Yet it is only for German speakers ...  The great news is that the book is in both German and English. The translation was done by Ana Isabel Keilson, who is a cultural historian from Columbia University, New York, working on dance. Ernst Mitzka's wonderful videos of Valeska Gert performing Baby and Death in 1969 do not only accompany the book as a DVD, together with beautiful film stills there are also on show until May 17 in Gallery Maifoto, Dresdenerstr. 18 in Kreuzberg, Berlin. Check it out!

Wolfgang Müller, Ernst Mitzka and me © Catharsis Studio

In the book you can find:
the DVD of Ernst Mitzka''s videos Das Baby and Der Tod
a DVD with film fragments and an interview with Valeska Gert on 1970s TV
texts by Wolfgang Müller, Susanne Foellmer and me
a text "On Dance" by Valeska Gert published in Kulturwille in 1932
an unpublished interview with Valeska Gert
photos by Ruth Berlau and Herbert Tobias
a letter of Valeska Gert to the editor Elisabeth Pablé
an interview with Georg Kreisler
a book marker with the "pause" sign by Wolfgang Müller

April 1, 2013

Timeless - The Storming of the Bastille. Texte zur Kunst and The Right to Be Lazy

One my favorites pieces in Hamburger Bahnhof is The Right To Be Lazy by the Californian artist John Knight. I’ve written about it here and more recently here in my blog. To recapitulate shortly: It was installed in 2008 when the artist asked the gardener not to touch the grass in the rondel any longer. The patch of grass has thus been changing with the seasons. John Knight’s piece is inspired by Paul Lafargue’s 1883 manifesto The Right To Be Lazy. The French philosopher pleaded for the 3-hour working day and argued for the necessity of laziness and free time so ideas and culture can emerge. 
Now a friend sent me a critical review concerning The Right to Be Lazy. It was published online in Texte zur Kunst. * The critique was not directed towards the art piece itself but towards the director of the Nationalgalerie Udo Kittelman. A sculpture by Martin Honert, whose exhibition takes place in the Historical Hall of Hamburger Bahnhof, is placed in the rondel. That is, in the middle of John Knight’s The Right To Be Lazy. Honert’s sculpture is a tent - and the wilderness of The Right To Be Lazy apparently seemed to be a perfect match for the piece. The Right to Be Lazy was adjourned for the time being. John Knight only heard about it later on and was indulged about the decision. His letter to Udo Kittelman accompanies Helmut Daxler’s critical review of Kittelman’s museum policy.

A year ago an article of mine about The Right To Be Lazy for a Belgian art magazine was rejected because my writing was too “timeless” and its subject had not enough “actuality”.  Since then Cafe Zeitlos, just around the corner from where I live, has been spooking around in my head (so I'm posting the picture again :-)). Now The Right To Be Lazy is trending. Thanks to Texte zur Kunst! That Texte zur Kunst makes an attack about The Right to Be Lazy is ironic. I still remember with horror the twentieth anniversary celebration of Texte zur Kunst in HAU. The audience was stupefied when Isabelle Graw uttered her opinion that art critics, because they have so little money, are not corrupt: “Kritiker sind vielleicht noch am wenigsten kompromittiert, weil sie so wenig Geld verdienen können.“ * First of all, the basis of this thinking is, obviously, wrong: if you don’t earn enough money you will be more easily inclined to write whatever for whatever magazine. Secondly, such a thoroughly capitalist way of thinking - that money rules everything - is quite depressing to hear from the director of a magazine that promotes so-called socially inspired analysis. 

The fact that Texte zur Kunst makes a direct, personal attack is surprising. The magazine does not exactly have an image of being a controversial art magazine that provokes discussion. It is an open secret that nobody really reads Texte zur Kunst. Or one must be studying art history at university, still thinking that dry and long sentences make the content intellectual. Most articles in Texte zur Kunst are extremely boring. The eternally same crowd of people is writing reviews about artists who are on the list. Texte zur Kunst is not known as a place where art gets discovered. Lets take my personal case as an example. Valeska Gert’s oeuvre and career would be perfect material for a gender discussion, yet, curating the Valeska Gert exhibition together with Wolfgang Müller in Hamburger Bahnhof, it was obvious to us from the beginning that it would be ignored by Texte zur Kunst. The same counts for our exhibition “Gesture Sign Art. Deaf Culture / Hearing Culture” in Kunstraum Kreuzberg/Bethanien. “We don’t belong to the club” is a familiar expression in the art scene when addressing the magazine Texte zur Kunst. This club is not particularly characterized by a special quality, but rather focuses on what is trending and already has been integrated by the art market. Blaming Udo Kittelman that he keeps all fronts in the art world satisfied and thus quiet, is interesting to hear from a self-indulging, self-referential art magazine like Texte zur Kunst.  

And then there is the letter by John Knight. How disappointing to read the nitpicking of the artist of The Right to Be Lazy. The comparison he makes with Bruce Nauman is odd. Also, The Right To Be Lazy is not surrounded by a fence and in the summer people are occasionally sitting on it. If such an intervention is apparently not forbidden, one could argue if the setting up of the tent in the art piece is also part of it. The tent, a temporary construction, will leave its mark on the grass and the color of yellow will appear through the process of photosynthesis. John Knight’s letter, however, seems to have been written by a church dignitary: oversensitive and with a lack of humor. John Knight regards his work as a pure and spiritual piece of nature - a sacred space. This purity has never been part of art and will never be. Joseph Beuys, for example, seemed to show more ironical distance to himself and to his work - putting his stamp on the poster of Martin Kippenberger posing in the felt suit. When Marcel Duchamp’ Glass piece broke during transportation it became part of the piece and made it even more brilliant. Nor was Marcel Duchamp very rigid about his idea of a “hospice des paresseux”, equally inspired by Paul Lafargue. His concept stood in a dynamic interaction with society. Duchamp’s home for the lazies was intended for people who wanted to enjoy the right to be lazy, while being provided with food and drinks, having shelter and so forth. The only stipulation: you would be sacked immediately if you would begin to work. “There would be very few lazies in my home,” Duchamp said in an interview with Calvin Tomkins, “because they couldn’t stand to be lazy too long. ... I’m afraid it’s a bit like communism but it is not. I am seriously and very much from a capitalist country.” *

* Calvin Tomkins, Marcel Duchamp. The Afternoon Interviews, New York 2013.

January 9, 2013

Don't Get Carried Away! A Book about Passions

Manfred Paul, Verena - Geburt, 1977

I keep to my promise. I will start this year 2013 with a positive review. I did not have to look hard to find the right material. A catalogue on my book shelf presented itself in all its beauty. Even the design of its cover is alluring. First of all: the title is German language at its best - “Die Leidenschaften”. It is written in the color of pink on a black and white picture of a woman being carried away – in pleasure? or is it pain? Die Leidenschaften is a catalogue of an exhibition that I, unfortunately, have not seen. The exhibition took place at the Deutsche Hygiene-Museum in Dresden and just finished on December 30, 2012. Yet its accompanying catalogue is much more than the usual outlay of pretty pictures. More than a book even, it resembles an encyclopedia in which you can delve into again and again, one item stirring up your curiosity for the other. Also in life one passion brings you to another – like, for instance, love turning into hate.

Eleven passions are talked about in Die Leidenschaften - love, desire, happiness, amazement, hate, rage, fear, shame, grief, envy and disgust - and five acts make up the drama: exposition, conflict, climax, turning point, resolution. The book is set up as a reader: thematic texts followed up by excerpts of novels, poetry, philosophy, and it doesn't even shun the genre of children books. The images range from high art to popular culture and artifacts. Of course, I immediately looked up “happiness”. The chapter made me smile not because it is hilarious or tries to make you, appropriately, happy but it, and actually the whole catalogue, has a subtle humor to it. “Laughing is the most visible expression of happiness”, so I read later. Right on. Sometimes catalogues make you happy, but how often do they make you visibly happy? It was a combination of visuals and text that did the trick: a photograph of pink shades from the second half of the 20th century juxtaposed with a short story of Winnie the Pooh.

Maybe I could so very much relate to this juxtaposition because Catherine Nichols, who co-edited Die Leidenschaften together with Gisela Staupe, is a friend of mine. And as it is with friends, rather the same things make us happy. Yet this is not just an arbitrary constellation of pink shades and Winnie the Pooh in the section on happiness. La Vie en Rose is not just a pun. And the bear Winnie the Pooh spreads wisdom about many (positively oriented) passions – like: “Piglet: How do you spell love? Pooh: “You don't spell it ... you feel it.” The best explanation of passion is given by Catherine Nichols herself in the chapter “Davongetragen” (again, what a beautiful word!), drawing upon the study of affects by the philosopher Chrysipp. Passions are emotions that carry us away. Chrysipp compared the energy that goes with passions to that of a running person: on the contrary to a walking person, who can halt every moment, a running person is difficult to stop at a given moment – the impulse is stronger than the will: “Don't get carried away!”

It is not the first time that Catherine Nichols introduces me into the topic of passions. A few years ago she lend me a book on disgust. Do you know that disgust is one of the strongest bodily feelings? The body says no and it is impossible not to obey it. Back then Catherine Nichols was feeding my interest for (un)lucky places. One my favorite (un)lucky places is Kottbusser Tor where ugliness and beauty meet. It is a place both pleasing and cruel where passions always seem to roar high. The owner of the shoe repair shop Abgelaufen at Kotti once told me that it is like standing on hot coals and he had been doing so for 24 years. People pass by, vent their frustration, one laughs, and then the next one arrives. How is it to deal on daily basis with people getting carried away? He considered himself to be one of these “minimal” people, so the owner told me. And during our conversation he shared with me a few of these minimalist ideas: “When God closes a door, then he opens another one. When your destiny at a place, your job, is finished, then it is finished. You just look for another job. Over and out.”

Philosophy in the face of passion is not an anomaly. Actually, I learnt that recently upon reading about a new book that came out: LoveKnowledge by Roy Brandt. The title is a reference to Philosophia as the translation of the Love of Knowledge. Coincidentally the Belgian chocolate I ate today had a quote by André Gide written on the inside of its wrap, saying: “I have no use for knowledge that has not been preceded by a sensation.” Cote d'Or was clearly trying not to make me feel bad about the guilty pleasure of eating its Mignonnette “Saveur Noisette”. If you check Die Leidenschaften on “desire” then you will find on page 103 an excerpt of Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. My next Mignonnette “Saveur Moka” said: “There is no sincerer love than the love of chocolate.”

About Die Leidenschaften:

and the shoe store Abgelaufen at Kottbusser Tor: