Familiar Terrain at the ZKM
The long obsolete organisation of the Venice Biennale into national pavilions makes plain how little the national pegging of an artist says about his work. Nevertheless, there have been repeated attempts to classify Germany as a site of artistic origin and production since the legendary exhibition From Here On – Two Months of German Art in Düsseldorf of 1984 (Von hier aus – Zwei Monate neue deutsche Kunst in Düsseldorf); for instance, in 2007 the multi-part exhibition Made in Germany in Hanover. Never before, however, has a large-scale exhibition ventured to set the sights on Germany itself through artistic projections and reflections. The Karlsruhe curators Gregor Jansen and Thomas Thiel have now undertaken this difficult enterprise, and with success. For the exemplary works stimulate the viewer to deeper thought.
The exhibition theme is fairly acute at a time when, on the one hand, the national power of decision is being restricted by European endeavours towards unification and, on the other hand, mini-states and local orders are evolving. Since the object virtually demands a look at Germany from outside and from non-German artists, the result is a diverse panorama of a strange-familiar terrain. The project sees itself as a sensuous-intellectual forum for an artistic coming to grips with history, (social) politics and art. Among other things, it raises questions about remembrance, identity, symbols and formal references.
Main exhibition – Collectors’ Choice – Resonance SpaceThe entire event consists of three sections. The most extensive spatial part resembles a diverse tour through German history by means of new as well as well-known works of about 100 contemporary artists. It is supplemented by Collectors’ Choice, a selection of important, predominantly historical artistic positions from the 1980s. The exhibits come from three collections associated with the ZKM – the Boros, Grässlin and Landesbank Baden-Württemberg Collections, welcome additions to the “collector’s museum”.
The third section, together with the “resonance space” developed by Heiner Blum, forms a sculptural landscape, provisionally furnished with disused materials from the ZKM. It serves the purpose of offering a supplementary forum for all cultural disciplines. Here the viewer will find further material on the subject of “Germany since 1982”, while the “showroom” presents a changing exhibition every four weeks. The prelude is an amusing, wry interpretation of the painters of the so-called Leipzig School. There will follow a show about reputedly non-existent German humour. And finally there will be various events in all the cultural disciplines held in the “resonance space”. In this way the exhibition will be the scene of a constantly changing cultural landscape. Naturally, only residents of Karlsruhe will able to profit from this enlivening supplement – a dilemma familiar from the documenta. The appearance of the catalogue will therefore be all the more important; until then one will have to make do with a informative compact brochure.
Disquieting and enlighteningThe main exhibition is also three-part. By far the most substantial part is made up of works on German history, which treat general symptoms or events steeped in the past. Artists become detectives and unearth concealed or largely unknown occurrences. Using examples, they lay bare the hypocritical treatment of history, compile case studies or trace crimes such as those of the Red Army Faction terrorists. Their manner is seldom moralising, but rather disquieting and enlightening. For instance, photographs of an inoffensive Hessian village by Alex Gerbaulet do not divulge that here lived unmolested a former Nazi war criminal, condemned to death by the Dutch. Using a minimal stratagem, Via Lewandowsky succeeds in pointing to a latent problem: from a typical Black Forest Cuckoo Clock sounds hourly the song of a muezzin.
In image and text, Sven Johne conjures up the half true, half fictional story of an East German political refugee; the video film about a tourist guide provides a transition to the second area of the main exhibition, concerned with symbolic places and signs and current personal fields of conflict such as immigration and unemployment. In the video, Johne humorously invokes the German love of hiking and traditional songs. Florian Thalhofer and Juliane Henrich observe the burgeoning of a new nationalism in the fact that citizens deliberately refrained from striking the German colours once the Football League Championship was over.
It is more difficult to define the “German” by formal categories. Here traditional media get a whack; for instance, in the wonderful, intelligent pictures of Michael Kunze, which circle about German-European history and philosophy, or in Anselm Reyle’s playful contending with contrary tendencies of classical modernity. The exhibition is exciting, varied and informative, but as always at the ZKM gigantic and hardly to be taken in at a single visit.
Familiar Terrain – Current Art in and about Germany
Familiar Terrain – Collectors’ Choice
ZKM | Museum for Contemporary Art
The author is an art historian and art critic.
Translation: Jonathan Uhlaner
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e.V., Online-Redaktion
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