Tanja Grunert Gallery
524 West 19th Street
June 20 - July 19
Assembled by guest curator Birgit Rathsmann, “October 18, 1977” brings together nineteen artists to reflect upon a single day and its rapport with the anxiety of its era. On this night, three members of the militant West German Communist Baader-Meinhof group died in prison, ostensibly through collective suicide—a ruling that has proven polemical since its official decree. Having assassinated several high-profile bankers and industrialists, the group loomed large in the turbulent German Autumn of 1977, in which the dreams of the New Left bled into something more nightmarish. The Baader-Meinhof gang nevertheless enjoyed a certain esteem among numerous West Germans, for whom violent means justified an imagined, capital-free peace. Something of that ambivalence is registered in the haze of Gerhard Richter’s famous paintings of the group’s members and their corpses—works through which the Baader-Meinhof’s legacy is perhaps best encountered and which serve as a point of departure for the entire show.
Becket Bowes’s Riposte (to Richter), 2013, incorporates a portrait of the Boston Marathon bomber into its gray painted glass surface alongside an image by Sigmar Polke, a photo of Obama, and other figures, updating Richter’s series with a fraught contemporaneity. Erica Baum’s photograph of a Richter catalogue, opened to a page featuring Baader-Meinhof member Gudrun Ensslin, takes his example head on, as does Neil Bender’s Tote 2 (Dead 2), 2012, which updates one of Richter’s corpse images with lyrical, impastoed flourishes. Tania Cross’s sound installation based on Ulrike Meinhof’s writings fills the gallery’s back room with a stimmung evoking mood more than memory. With their conceptual tack, works by David Lukowski, Oliver Kossack, and Rathsmann—who not only contributed two works but also commissioned all those included—similarly pursues more circuitous evocations.
Grayson Cox’s elegiac, painterly video, Youth Portrait, 2012, depicts a rinsing of a print emulsion to reveal Meinhof’s faint likeness, which cannot but recall Richter’s gossamer images. Similarly, Claudia Peña Salinas’s haunting grid of forty-three partially erased photocopies alludes to the nights Ensslin spent at Stammheim prison. Daniel Rich’s acrylic painting Zelle, 2013, renders the same prison’s cells with straightforward, fastidious precision; his Arrest, 2013, instead, is based on a contemporary real estate picture of the street in Frankfurt where members of the group were arrested in 1972. A more mordant commentary upon the Baader-Meinhof’s afterlife (or lack thereof) is difficult to imagine.