PRINT May 1997

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Münster Sculpture Show

ONE OF THE MOST INTERESTING aspects of the Münster Sculpture Show in 1987 was simply walking around, trying to find the work. Since the site-specific pieces were frequently designed to blend in with their surroundings, subtly commenting on the various public spaces of this resurrected university town (like many German cities, Münster had to be largely reconstructed after World War II), one was forced into an intimate acquaintance with the city while hunting for the art. Ten years later, this summer’s installment of “Skulptur: Projekte in Münster” promises to remake its host once again. According to curator Kaspar König, though, the show of works by sixty-five artists—the working list ranges from such influential figures as Sol LeWitt, Raymond Hains, Dan Graham, and Hans Haacke to Young Turks like Rirkrit Tiravanija, Mark Dion, Andrea Zittel, and Gabriel Orozco—almost didn’t come off at all. “Between 1977 and 1987, art had undergone a real metamorphosis,” König told me, “so in that sense, it was quite natural to do the sculpture show again [in ’87]. However, between 1987 and now, the changes haven’t been so radical, and consequently, I hadn’t thought to do another show.” Nonetheless, “the show in 1987 was such a success that the city was adamant we do it.”

This enthusiasm wasn’t always the case. “In 1977, people thought of someone like Henry Moore if they thought of public art at all. Minimalist work was perceived as something new and threatening.” To provide a context for contemporary work, Klaus Bussman, now director of the city’s Westfälisches Landesmuseum, and König curated the debut show in two parts, the first devoted to a chronological history of sculpture, with new work in the second. König loaded the latter section with Minimalist and post-Minimalist sculpture, showing projects by Carl Andre, Donald Judd, Richard Serra, and Richard Long among the nine artists selected. Ten years later, there was “much less resistance to looking at contemporary work. . . . With people like Jeff Koons, the art was more public in nature anyway; it didn’t seem strange to be looking at it outside a museum.” Consequently, “it wasn’t necessary to do something like the historical overview that we did for the first show; it was simply a matter of showing the work.”

This time, like last, the “simply” is deceptive: getting the myriad pieces approved and then placed within the original boundaries of the old city can be difficult. “Skulptur: Projekte in Münster” isn’t designed around an overarching theme, nor are there set display sites (although the installations are a bit less camouflaged in this year’s version). The works demand an engagement with the city itself—a city König describes as “postmodern before the fact, a kind of ‘Disneyland.’” The spirit of urbanist provocation guides many of this year’s contributions. Martin Kippenberger’s plans to build a subway ventilation shaft—intended to evoke the late artist’s fantasy of a subway around the world (a theme that would “link” with the subway entrance he was installing for this year’s Documenta)—will be posthumously constructed. Per Kirkeby is similarly creating a pseudofunctional public-use sculpture. Others are incorporating works still in place from the 1987 Münster show, like Tobias Rehberger, who has proposed to install a mobile bar in Donald Judd’s two-part concrete sculpture by the Aasee, or Ilya Kabakov, whose planned sculpture of a transmission tower near the Judd piece he considers a tribute to the Minimalist sculptor. Michael Asher goes one step further, creating a full-scale model of his own work from the 1977 and 1987 shows, a mobile trailer that traveled to different locations once a week.

This is not to imply that the show will have the same kind of relationship that the earlier two had with their host city. One difference König identifies is an inwardness more pronounced in current work than in the ’80s. Contemporary work is “smaller and more personal in nature; even with the specifically public art made for this show, the artists are not ‘public’ artists.” One result of this retrenchment, as he sees it, is that “the art tends to be much more playful,” and “much of it may look odd outside a museum or gallery.” Still, if anyone’s capable of fulfilling the level of expectation that surrounds such a huge international show, it’s König. After working as an assistant at Documenta 5, he put in a stint at Andy Warhol’s Factory, then taught at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. It wasn’t until the late ’70s that he began staging the projects that made his name: “Westkunst” (Cologne, 1979), “von hier aus” (Dusseldorf, 1984), and “Der zerbrochene Spiegel” (Vienna and Hamburg, 1993). If the past is any indication, 1997’s show promises to be a grand mix of apparent contradictions, a whole that adds up to more than its parts.

“Skulptur Projekte: Münster” runs from June 2–Sept. 29.

Mark Van de Walle