PRINT December 2006

Rita Kersting

1 Thomas Hirschhorn, Altar for Ingeborg Bachmann (Alexanderplatz subway station, Berlin) Hirschhorn used the vocabulary of street memorials—cuddly toys, candles, and collages of photographs and texts—to create this secular altar dedicated to the Austrian writer Ingeborg Bachmann, who died in Rome in 1973. The incredible power of this work lay in its combination of reflection, personal affection, and Pop gesture. Initially wondering if someone had passed away in the station, people started reading Bachmann’s subtle, philosophical poems, quotations from which were included in the work, along with her books themselves. Death is Bachmann’s central theme, and Hirschhorn took it up with bravura, interrupting people’s journeys to take them where they had not intended to go.

2 Tacita Dean, “Analogue” (Schaulager, Basel) Much of Dean’s work from the past fifteen years portrays processes of disintegration or disappearance. Her works confront us with brief, cosmic moments, such as the solar eclipse in Banewl, 1999, or with vestigial traces of the past in the present—the setting sun in the West reflected and refracted in East Berlin’s Palace of the Republic, or an old man limping through a vast modernist villa. Appropriately, Dean’s latest work, Kodak, 2006, portrays the end of film itself, documenting the final days of celluloid production at Kodak’s last European plant, in Chalon-sur-Saône, France. Dean calls the film manufacturing process “a journey of overwhelming beauty.” Now it is about to disappear forever.

3 Alexandra Leykauf and Lisa Oppenheim (Foam Fotografiemuseum, Amsterdam) Oppenheim’s “Damaged” series consists of prints made from broken and deteriorating glass negatives in the archives of the Chicago Daily News. Bearing abstract traces of the original images, the photographs are presented together with their original captions. The temporal aspects of photography are central to Oppenheim’s work, which was shown together with that of Leykauf, who focuses on the medium’s suppression of depth. In her “Hotel des Grottes” series, for example, caves are visible only as patches of black. These two young artists—born in 1975 and 1976, respectively—use found images to investigate the underpinnings of visibility. They explore the conventions of reception and turn photography into a kind of shadow play.

4 John Stezaker (The Approach, London) Long a prominent figure in the London art world, Stezaker combined different times, genres, and atmospheres in his delicate new collages. In his portrait series “Marriage,” 2006, the artist splices together masculine and feminine into single figures in a tender yet uncanny way, while in “Love,” 2006, he conveys a kind of frightening ecstasy by doubling his subjects’ eyes. Effective and rich both in their overt narratives and theoretical implications, such works provide yet more evidence of Stezaker’s affections for Surrealism, Expressionism, film, architecture, philosophy, cognitive psychology, and literature.

5 Isa Genzken (Wiener Secession) Wheelchairs, walkers, and folding chairs were scattered around the gallery, resembling grotesque figures in a hellish beach scene. Some were intensely decorated with consumer goods, like fetishes; some were left sober and functional; on others, scary dolls with big sunglasses sat in the shade of bright beach umbrellas. During the heat of last summer, this exhibition (organized by Annette Freudenberger) sent a chill down your spine and made you feel lonely. But Genzken’s vision, though terrifying, is full of beauty. Her new work was a breathtaking surprise, the next stage in her magnificent, painterly sculpture.

6 Monika Baer (Bonnefantenmuseum, Maastricht, The Netherlands) This retrospective, organized by the museum’s Alexander van Grevenstein in collaboration with Bernhart Schwenk and Gail Kirkpatrick, confirmed the power and unusual nature of Baer’s work. For the first time, it was possible to see her seemingly disparate oeuvre in one location: her “Mozart Series,” 1996–97—early paintings of a Rococo theater stage with string puppets; her white pictures, sparingly painted with strange portraits and sometimes cut open; and her new, dreamlike landscapes. In her virtuoso paintings and collages, Baer creates timeless and placeless scenes, in which bodies and narratives are fragmented elements existing in their own entirely imaginary pictorial realm furnished with references from the history of painting.


7 “Lothar Baumgarten: Imago Mundi” (Museum Kurhaus Kleve, Germany) This extensive retrospective included Baumgarten’s wonderful series of photographs from South America, “Montaigne,” 1977–85; the installation Imago Mundi, 2002–2004, which brilliantly demonstrated the artist’s lifelong concern with colonialism, color, and photography; and a more recent work, Fragment, Brazil, 2005, which is centered around slides of paintings of fantastic Brazilian birds by a seventeenth-century Dutch artist. A pioneer in handling issues of cultural identity and migration, Baumgarten uses his immense knowledge and material skill to make beautiful, rich work.

8 Tino Sehgal, The Kiss (Berlin Biennial) Following detailed instructions from Sehgal, a couple lay down and began to kiss on the floor of the mirrored hall of Berlin’s Ballhaus Mitte. The piece referenced other depictions of kisses, from those of Auguste Rodin (heartfelt devotion) to those of Jeff Koons (theatrical spectacle). Intimacy and artificiality blended into each other imperceptibly. Sehgal’s works annoy many people who deem themselves the guardians of institutional critique, but his art not only reflects upon location, history, and the conventions of the art world, it breathes new life into these issues in a completely liberating way.

9 Martin Kippenberger (K21, Düsseldorf) This show opened with The Happy End of Franz Kafka’s “Amerika,” 1994, a piece as inquisitive and ambitious as it is despairing—even after having been scaled down for K21 from its original huge and devastating installation in Rotterdam. Much of the exhibition—organized by Tate Modern’s Jessica Morgan and Doris Krystoff at K21—investigated Kippenberger’s delegation of painting to others, an idea still unacceptable in Düsseldorf, where the art academy holds sway even today. His antimetaphysical tendency was most explicit in Heavy Burschi (Heavy Guy), 1991, a collection of destroyed paintings in a dumpster, surrounded by photographs of the paintings in wooden frames (in the enormous format favored in the city). The show’s final works—unforgettable self-portraits, in which Kippenberger wears only underpants—were especially poignant, at once brave and melancholy.

10 Joseph Beuys, Block Beuys (Hessisches Landesmuseum, Darmstadt, Germany) In 1970 Beuys installed his own work in seven galleries of this museum, creating the Block Beuys. He revised its composition several times, but since his death in 1986 it has been kept exactly as it was. It is both frozen in time and a time bomb. The galleries, whose walls are covered in jute, contain many works from 1949 to 1970, including major early endeavors such as Szene aus der Hirschjagd (Scene from a Deer Hunt), 1961, Grauballemann (Gray Bog Man), 1952, and Jungfrau (Virgin), 1961, as well as many other sculptures and objects, mostly in vitrines. The installation is now at risk because the museum, whose commitment to the Block Beuys has varied drastically over the years, is about to be renovated. The future of this physically and spiritually dense legacy is not yet clear, but one must hope that it will be preserved unchanged.

Rita Kersting was until recently Director of the Kunstverein für die Rheinlande und Westfalen, Düsseldorf, and is a member of the Purchasing Commission for the German National Collection of contemporary art.