“aktuell ’83”

Städtische Galerie In Lenbachhaus

As her contribution to “aktuell ’83,” Christina Kubisch transformed the garden of the Lenbachhaus into a sound space, the sound varying in intensity as one followed 14 separate routes. Above one’s head a colorful tangle of cables hung between trees and fountains. As “neither/nor” as was the sound quality—not bad, not good—so, with some exceptions, was the exhibition as a whole, but nonetheless this was the most comprehensive show of contemporary art in Munich in 12 years. It was conceived by the city’s cultural-affairs department on the basis of cultural policy rather than artistic considerations: an “Alpenländische Triennale” (Triennale of Alpine countries) is planned, to be continued after Munich in a three-year tour to the other participating cities—Milan, Vienna, and Zurich. The four city commissioners, Erika Billeter (Zurich), Vittorio Fagone (Milan), Dieter Ronte (Vienna), and Armin Zweite (Munich), did the best thing in the circumstances: they gave almost all of the 44 artists or artist teams—11 from each city, none born before 1944—a separate space, basing the sequence on esthetic considerations rather than regional groupings.

Several of the contributors, such as the Austrian Peter Weibel, whose installation EUROPA (T) RAUM is a cultural/critical commentary concerning the end of Eurocentrism, used the opportunity of the show to effect work up until now unrealizable. Weibel’s Europe, divided into separate colored metal forms to the point of unrecognizability and impaled on huge knives, appears whole only on a video screen; the figure, then, is formed only in our minds, in the viewing screen of our consciousness. With commentaries such as this (by Rainer Wittenborn, Kurt Benning, Valie Export), conjurations of myth and primordial time (Ferruccio Ascari), and ecological tracking (Nikolaus Lang), “aktuell ’83” held a smattering of all the currently relevant topics, a little of all the forms of expression of contemporary creativity. That may be fair, but does not stimulate discussion.

Painting dominated the exhibition, both in quantity and in the adventurous diversity of the artists selected—including Martin Disler, Mimmo Paladino, Gerhard Merz, Klaudia Schifferle, Troels Wörsel, Franz Hitzler, and Hubert Schmalix. But even this list emphasizes high points. In the many-layered beauty of its colors and its wild vehemence, Disler’s erotically laden “Bildersturm” (painting storm) must be a beneficial challenge for many of his young colleagues. Merz’s large-format silk-screen series, “Mondo Cane,” in the historic rooms here devoted to the 19th-century painter Franz von Lenbach, and Paladino’s elegiac space marked extreme positions in current painting.

Merz’s elaborately framed, nostalgic paintings of foreign cultures and his monochromatic blue canvases seemed hardly out of place among von Lenbach’s work. But precisely because of their seeming aptness, they provoke thought: the blue painting does not derive from Yves Klein, the sentiment not from Merz, the picture is not a painting (in oil, handpainted), the frame not really art deco. Everything is consistently banal and refined—as always with Merz, who believes that only in this manner can convention be eluded. His merciless radicality formerly shocked the viewer; this time the wolf dons the sheep’s clothing of a familiar esthetic. Like von Lenbach, he provides the art-lover with beautiful pictures of a world that no longer exists, albeit through the means of an up-to-date technique. In contrast, Paladino’s secretive messages affect the beauty of peinture with increasing earnestness. His constantly fluctuating reference system between culture and nature, the domesticated and the animal, contemplation and struggle, is intended to “produce the most various and contradictory reactions” (as Paladino has said) in the viewer.

One of the most interesting contributions by a less-well-known artist was the theaterlike installation, Ich liebe Dich (I love you) by Stephan Huber of Munich. In the literally upside-down space, with the room’s parquet floor appearing at the ceiling and its stucco ceiling down on the floor, two empty chairs—an Eames chair for the male voice, a reproduction of an Empire chair for the female—conducted a no-less-upside-down dialogue under a menacingly swinging chandelier. There was one more oppressive postlude to the carefully prepared show: several women artists, almost all shown in this space in the past, protested the exclusively male contribution from Munich. As an argument, there was a counter-exhibition showing a listing of their achievements, but not their works.

Ingrid Rein

Translated from the German by Martha Humphreys.