Cologne

Luciano Fabro

Galerie Paul Maenz

This exhibition was preceded in the gallery by an Anselm Kiefer show, and the juxtaposition illuminated the way each artist deals with history: Kiefer, as undigested matter encumbering German consciousness, Fabro, as an intellectual and emotional subject for exploration. Fabro’s installation consisted of a single piece, Die Deutschland, which dominated the large exhibition space. A long iron pole slanted gently upward from a mountain of sandbags; near the top, it supported two large iron slabs—the cut-out outlines of East and West Germany. The forms were not separated by a wall or fence, but were loosely screwed together at one spot. From the top of the pole a streetlamp cast a glaring, even blinding light directly on these slabs; the rest of the gallery was dim and unlit.

Did this piece in any way clarify the East/West situation for which it seemed a paradigm? It is the artist’s prerogative, of course, to overturn just such clarifications. The piece was as restrained and laconic as it was disturbingly dramatic. What really was it that was hanging in the air, so harshly lit at the end of the long iron pole? A political phenomenon? A symbol of international conflict? Surely it was rather the symbol of a people, of the human existence of a region, or of human existence per se. And the sandbags evoked both defense against impending danger and the possibility of construction, perhaps of an edifice that might hold promise for the future. Where Kiefer’s images had given us a dramatic, emotional environment of myths, history, and the struggle of the contemporary painter to define artistic and human content (in Germany), Fabro’s installation was the work of an artist for whom political signs are at most the visible form of existential questions.

It was not just the ungrammatical title (the correct form would have been Das, rather than Die, Deutschland) that signified the disturbing and emblematic character of the piece. In its super-cool and thus all the more penetrating drama, it emitted energies that worked on consciousness and imagination like barbed hooks. It set off thoughts that found no resolution but remained as questions about the existential meaning of conditions that have long been accepted as normal. Despite its “banal” materials, monumentality and solemnity permeated the installation to its very core, and the rift between the everyday ordinariness of inhumane situations and the revolt of the spirit was expressed with urgent severity. All this resulted from the work’s intellectual and intuitive energy, and precisely not from its material appearance.

Annelie Pohlen

Translated from the German by Leslie Strickland.