“Die 60er Jahre: Kölns Weg zur Kunstmetropole vom Happening zum Kunstmarkt”

Kölnischer Kunstverein

Cologne was never an actual center for any of the important ’60s art movements. None of them was born here, not Nouveau Réalisme, Pop art, Fluxus, Happenings, nor actionism. But Cologne’s transformation into a European art metropolis did begin in that decade, on the fertile ground of a vital intermediary scene in a relatively open climate, in spite of infringements by the police and courts. In “Die 60er Jahre: Kölns Weg zur Kunstmetropole vom Happening zum Kunstmarkt” (The ’60s: Cologne’s emergence as an art metropolis from the Happening to the art market), a surprisingly lively mixture of installations, single pieces, and documentary material, Wulf Herzogenrath, the director of the Kunstverein, together with Gabriele Lueg, succeeded in capturing the polyvalence and complexity, and the animated, antiacademic spirit, of this scene, which emanated from West German radio’s electronics studio. We heard the historic cultural reports of West German television amid Wolf Vostell’s grating mixed-media environment Elektronischer Happeningraum (Electronic Happening room, 1968–86), and we saw examples from such influential magazines as Friedrich Heubach’s Interfunktionen, DuMont’s Magnum, and Vostell’s De-coll/age; a slide and film show by the cofounders of XSCREEN, Wilhelm and Birgit Hein; and Christo’s Fässerbarriere (Iron Curtain—Wall of Oil), which previously had already blocked the Rue Visconti in Paris. We also heard Mauricio Kagel’s new Musikerzeuger (Music-makers). What musicians, literati, and visual artists strived for in their interdisciplinary actions was recalled, as well as what gave them solidarity to oppose the business of art. This common struggle was aimed at a new form of experiencing, the attainment of new states of consciousness. The prerequisite for this was a change in forms of language, ideological standpoints, customary sender-receiver relationships, as well as a departure from the separation of everyday life and culture. Of course this often chaotic movement was not specific to Cologne, but nowhere else in Europe did it influence such a concentration of artistic activities.

The electronics studio attracted Karlheinz Stockhausen, John Cage, Nam June Paik (who shocked even initiates with his radical Hommage à John Cage), and painter David Tudor. Three other locations were important: Hein Stünke’s Galerie der Spiegel, painter and photographer Haro Lauhus’ gallery (where Christo’s and Vostell’s works were first seen), and Mary Bauermeister’s studio (where events such as the legendary “Contre-Festival” of nonacademics took place in 1960.)

The scene expanded from these early cells, accompanied by such balances as the magazine Jetzt (Now) and retrospectives such as “Happenings and Fluxus,” which initially turned Cologne into an art market and gallery city, and eventually into a favored residence of such artists as Michael Buthe, C. O. Paeffgen, and Jürgen Klauke. Like Joseph Beuys, several came primarily only as guests; other artists stayed for a while, then moved later. Through an increasing polarization of the establishment and elitist fronts, and a gradual decay of protest, idealistic optimism yielded to sobriety at the end of the ’60s in Cologne too.

But not only was the reconstruction of this epoch an exciting moment of this exhibition; the viewer’s reaction to it was also surprising. A few years ago the esthetic positions of antiart seemed used up, the works but tired relics of a past time. Now, in this era of massive restoration, we are again receptive to the revolutionary impetus that has lain under a layer of dust.

Ingrid Rein

Translated from the German by Charles V. Miller.

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