Jürgen Klauke

Jurgen Klauke is considered one of the most important artists of the Federal Republic, yet until now no show of his has attempted to present simultaneously all three of the areas in which he works—photography, performance, and drawing. This traveling retrospective (later to be seen in Hamburg, Rotterdam, and Cologne), titled “Eine Ewigheit ein Lächeln” (An eternity a smile), made up for this.

“The struggle with oneself is always an existential conflict that must end in defeat,” writes Evelyn Weiss in the show’s catalogue. Klauke’s Sisyphean preoccupation with himself has become most prevalent throughout the course of his work. As he titled one work, Alleinsein ist eine Erfahrung von immer weniger (Loneliness is an experience of fewer and fewer, 1975). He works against the persistence of false pathos, with latent aggression conveyed to the viewer through minutely preplanned ritualized actions. During the mid 1970s he made color photographic sequences in which the aggressiveness can be seen in his travesties’ props. Objects from a sex shop—nylon stockings, red boots, and nail polish—provoke questions about the traditional roles of the sexes and about the coexistence of masculinity and femininity in a single person. These objects are ironic and evil, and thereby contradict the suspicion that narcissism alone causes a transformation into the other gender. Viva España, 1976–79, in which the body of a man with the outstretched legs of a woman grows together into an abstract sign, is his subsequent variation on this theme. Poeticized in this manner, violence and eroticism become a unity. This photosequence is thus superior to Klauke’s diary sketches, which painfully and exactingly describe the excesses of sex machines similar to human beings.

Viva España is also a key work in relation to Klauke’s photography since 1979. He uses fewer props, and those he does employ could be called an iconography of uselessness. Circles, umbrellas, and trivial actions become elements of an absurd staging. To this he adds a stylistic device, the symmetrical ordering of photographs into tableaux. Similar motifs reappear or return with different motifs as constants in a tableau. Such obsessions hinder a narrative plot.

In Klauke’s work there is a connection between photography and performance. The exact planning required for the photographic tableaux has the character of a performance, yet his performances are characterized by action and have a more violent and more self-destructive effect than the photographs. Additionally, they allow a direct relationship in content to actual occurrences on the art market. In Zweitgeist. Ein Dialog (Second spirit. A dialogue, 1986), the actor follows commands, such as “jump up” and “pay attention,” which come from a loudspeaker. Finally, a list of words based on “post” follows; this becomes a confusion of words that unmistakably conveys Klauke’s position, which appears again in the title of another 1986 performance: Postmoderne—hab mich gerne (Post-Modernism—kiss my ass).

Anne Krauter

Translated from the German by Charles V. Miller.