Peter Weibel

Peter Weibel’s show at the Museum of Applied Art was not really an exhibition of art, but as its title (Inszenierte Kunstgeschichte) explains, a “mise-en-scène of art history.” The things on display were not artworks in the sense of compressed findings of form or spiritual expressivity, but rather a wild mixture of reproductions, recreations, and reconstructions done in situ and based on pretty much everything the artist has found significant in art of the past 30 years.

Weibel reviewed the art history of that time span in six sections, each one devoted to a fictitious persona. These included W., the last painter; Marcel Rutschke, the social rebel; Otto W. Schimanovich, the model-maker; Louise Langford, the theoretician of tautology and empty codes; Cesare Carlo Capo, the individual mythologist; and Jan van Buygens, the specialist on perception in the orbital era. Discussed by fictitious catalogue authors with similarly telltale names (such as Walter B. Loh from Walter Benjamin and Benjamin Buchloh), the invented artists all gravitated toward a common goal: “By contextually altering the meanings of cultural utensils, to destroy the bourgeois ontology of the object, which it is the actual purpose of art history to absolutize and defend.”

In the main hall, Weibel as Cesare Carlo Capo showed Das Floss (The raft, 1988), a boat held aloft on iron poles. The work alludes to the history of “the foundering of Western civilization from Odysseus to Gèricault”; nearby monitors showed endangered animal species. In the accompanying text, Beuys’ motto Zeige deine Wunde (Show your wound) was turned into Zeige deine Zerstörung (Show your destruction). Behind the raft, there was an enormous wall frieze ascribed to Marcel Rutschke (Marcel Duchamp and Rudi Dutschke): Die Krönung des Volkskörpers durch die demokratischen Vigilanten (The coronation of the body politic by the democratic vigilantes, 1988). A Greek Poseidon, consisting of slashed-up cables, Botticelli’s Venus made of pieces of soap and emerging from a wash basin—all these things bore witness to Weibel’s insatiability, which wants to devour the whole of cultural history in order to beat post-Modernism at its own game.

In another wing, Weibel appeared as Louise Langford. The main piece here was a gigantic Jackson Pollock imitation, to which Andy Warhol’s OMO boxes are attached à la Donald Judd: Jackson Pollock konvergiert 1952 mit Donald Judds galvanisierten Eisenkisten von 1967, die sick unter Andy Warhols Omo-Boxen von 1964 verbergen (Jackson Pollock converges in 1952 with Donald Judd’s galvanized iron crates of 1967, which hide under Andy Warhol’s OMO boxes of 1964, 1988). Nor did Kasimir Malevich escape unscathed; his Suprematist vocabulary was recycled as graphics for stock-market notations (Corporate Profile of Malevitch, 1988).

Next, we came to Otto W. Schimanovich, who is said to aim chiefly at transformative and dimensional leaps; one of his pieces was F. L. Wrights Guggenheim-museum als Bar (F. L. Wright’s Guggenheim Museum as a bar, 1987). Finally, Jan van Buygens was responsible for an installation in which buckets of paint standing on the floor were projected onto the wall by multiple cameras as the eyes of a dye; the viewer could also project himself into the game (Video Installation, 1988). At the exit, Weibel provided a message by way of an Imi Knoebel painting-collage: “Art is not the prisoner, but the dungeon keeper.”

The individual pieces were successful to varying degrees. They were always disrespectful, often witty, sarcastic, pointed and nasty; at other times, the porridge didn’t go down well. We should also bear in mind that the exhibition was originally planned to exist purely as a catalogue. That would have been a loss, for its actual charm lay in its absurdities, in the very fact that it constantly exerted the magic of a side show. Thus, behind all these mangled phantasms and shattered value notions of art, a hoard of truth and existence still shone: that of Weibel’s anti-art. Paradoxically, the Jean Baudrillard text that appeared in the catalogue for this exhibition was, in fact, genuine.

Helmut Draxler

Translated from the German by Joachim Neugroschel.