“Einleuchten: Will, Vorstel, Und Simul In HH”

Anniversaries were the cause: the harbor of Hamburg is 800 years old, and Kurt A. Körber, the sponsor of the Deichtorhallen, is 80 years old. Einleuchten (Illumination), Harald Szeemann’s three-generations show, was also an anniversary for him as a curator. Twenty years ago, in Bern, he was a Dr. Livingstone, who explored the precarious terrain of a processual “social anti-form,” as he called it, in the exhibition “When Attitude Becomes Form.” In Hamburg, with 57 artists, including 14 from his erstwhile Bern team, he celebrated Einleuchten as a missa solemnis. At Documenta 5, 1972, in Kassel, it was Szeemann who introduced, for the first time, the parallel pictorial world of new media into the exhibition. Now, in Hamburg, he has left that world largely to the young artists of D & S (different and simulated) in the Kunstverein and the Kunsthaus. Even the Schopenhauerian subtitle Will, Vorstel, und Simul in HH (Will, conception, and simulation in the Hanseatic city of Hamburg) was used with greater openness to risk.

Szeemann’s goals were different here. He was afraid of the cash-and-carry mentality that spells doom for contemporary art. Today, the ground shakes for him only at its periphery; this doesn’t mean, however, that his terra firma is not adventuresome. These adventures are, however, precisely calculated. Szeemann’s mice-en-scène emphasized, more than anything else, the autonomy of the artwork. The theatricality of his installation integrated each work into an overall composition—without stripping the individuality from any work—making the encounter with the works an event; recognition not as a déjà vu, but as the pleasure of resuming the dialogue.

In the hangarlike Deichtorhallen, Szeemann had to allow art to establish itself in its own right. He was faced with a horror vacui, and built—quite literally—an asylum, a place for the invulnerability of art. He created suitable spaces for individual works, designed partly with the help of the artists. These changing rooms of one’s own—common rooms, transitional situations, tubelike corridors as for Christian Bohan-ski’s motley clothes-room of death, or plazas as for Mario Merz’s twig-sheathed igloo labyrinth—none of them helped us to find our mental/conceptual or spatial bearings. Because of its incoherence, the frequent change of images with unexpected perspectives or surprising reencounters aroused sensations of energy fields, signal strengths, pitch levels. Then came understanding or questioning. The viewer was thus already involved, no matter what his previous knowledge. He became the Livingstone, and was an activist with a very different motivation, not a flaneur. That is what Szeemann was, and always has been, aiming for.

Once again, the demand for a resolute separation between art and life is based on the insight that the artist can be held responsible only in terms of his art. Though Szeemann may not have wanted to interpret, viewers observed that Donald Judd, Sol LeWitt, Robert Ryman, united in a memorable space, stood sponsor to the further handing-down of Ad Reinhardt’s catechism, “Art comes from art and everything else is everything else.” This winter, art, unlike the very concrete political utopia, did not have a chance, even if it had gone further than the small chorus of critical voices. Einleuchten, as Szeemann’s program expressly stated, did not interpret. Instead of boundless effability, it insisted on the intensity of the individual work, like the frictional intensity generated by the collision of the timeless and the ephemeral.

Ingrid Rein

Translated from the German by Joachim Neugroschel.