Christian Philipp Müller

Kunstverein München

Last winter, Helmut Draxler declared that the Kunstverein was becoming a lecture hall, but that it would not be ruined. With this exhibition of Christian Philipp Müller’s work, Draxler, the new director, has made of this space something between “lecture hall, cultural historical exhibition, and artist’s installation.” Müller set out to search for the “Forgotten Future” of Modernism by confronting the works of Le Corbusier, the musician Edgard Varèse, the filmmaker Veitd Harlan, and the visionary urban architect Nicolas Schöffer. In the ideological climate of the ’50s, Modernism had degenerated into a monstrous mannerism and populism. Central to this decline was the Philips pavilion, a tent for five hundred visitors at the 1958 Brussels world’s fair, designed by lannis Xenakis. Le Corbusier, in designing a light and film spectacle, accompanied by the spatial music of Varèse, relived a psychedelic nightmare of Constructivism—the harmonious unity of art and technology—and found himself immersed in the industrialized commercialization of late-modern culture.

Müller took this historical material and documented it, as if in an architectural exhibition, with models and sketches. Next to this display was the schematic reconstruction of Le Corbusier’s windowless office; from this ascetic white cube one entered a black box in which Varèse’s music was playing. Müller maintained the didacticism of cultural exhibitions—the central component of an approach that lead him to play the role of historian, theoretician, and artist.

Le Corbusier’s utopian social vision was placed next to Schöffer’s cybernetic city, with its center for sexual leisure time in the form of a gigantic breast. What was Mailer’s point? Was he focusing on renewing the forgotten future or was he mourning a failed, compromised Modernism? Was it historical reconstruction or occupation of an institutional space? The Kunstverein served during the Third Reich as the stage for cultural battles; in its more recent past it has served as the stage for a reconstruction of Modernism.

Müller’s approach is shared by artists like Andrea Fraser, Mark Dion, and Stephen Prina. These artists attempt to forge a path, through theory, between discourse and esthetics, and to place themselves within traditional institutions. But they must still demonstrate how to integrate esthetic practice in order to avoid mere cultural history or even simple illustration. Müller finds his way, not simply by using the Duchampian object, but by appropriating discourse and shifting its context from the intellectual to the artistic milieu.

Markus Brüderlin

Translated from the German by Charles V. Miller.