New York

Josef Strau and Stephan Dillemuth

Pat Hearn Gallery

Founded in 1990 by artists Joseph Strau and Stephan Dillemuth, Friesenwall 120 is a storefront space located close to Cologne’s central gallery district. Meant to serve multiple functions, it has operated as a video and newspaper archive, provided a meeting place for a “gray panther” group, featured a scholarly exhibition on the Situationist movement, and mounted group and one-person shows. Perhaps most significantly, Friesenwall 120 has become a kind of social nexus of the Cologne art scene. Outfitted with a reading/viewing room (plus couch), the modest space might be described as a mutable culture-bureau that operates as a site of social and intellectual exchange.

It would seem that Strau and Dillemuth want Friesenwall 120 to be understood as an experimental situation that remains responsive to a diverse range of cultural interests (without suggesting that the space has been proposed as a viable framework, for, or model of, radical reorganizations of cultural/political hierarchies and values—that it was ever designed to resuscitate such a utopian program). Rather, according to the founders, the space was developed as a temporary supplement to the existing gallery system in Cologne, a situational intervention in a milieu increasingly constrained by market considerations.

Yet there is some irony attached to the space’s endurance as a “relevant” context, since Strau and Dillemuth have recently found themselves confronted with invitations from established cultural institutions in Europe to, in effect, re-produce the conditions of their Cologne space. In response—and this is particularly crucial in evaluating their New York project—they opted to explore the implications of transposing the storefront (or its methodological approach) from its “original” context into an official institutional frame. Without question, they are acutely self-conscious of the problematics of intercultural “translation.”

In the winter of 1991, Strau and Dillemuth began planning an exhibition that would focus upon the recent history of art spaces and artistic shifts in New York. After months of research they gravitated toward the East Village scene of the early and mid ’80s, a cultural milieu that both artists had been exposed to as an exoticized and sensationalized U.S. export mediated through glossy magazines. As cultural “outsiders,” Strau and Dillemuth selected period-specific artworks and related paraphernalia and interviewed various artists, dealers, critics, and others associated with the short-lived scene. In the main room of the gallery, works by artists whose careers began in the East Village (e.g., Lady Pink, George Condo, Arch Connelly, Mike Bidlo, Mark Morrisroe, Kylie Jenkins) were displayed in tandem with two collaborative collages by Strau and Dillemuth. The back room was transformed into a reading and video-viewing area with a couch (evocative of Friesenwall 120), and filled with materials featuring EastVillage artistic activities, videos of research interviews in New York and of Friesenwall 120 projects, as well as a survey of ’80s artworks by Strau and Dillemuth. Recognizing that the archive of a specific cultural history can only be reassembled as an unstable set of fragments, Strau and Dillemuth briefly converted a commercial space into a locus of overlapping trajectories of information and material. Less comprehensive documentary than incomplete sampling, the exhibition created an environment in which a new type of cultural experience—or even social behavior—might unfold.

Joshua Decter