Simone Westerwinter

Galerie Otto Schweins

The announcement for Simone Westerwinter’s recent show in Cologne—her first solo exhibition in this city—depicted a man who’s already shown keen interest in her work: Udo Kittelmann, director of Cologne’s Kunstverein. Kittelmann smiles affably into the camera as he sits in his office, holding a telephone receiver. The card doesn’t give the slightest clue as to his identity—only the initiated would have known who he was, though even they probably wouldn’t have immediately understood the connection to Westerwinter’s show. Only on viewing a piece entitled I love curators, 1995, which includes photos of several of the curators with whom Westerwinter has worked or will work in the future, might they have grasped the image’s significance.

Those unfamiliar with Westerwinter’s already extensive body of work might be inclined to find the approach in I love curators somewhat simplistic, but its depth is made evident by her concept of “Ja-Arbeiten” (Yes works), in which she heightens the spectator’s awareness by encouraging active participation in the work. Another piece in this show, a red-and-white-checkered floor covering that occupied nearly the whole room, offered a similar example of the concept. This piece was at once a floor sculpture, a readymade (by virtue of the use of found objects), and a site-specific “intervention.” Here Wester-winter was dealing with ready-made conditions, while at the same time subtly and, for those unfamiliar with the gallery’s ordinary setup, almost imperceptibly altering the space. In traversing the gallery the visitor became a part of the grid that was created. One’s participation was engaged to an even greater degree by a “Ja-Arbeit” piece, which, although conceived by Westerwinter, was executed by the gallery owner. The gallerist greeted visitors personally, offering each several different ways to be entertained: they could choose tea or vodka to drink, listen to a joke, or borrow a jacket during their stay in the gallery. All of these options were intended to fulfill one goal: putting visitors in a good mood and heightening their eagerness to enter the show, which undoubtedly had no small effect on their perception of the work. While Westerwinter clearly reexamined Joseph Beuys’ concept of “social sculpture” here, she was less interested in the political implications of her work than (to borrow from Karl von Clausewitz) the extension of her sculptural processes by other means.

This was especially clear in the video portion of the exhibition, in which one saw a young bride, dressed in her wedding gown, rolling down a mountain; another scene contained a second bride, this time played by a curator, sliding down the ramp of a museum. Between these two scenes was a fade-in to a sentence from Michelangelo, quoted by the German sculptor Otto Baum, to the effect that a sculpture is good only if it can be rolled down a mountain without any pieces breaking off. All of this was supplemented acoustically with jaunty, cheerful Muzak. The video ultimately raised the question of what artistic production can still achieve today. And, in fact, wasn’t this work, one wondered, with its brides, dressed for their nuptials, more provocative than a piece of traditional sculpture? Westerwinter’s careful interrogation of various media, as well as aspects of art history and theory, gave additional meaning to the impressive formal quality of her project, and did so with a good bit of humor.

Yilmaz Dziewior

Translated from the German by David Jacobson.