Gregor Schneider

Gregor Schneider’s career is notable for a number of reasons. Five years ago, at the tender age of twenty-five, he was given a solo show at a major gallery in Cologne, and only a few years later he had another at the Kunsthalle Bern. Despite Schneider’s early success, his work has received little attention in art publications. One possible reason for this is that his work doesn’t resemble much art that is currently seen in galleries; another is that photographs of his installations tend to be as unspectacular as the work itself. Since he was a teenager, Schneider has been continually rebuilding the spaces inside his home, which is located in Mönchengladbach. Recently, he has also begun producing videos and photos documenting the environments he has created inside the house.

Schneider calls the house Ur, playing on the street name, Unterheydener Strasse, as well as the conventional sense of the word. His interventions can’t always be detected immediately, but one seems to sense them on some level. In front of existing walls, he often constructs new ones of wood or plaster; though these might appear to be the same as the original walls, they often sheath soundproof—ing materials, such as lead plates. The added layers alter the proportions of the rooms and cause them to shrink in size, generating an increasingly oppressive atmosphere. One area of the house contains a motorized “breakfast room” that turns on its axis at an imperceptible rate. At times Schneider arranges several windows directly behind one another, placing lamps behind the panes to counterfeit natural light.

These interventions are reminiscent of projects by Michael Asher or Gordon Matta-Clark, except that Schneider’s approach is less analytical, fueled by an intensely personal vision. For this exhibition, which arrived in Mönchengladbach after stops at Frankfurt’s Portikus and Warsaw’s Foksal gallery, and then traveled to the Musée d’Art Moderne in Paris, he took three of the rooms from the house and reinstalled them in a large space in the museum. He walled off part of the museum’s foyer, creating a cramped passageway leading to an ordinary door. He then plastered over the new walls, so a first-time visitor might easily have taken this for the museum’s own entrance. After passing through the installation’s three oppressive spaces—a narrow hallway, a room containing a mattress, and a small kitchen—one emerged into the large, darkened room in which they had been erected. A video projected on the wall emitted just enough light to allow one to find the way around the raw, unplastered outer skin of the installation. While he shot the video, Schneider was walking through the house aiming his camera at various interstitial spaces. The exhibition skirted the danger of overemphasizing these hidden areas, as if Ur were a haunted house, a reading that was encouraged in the exhibition’s original title, “Tote Jungfrauen” (Dead maidens) (the title was changed to “Puff” for this venue). However, one needn’t know the original title to appreciate the unusual transformations inside the house. What leaves a lasting impression is the way Schneider transfers this compellingly strange atmosphere into an institutional setting.

Yilmaz Dziewior

Translated from the German by Diana Reese.