Jesko Fezer and Axel John Wieder

Galerie Kienzle & Gmeiner

Exhibitions in Berlin these days like to flirt with urban planning and architecture, and a kind of neo-Situationism has emerged from this, which at its worst has led to service-and-spectacle events like the Berlin Biennale. On the other hand, the 1998 show “Baustop.randstadt,-” (at Berlin’s Neue Gesellschaft für Bildende Kunst) made clear how far the critical potential of action alliances and leftist groupings has come from what has been called “new genre public art,” art in public spaces intended as a means of effecting social change. Today, it’s not only about instituting an artistic model as an aesthetic solution to urban conflict. “Baustop.randstadt,-” was an attempt to analyze the privatization of public space and thematize the mechanisms of social oppression that Berlin has taken up on its way to becoming the capital. The exhibition did so without art, solely on the basis of fact: hard-core documentation in the space of an art institution.

Jesko Fezer and Axel John Wieder’s recent show, “Welt (Oh, no!),” at Galerie Kienzle & Gmeiner, proceeds from this intersection: How politically can art operate in a gallery without losing itself and becoming merely an illustration of the problem? The exhibition also functioned as a commentary on the question of subjectivity versus activism. Spread out across four rooms, the sketches, wall pieces, objects, and installations formed a network of contemporary urban critique.

Using texts and photos, Fezer and Wieder reconstructed the biography of Eileen Gray to consider the lost utopianism of modern architecture. Although she was supported by Le Corbusier, Gray was nevertheless critical of his functional building mode, going so far as to declare that “A house is not a machine for living.” Gray’s countermodel to the Corbusien ideal was her vacation house E.1027, 1926–29, on the French Mediterranean coast. Designed in observance of the dictum “minimum space, maximum comfort,” the house was conceived down to its furnishings as “architecture for all senses.” Fezer and Wieder included Gray’s famous sleeping sofa in their exhibition, altering it slightly by covering the top mattress with a sheet (Day Bed, 1929/99). Still produced today, the sofa was seen next to the artists’ Lampe für E-7, 1999, a tall, rectangular, boxed frame covered with sheets of paper. The paper bears sketches of the plans for the Gray villa combined with architectural views of the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin, evoking the tension between an intimate mode of building and state architecture.

In some works, Fezer and Wieder use collage and paint-over techniques to unite found materials. In a manual for the use of bulletproof vests, the photo illustrations are recast as security propaganda with words like “nation” or “police” written on them in German. Conversely, in Welt 2 (Schengen), 1999, abbreviations for the border police and federal crime bureau appear alongside cartoonlike figures within watercolor landscapes—a caricature of the surveillance state.

Occasionally, the interplay of references was hard to grasp. To understand the conceptual basis of the abstract geometrical pattern of an untitled wall painting, one must read the poster 3Dkapital.tif, 1997, which displays the 1991 parliamentary decision to move the government from Bonn to Berlin next to a list of construction companies and developers and a graph charting the rise of real estate prices in the new capital. The painting’s pattern is revealed to be an abstract rendering of the graph. In this piece, it becomes clear how difficult it is to reduce artistic form and political substance to a common denominator.

Harald Fricke

Translated from German by Elizabeth Felicella.