Chris Reinecke

Centre Genevois de Gravure Contemporaine

The Lidl-Raum, founded in Düsseldorf in 1968, was one of the first artist-organized spaces in which art and politics were united. It arose under the influence of the May 1968 demonstrations in Paris and the German student movement, but the Lidl actions reached their high point in May 1969 after affiliated artists set up a “Lidl-classroom” in a boarded hut in the corridor of the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf. When it was banned and the artists expelled, Joseph Beuys put his classroom at the disposal of the action. For a long time it was said that Jörg Immendorff initiated this noteworthy episode. In fact, it was a collaborative project of Immendorff and his wife, Chris Reinecke.

Reinecke’s accomplishments in general and the importance of her role in the Lidl actions in particular are finally clarified in this large retrospective of her work from the ’60s. The nature of her practice ensures that little of the work remains intact, but the exhibited sketches, photo documentation and descriptions of performances, flyers, and objects clearly demonstrate what an extraordinary position Reinecke developed during this period. For her first actions she designed peculiar objects with instructions bidding the public to participate: painted cotton landscapes whose purpose was to be torn to pieces; Ungebungskleider (Environment garments), 1967, made of plastic and meant to be worn and written on; Notzeitliege, 1967, an “emergency day bed” on which visitors were to leave the imprints of their bodies; a “shadow card index” (Schattenkartei, 1967) in which one could leaf through fifteen large index cards bearing drawn shadow outlines of various objects; Entfernungsstab, 1965, a “distance measure” suggesting new units of measurement––“ME/BOX/GARDEN/WINDOW/BUSH/HOUSE/ HEAVEN.” In her “Reflections on My Concoctions,” 1967, Reinecke formulated the idea that everyone could “become an artist or someone with a capacity for autonomous perception.” For her, art was a route to political emancipation. Reinecke wrote this before Beuys proclaimed the idea that “everyone is an artist.” But with her subsequent retreat from art—and in contrast to the sustained success of her male colleagues—her contribution has been disregarded.

With her photographs, sketches, actions, and objects from 1965–67, the artist initiated “collective learning processes,” hoping to provoke change, or at least the will to change. In detailed “findings minutes” she noted the reactions of spectators, because—whether in her own actions, in collective projects under the aegis of Lidl, or later in her grassroots political work—Reinecke wanted to develop new democratic forms of collaboration. In early 1970, Reinecke and Immendorff founded the Büro Olympia (Olympia office), transforming Lidl into a grassroots revolutionary group. Later she wrote a pamphlet entitled “It depends on us women, what we will ALL become,” which ended with a list of demands, from equal wages for women to shared labor in housekeeping to free nursery schools—demands still valid today.

Reinecke withdrew from the art world in 1970 and founded a self-help collective for tenant solidarity, organizing demonstrations and squatting buildings for the homeless. Later she withdrew in turn from politics and, out of the public eye, took up her artistic work again. This exhibition—and the consequent reevaluation of Reinecke’s work—comes late, but perhaps in another sense at just the right time. Because the repoliticization of art is no longer criticized as mere fashion, but rather has become an accepted part of the artistic repertory, an engagement with earlier works of political art is in no danger of being dismissed as threadbare genealogy-building. Reinecke’s contribution can be understood both as an individual artistic position and as an object in an investigation of the aesthetic language of political art.

Sabine B. Vogel

Translated from German by Elizabeth Felicella.