“Mixing Memory and Desire”

The more virtuality encroaches on daily life, the more art seems to want to reassure itself of its real space by way of exhibition architecture. The new Kunstmuseum Luzern, housed within Jean Nouvel’s Kultur- und Kongresszentrum (Culture and convention center), answers this trend by refraining it: In the middle of the city, between the train station and lakeshore. under a gigantic flat roof, Nouvel has built a fascinating sequence of volumes and cuts that look as though simulated on a computer screen. The lake is reflected in the prominent floating plane of the roof, while the cut to the sky frames the postcard landscape like a proscenium. Every view from the building tends to be a tableau. It is all the more surprising that this spectacular exterior holds inside it a clearly delimited museum cube of Lutheran sobriety, its 20,000 square feet divided in turn into a relentlessly cool series of white cubes that renounce all architectural seductiveness. Low corridors between high, right-angled spaces and evenly distributed light support the pure focus on art.

In its inaugural exhibition, “Mixing Memory and Desire—Wunsch und Erinnerung,” what Nouvel calls the “nudité des espaces” (nudity of space) of the Kunstmuseum Luzern had its depths sounded by the works of twenty-five contemporary and five historical artists. Here, the traditionally distinct agendas of a Kunsthalle and a museum overlapped, as in Douglas Gordon’s contribution, where he created a new work by assembling his own retrospective in one room: Pretty Much Every Video and Film Work From About 1992 Until Now. To Be Seen on Monitors. Some With Headphones. Others Run Silently and All Simultaneously, 1999. Other highlights were Tacita Dean’s film Sound Mirrors,1999, some compellingly oppressive video projections by Smith/Stewart, a series of paintings by Brice Marden, and, above all, the most recent group of paintings by Raoul de Keyser, with their fleeting encounters between free, minimal forms and the painterly ground.

In memory, this panorama of the most varied artistic positions is distilled into a sequence of changing intensities as one moves from room to room, each resembling a small individual exhibition, closed off from the rest like a monad. “(Dis)-identities of the body, of space, time, and representation, a non-theme”—as curators Ulrich Loock and Daniel Kurjakovic formulate their approach—permeate the exhibition as a whole. The uncompromising sequence of spaces is a timely provocation insofar as it awakens a desire for a new, filmic perception of exhibitions through deliberate changes in rhythm and cuts.

Between the individual areas of the exhibition, Nouvel’s architecture allowed quick glances at moatlike slices of lake through the cuts in the building. Through these gaps, a reflection on the building’s space broke directly into the exhibition as an internal difference, which was also conceptually realized with “The Other Show,” a comprehensive performance series that accompanied the exhibition along with a film series by Alexander Kluge. But “Mixing Memory and Desire” also opened up from within: In Playhouse, 1997, by Janet Cardiff, the observers of a scene in an imaginary concert hall were transported to another space by a sound issuing from the intimacy of their headphones. Bethan Huws formulated her complex reflection on artistic practice, From To From, 2000, on a sheet of text that could be read in a chair above the moat, on the street, or at home.

Hans Rudolf Reust

Translated frcm Gaman by Sara Ogger.