Via Lewandowsky

Arndt & Partner

Berlin's Mitte has lost much of its attraction for the art market. Too much tourism, too many public events, and too little profit have prompted a whole string of galleries to relocate, the latest of these being Arndt & Partner. However, the gallery's reopening exhibition of Via Lewandowsky intentionally missed the mark on reorganization: “Schiefer laufen” (“Going worse”; all works 2001) was a critical and ironic commentary on the increasing professionalization of art in Berlin.

Because the 3,700-square-foot expanse of the gallery's new rooms reminded him of a Kunstverein, Lewandowsky created an installation of museumlike proportions. In the center room he incorporated a sloping floor, swathing it in electric-blue PVC; on this floor, a red sofa seemed to float on one leg in front of a small-scale painting. The fragile construction and the harsh color scheme made it practically impossible to sit on the couch and comfortably observe the single painting—Zu spät (Too late), a hospital scene. The image was effectively superfluous in the face of the minimalistic design of the space.

In the next room, Lewandowsky continued to widen this gap between presentation and perception. Again there was a red sofa on a blue floor, again a painting subsumed by the contrasting colorful interior. But in addition, four towering speakers ceaselessly emitted static. It was a battle with a trapped fly, whose irritating buzzing, digitally composed at a computer, was layered with harsh frequencies and played at such a volume as to physically affront the visitor.

Lewandowsky's artistic practice lives by such coldhearted provocations. Most recently, for the Münsterland Biennale last summer, he designed a sports facility—but as a cuboid of high-grade steel grids unusable for any kind of sport. In response to the trend whereby art in public spaces becomes ever more festive and serviceable, he offered a quasi-autonomous sculpture that refused any kind of participation. The title of the piece, Emssport (Busy sport), made ironic reference to the biennial-orgies of summer, where traveling for art has become a cultural elite's athletic marathon.

In its gesture of refusal, “Going Worse” functions in a similar manner. Forcing the viewer to flee the room, Lewandowsky told me, is a “counterpoint to the atmosphere that one otherwise associates with galleries.” The tables are turned: the art on view is just an accessory to the fetishistically adorned white cube. But this also entails the failure of Lewandowsky's attempt at resistance. One could, if so inched, be just as easily occupied with the ambience, or enjoy the minimal structures of the red furniture and blue floor. At the same time, the arrangement of the rooms continually referred the observer to the works on view, though these were nothing more than details of the surroundings. For Lewandowsky, this kind of presentation-as-spectacle is also a “protest against the instantly readable mise-en-scène,” behind which he wishes to “preserve” his own “cryptic structures of art production.” For this reason, too, he paints pictures that are not counterpoints, but by-products. The title of the painting in the room with the fly noises was, incidentally, Traum vom Sehen (Dream of Seeing). For Lewandowsky it is, to be sure, a bad dream.

Harald Fricke

Translated from German by Sara Ogger.