Michael Sailstorfer

It has been stormy seas for the world’s stock markets, and financial giants are tumbling from their pedestals, but meanwhile, a silver metal storage building on a snowy meadow is pulsating: The metal walls puff up until they look about to burst, then the building shrinks back to its original size. Michael Sailstorfer recorded this “breathing” building with a high-speed camera. Indeed, what looks like suspiration in the artist’s film Untitled (Lohma) (all works 2008) is nothing but a loop showing the moment before the structure explodes. Sailstorfer had the edifice (which he also built) dynamited, but all he shows us of the blast is its slow-motion buildup, forward and in reverse in an endless loop. It’s the perfect film to accompany the bursting of the housing bubble. Appropriately, Sailstorfer previously showed this piece last summer at the Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt, in the heart of the German financial center.

For years, Sailstorfer has been recycling and transforming things: In earlier works, a building becomes a sofa (Herterichstraße, 2001), an airplane becomes a tree house (D-IBRB, 2001), a lantern becomes a shooting star (Sternschnuppe [Shooting Star], 2002). Now, in Untitled (Junger Römer) (Young Roman) a billboard from the former East Germany has become a minimalist neon work. In this case, the recycling isn’t brutal but rather carefully balanced: The title refers not only to the Römerberg, the center of Frankfurt and home to the Schirn, but also to the song of the same name by Austrian pop musician Falco, who sings in it of a carefree youth in an endless night. The original sign, which advertised the East German Sternradio factory, is still mounted (though much decayed) near Alexanderplatz in Berlin. For a few years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, kids from Mitte would frequent the Sternradio nightclub. Sailstorfer combines the echo of disintegrating systems—dancing as the ship goes down—with sound and light waves to create an abstract installation.

In the show’s catalogue, titled Reaktor, critic Jennifer Allen describes Sailstorfer’s work as the “revenge of the goods.” Instead of being thrown away, they can be reused even while being destroyed: They burn out and become stars. The street lamp that Sailstorfer launched into the Bavarian sky from the roof of an old Mercedes shattered on the ground, but a photograph preserves its brief existence as a “shooting star.” Sailstorfer’s career has seen a similarly rapid rise: He was still a student at the Akademie in Munich when he became famous for Herterichstraße, the house-cum-sofa. Soon he was showing his work at the Lenbachhaus and in Berlin, and he is now widely known in the German-speaking world. But subsequent works like Dean & Marylou, 2003, for which he joined two buses together, seemed stagnant, lacking the playfulness and lightness of his earlier work.

With Lohma and Junger Römer, Sailstorfer has found his groove again. In Raketenbaum (Rocket Tree), he has a plum tree somersault through the air, giving free rein to his impish, inquisitive side. And in Kässbohrer-Museum, he conserves parts of an old Kässbohrer-brand school bus that has been painted by children. Sailstorfer cut out these records of the children’s memories with an angle grinder and mounted them. And this might be how art beats the stock market: Although the price of scrap metal is on the rise, this scrap bus isn’t being melted down.

Daniel Boese

Translated from German by Oliver E. Dryfuss.