Lübeck, Germany

Michael Hakimi


The exhibition pavilion of the Overbeck-Gesellschaft is right in the heart of Lübeck but nonetheless has an air of peaceful isolation about it. You access it indirectly, via the classical Behnhaus, an elegant residence that has been converted into a museum. From there a wide hallway leads past paintings by the likes of Johann Friedrich Overbeck and Caspar David Friedrich to a small park dotted with sculptures containing an unadorned pavilion dating from 1930. So the visitor’s approach to Michael Hakimi’s show was necessarily circuitous, involving several stages and epochs and aesthetic presentations. The idyllic but artificial setting emphasized the distinctively hermetic side of Hakimi’s work: To approach it in this setting meant crossing over into a new formal context, catching glimpses of familiar things in an altered light. Hakimi’s sculpture itself achieves a comparable transformation, and therein lies the idiosyncratic poetry of his work. Yet it makes an utterly down-to-earth and prosaic first impression. His sculptures are almost always made of simple materials such as fiberboard, cardboard, string, newsprint, T-shirt fabric, or cast concrete, and his process is always immediately apparent—there is no secret, no veneer of virtuosity. Instead he gives us formal reduction and minimalist estrangement: simple but nevertheless ingenious strategies for probing the boundaries between image and sculpture, free abstraction and intractable thingness.

Some of the works were responses to the site: Three bronze statues from the sculpture garden were reproduced slightly larger than their original size as black-and-white photocopies, then laminated onto white-painted MDF as stand-up displays. Italienerin (groß) (Italian Woman [Large]) and Italienerin (klein) (Italian Woman [Small]) (all works 2010) are based on Italienerin, 1941–43, by Karl Geiser, a sculpture visitors pass as they enter the park. Hakimi photographed the striding female nude in profile along with its pedestal—from both sides—and presented these images in two-dimensional juxtaposition, paraphrasing and in a sense dissecting the spatiotemporally sequential nature of perception demanded by the work’s sculptural model. These hybrid “picture sculptures” simulate the illusion of space both explicitly and transparently.

The installation was like a stage set that could be entered, oriented around a potential vanishing point: The works came together as site-specific arrangements that one could only grasp by walking through the installation, making the show read as a multifocus obstacle course through a series of objectlike abstractions. The scene one encountered first included not only the doubly duplicated Italienerin but also R, a black-and-white image, likewise presented as a stand-up display. The title names something we couldn’t quite see: The greatly enlarged letter R—in white on black—has been perforated all around its edges as if with an outsize hole punch until it is scarcely legible any longer and thus appears all the more starkly as an autonomous, plastic form. Luftblasenhermeneutik (Bubble Hermeneutics) produces a similar translation: What might appear to be serial abstraction is an enlarged print of the Bubble Wrap often used to protect art during transport. Satellitenschüssel 1 (Satellite Dish 1) huddled turtlelike on the floor. Here, too, the title reveals what is concealed by the work’s ostensible simplicity: The piece is a concrete cast of a satellite dish, flipped over and placed on a rolling cart. With Hakimi, the most laconic work is often the best, thanks to the striking simplicity with which what is given is transformed.

Jens Asthoff
Translated from German by Oliver E. Dryfuss.