From Opposite Sides and everything in Between

/Reflections on the Münster Sculpture Project 2007 et al   by Kimberly Marrero and Ron Rocco

 

 

The art one finds at the Münster Sculpture Project today, which was co-curated by Brigitte Franzen, Kasper Konig, and Carina Plath, is it seems of a more modest stature than that which has appeared in some of the Projects earlier exhibitions. These newer, more modest works carry a larger political, and social payload. Raising the question, is a bigger, grander installation really better?

 

The story goes that when George Rickey placed his kinetic sculpture in the city of Münster in mid 1970 there was a significant outcry from the city’s citizens.  To address this dissatisfaction and to attempt to bridge understanding about art in public places Klaus Bussmann, Project Münster’s founder, in 1977 undertook a series of lectures and presentations at the Westfälisches Landesmuseum in Münster, to address the concerns of the populace.  Thus was born the Münster Sculpture Project.  Although protests of the project followed in latter years the citizens of Münster eventually came to embrace the project, and are found today to be quite proud of it, celebrating its presence in the city, as well as understanding the economical benefit it brings to this rather sleepy college town. Thus the George Rickey sparked a transformation in this city.

 

So what one learns quickly from the art, and the Archive of the Münster Sculpture Project, on display at the museum, is that the artists and their work does have a formative power on the city.

 

One example, Thomas Schütte’s Kirschensaüle ‘Cherry Column’, the color of which reflected the popular color of auto paint at the time, was constructed in 1987 overlooking a parking lot full of cars, garbage receptacles, bikes and bike racks.  Over time city officials, noting the number of tourist and other visitors who were searching out the Cherries, thought they should clean up the site to help improve the city’s image.  Thus today Schütte’s Cherries can be found on a sanitized public square, the HarseWinkelplatz, a standard gray cobblestone plaza surrounded by cafes and a granite fountain, which was donated to the city by private investors.  Once again the city itself was transformed by an artist’s intervention.  In this case Schütte, invited to participate in the 2007 Project, and seeing the site of his artwork transformed, defiantly reacted to this sterilization of the surrounding landscape by creating a ‘Museum of the Future’, “Which stands in contradiction to the architecturally clustered plaza”.  Schütte known for his attention to craftsmanship and materials that evoke traces of the artist’s hand, chooses instead three sterile, industrial elements glass, steel and plastic to create his Modell für ein Museum. He places this construction over the plaza’s granite fountain, thus encapsulating this architectural form and containing its functionality. Further, his benches assembled along the exterior of the structure compel visitors to sit with their backs to the fountain, directing their view away from it, separating the fountain from public access and its site.  In this way he comments on how works of art can be removed from the world they inhabit, confined in the museum as in a sanitized art graveyard. 

 

What Michael Asher has done over the course of successive Münster Sculpture Project manifestations, since his 1977 project Installation Münster /Caravan was conceived, is to place a caravan in each of 15 chosen spots throughout the city, during the course of the exhibition. The caravan as such becomes an icon of domestic life ‘on the road’. As a metaphor for, one who’s desire is to bring one’s world along with them, the caravan comes to symbolize a ‘bürgerlich’ provincial thinking, like that which triggered the demonstrations against the Münster Project at its inception.  The work, through its photographic documentation, reveals the changes, which have occurred in the city over the 30 years and four successive manifestations of the Project.  The pedestrian nature of the work belies its significance as a marker of time and location.  The art work, which is moved every Monday to each of its successive 15 locations, can sometimes be found locked in its garage, because the cityscape has altered so significantly, that the next location no longer exists to accommodate it.

 

Silke Wagner’s Münster's Geschichte von Unten /The History of Münster from Below stands in front of the city Stadthaus ‘City Offices’.  It is conceived as a monument to Paul Wulf, who at age seven, and one of four children, was removed from his home.  Like Michael Asher’s displaced caravan, Wulf could no longer be accommodated within the apartment inhabited by his growing family, or so it was claimed by the Nazi government of Münster.  Thus he was moved to an asylum for the mentally ill, and there sterilized by the Nazis.  During his life he fought legal battles for recognition and compensation against war crimes and became, despite his small physical stature, an icon of resistance to overreaching governmental injustices.  The artist covers Wulf’s body, with various historical documents, in the style of an information kiosk, these chronicle political and social struggle, against nuclear energy and the need for adequate housing.  Through Wagner’s collaboration with the Umweltzentrum Archiv Münster ‘Environmental Archive Society’, she further opens the potential for communication of these ideas beyond Wulf’s body to the world via the internet.

 

Overall these works are not monumental in scale, but reflect a more human sized format suitable for individual reflection.  For example, Isa Genzken’s Untitled umbrella compositions feel very much homemade. Her project is positioned adjoining the Überwasserkirche and being divided into 12 installations, has adopted a ‘stations of the cross’ metaphor for their assemblage.   She creates a powerful statement about childhood and adolescence in an age where children of affluence tend to ‘have it all’.  In this work children’s toys, dolls and various accessories are scared with paint or dismembered, seemingly a metaphor for neglect, or childhood afflictions like attention deficit disorder, resulting from excess and information overload.

 

Maria Pask’s Beautiful City reflects a sense of the communes of the sixties.  It offers a variety of religious dialogues presented through a series of lectures and events hosted within her tent encampment.  This open community welcomes the viewer with water and tea and a profusion of literature on political, social and religious topics. By offering unconditional access to shelter and participation within a harmonious community this work, as well as Asche’s caravan and Wagner’s monument, underlines the importance of affordable housing in today’s housing markets.

 

At the Erbdrostenhof, a former palace in baroque style, ‘where Richard Serra placed twenty-four tons of steel’ during the Münster Sculpture Project of 1987, Andreas Siekmann’s Trickle Down, Der öffentlice Raum im Zeitalter seiner Privatisierung ‘Public Space in the Era of its Privatization’, makes an equally significant statement using more modest means.  Siekmann shreds the fiberglass cows, bears, geese and other figures which have become pervasive in urban centers in Germany and beyond, due to the marketing efforts of cities.  These elements are assembled in one large ball-like structure, which is meant to reclaim the urban landscape, and offset the privatization of public space.  Thus Siekmann opens for dialogue the notion that these corporate sponsored figures are usurping public spaces, which are perhaps better served by the individualized statements of visual artists.

 

The majority of the works in Münster Sculpture Project of 2007 reflect an intimate format, which contrasts with popular interest in works of epic proportions. However figuratively speaking, these works are larger than life in their power to convey timeless subjects and sage commentary. This raises the questions, is bigger really better and can art and ideas transform societies and social consciousness?  Clearly in the case of the Münster Sculpture Project the modest has found its place and has succeeded in making a large impact.

Other projects to consider, which are on view in Germany at this time are Documenta in Kassel, curated by Ruth Noack and Made in Germany hosted at three separate venues in the city of Hannover.

 

Documenta lack luster at best, does have its high points.  The show stopper by veteran choreographer Trisha Brown, is a 1971 installation called Floor of the Forest.  A brilliant installation and 20 minute performance contained within a quadratic web of rope and attached clothing, which the 3 performers slowly navigate, donning a spectrum of shirts, pants, and sweaters as they move along through the piece.  The artwork takes it name from a symphony of ever changing shadows, which play upon the floor.

 

Another memorable piece was a multiple channel video installation, The Lightning Testimonies of 2007 by Amar Kanwar from New Delhi, India. This work documents actual events in the history of India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh through which women have suffered sexual violence.  The flow of images, historical footage, shattered vessels, interviews and a panel play of natural elements provide a cathartic tribute, giving voice to all victims of these atrocities.  Another video work worth mentioning is "Who is listening?" from Yu Chin Tseng, which in one of its segments shows children being sprayed by the artist with milk.  This simple concept, recorded with a camera placed very close to the children is extremely revealing.  It show all the emotions that pass across the faces of the artist’s young subjects, from tense expectation, to borderline tears as the milk is ejected, and finally cheerful pride as they struggle to regain their composure. These works provide reason enough to make the passage to Kassel worth while.

 

Like the cherry on top of Schütte’s column in Münster, the real treat was in Hannover with the three-part exhibition entitled, "Made in Germany".   The three sites curated independently at Die Kestnergesellschaft by Eveline Bernasconi, Caroline Käding, and Frank-Thorsten Moll and at the Kunstverein Hannover by Martin Engler and the Sprengel Museum Hannover by Susanne Meyer-Büser, and Gabriele Sand contain the work of 52 artists born between 1961 and 1979 and presently working in Germany.  Marking the entrance of the Die Kestnergesellschaft is a remarkable, swaying chandalier the work of Stephan Hobar.    This show included some of the best video work coming out of Germany, artists like Candice Breitz, Nathalie Djurberg, Christoph Girardet, Christoph Keller, Bjorn Melhus, and Julian Rosenfeldt.  Other highlights are sensational installations, such as Bit Fall by Julius Popp, computer generated text written with falling water and a mysterious work entitled What the ? by RothStauffenberg a team composed of artists Christopher Roth and Franz von Stauffenberg.  These exhibitions, of mixed review ultimately make clear the vitality of the German art scene.

 

,      Taken from Sculpture Projects Muester 07, Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König, Köln

 

Kimberly Marrero is an Independent Art Advisor and Curator who also serves as an Arts Educator at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City. 

 

Ron Rocco is an Independent Curator, and multimedia artist who has shown in numerous venues worldwide and lives and works in New York and Berlin, Germany.