The fourth column*
Big Gestures, New Signs

Almost exactly two years ago I wrote my first web column, stating my ambitious aims as a run-up to the new exhibition programme. The art at the Fridericianum was to be human and humane, was to constitute “a pleading for the preconditions of humanity in the 21st century, yet to be defined”. The future in the Kunsthalle Fridericianum was to not be completely free of risks, was to be as courageous as possible, and was to now and then be provocative as well.

At that time, we were in the middle of preparations for the exhibition Deutsche Grammatik (German Grammar) by Christoph Büchel. In such phases many things are uncertain, especially when an exhibition is produced almost completely at the place where it is shown. At the Kunsthalle Fridericianum, we set ourselves the goal of bringing bigger gestures to the institution; to make powerful statements; to continually invite the new; not, as I often stress, “to enrich the world’s shippers and box makers,” but in a close dialogue between artists, curators and the space to put new messages into the world.

Büchel’s exhibition, which occupied the entire building as well as Friedrichsplatz outside, was a veritable collection of such new messages. Paying obsessive attention to detail, the artist confronted all of Kassel and Germany with a vision of German virtues and vices, which due to the temporary non-museum usage of the Fridericianum were able to take up residence in the building, as it were. Thus it came that the former House of Enlightenment was not only invaded by a pedestrian-zone aesthetics but also by a part of the country's recent history, the vestiges of a museum tradition and, additionally, a reflection on German democracy. Above all regarding the latter, which was realised in the form of Germany’s first political-party fair with 38 participating parties, an extremely heated dialogue emerged between the aforementioned partners – the artist, curators, and the space. Going beyond this dialogic triangle, Büchel’s politica touched visitors, politicians, and journalists alike and immediately and forcefully raised the issue of the freedom and autonomy of art. Incidentally, the first politica took place as part of the accompanying programme of Deutsche Grammatik, just as the first documenta accompanied the Bundesgartenschau (German Federal Horticultural Show).

After Büchel’s Deutsche Grammatik had moved out, the building’s function as a museum was quickly restored. With Daniel Knorr, Klara Lidén, Pawel Althamer, Latifa Echakhch and Navid Nuur, among others, we have, at the halfway point to the next documenta season, currently arrived at the exhibition (WHITE REFORMATION CO-OP) MENS SANA IN CORPORE SANO by Thomas Zipp. The entire museum has again been co-opted by one artist. Zipp examines very human issues such as norm and deviation, power and hierarchy, madness and normalcy in an overall conception that manifests itself in a vision of a psychiatric institution. Like Büchel, Zipp made use of space outside the building, and like Büchel, Zipp incorporated the neoclassical façade and the entrance hall. As fictional transformations of the function of the building, the two positions are similar. But Büchel’s fictional proximity to reality led to a completely different spatial perception than the prop-like theatricality of Zipp. However, Zipp’s architectural set pieces enable visitors to immerse themselves in artistic and artificial worlds just as much as the realistic shreds of Stasi files on the real bowling alley in Büchel’s imaginary pub ambience do. The big gestures of both artists are overwhelming, confusing, moving and confrontational – as was also the case with Althamer, Assaël, Lidén, Gaba, Echakhch, Nuur and others, to different degrees.

It has become clear to me during my first two years of activity in Kassel that the artistic practice just mentioned – with as much closeness as possible to the space – enables an curator to work well. On 26 and 27 March of this year, we held a symposium entitled Institution as Medium. Curating as Institutional Critique? in cooperation with the Zurich University of the Arts. During this conference, together with San Keller I conducted our second public preparation talk, called Pre-, Pre-, Pre-, Preview, in front of an expert audience of almost 200 (budding) curators. During the event, it became apparent to me that at the Kunsthalle Fridericianum the ominous institutional criticism can function exclusively via artistic positions, and not via the critical theories of the curator. In our eyes, namely, it is and remains extremely important to make the conditions for artistic gestures and signs as optimal as possible in the aforementioned triangle of artist, curator and space, so that exhibitions like the one discussed above can be realised at all and consequently the triangle can become a rectangle, with the visitors added.

The art at the Fridericianum should continue to be human and humane. In my first column, a term was missing in this context that I would like to include here: Malraux’ condition humaine as a hint at an existentialist positioning in the global time structure. May our future exhibitions revolve around this term in the broad sense.

Rein Wolfs
April 2010

* At irregular intervals the Kunsthalle Fridericianum is publishing a web column. This fourth column was written by the artistic director Rein Wolfs.

Rein Wolfs with Thomas Zipp, 'BLACK PATTEX', 2008.
Photo: Mario Zgoll

Rein Wolfs

Since January 2008 Rein Wolfs is the Artistic Director of the Kunsthalle Fridericianum. From 2002 until 2007 he was the Director of Exhibitions of the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam. In 2003 he curated the Dutch pavilion at the Venice Biennial. From 1996 until 2001 he was the first director of the Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst in Zurich.

Among his most important exhibitions were shows with Douglas Gordon, Maurizio Cattelan, Angela Bulloch and Cady Noland at Migros Museum and retrospective exhibitions with Bas Jan Ader and Rirkrit Tiravanija as well as large shows with Urs Fischer and Erik van Lieshout at Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen. At Kunsthalle Fridericianum he curated major exhibitions with Christoph Büchel, Pawel Althamer, Teresa Margolles, Thomas Zipp, Monica Bonvicini and Danh Vo and shows with Klara Lidén, Latifa Echakhch, Cyprien Gaillard, Nina Canell and Navid Nuur among others. For 2012 he is preparing an exhibition with the title 'The New Public' for Museion in Bolzano.


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