press release

180 Jahre Kunstverein München, 50 Jahre im Galeriegebäude am Hofgarten: Anlass genug für einen Blick zurück nach vorn. „Telling Histories“ wird Schlaglichter auf die Geschichte des Kunstvereins in den letzten Jahrzehnten werfen. Ausgehend von drei exemplarischen Ausstellungen („Poesie muß von allen gemacht werden! Verändert die Welt!“ / 1970, „Dove sta memoria“ von Gerhard Merz / 1986, „Eine Gesellschaft des Geschmacks“ von Andrea Fraser / 1993) soll das Projekt Anlass und Forum bieten, an die jeweils sehr engagiert geführten Debatten über die Rolle von kunstvermittelnden Institutionen anzuknüpfen und ihre Aktualität für die heutige kuratorische Praxis zu untersuchen. Die Künstlerin Mabe Bethônico (Belo Horizonte) hat sich hierfür auf eine Forschungsreise durch unser Archiv begeben und eine Präsentationsstruktur entwickelt, die aufschlussreiche Einblicke in das historische Material ermöglicht. Die formale Situation in den Räumen des Kunstvereins konzipiert und gestaltet Liam Gillick (London/New York). Begleitet und ergänzt wird die Ausstellung „Telling Histories“ durch drei „Talkshows“, die als öffentliche Podiumsdiskussionen den angestoßenen Diskurs weiterführen wollen (14., 16. und 17. Oktober) sowie das Symposium „Curating with light luggage“ (in englischer Sprache, 25. und 26. Oktober).

Curating with light luggage Symposium (5. - 26. Okt.)

One of the most unexpected usages of Kunstverein München's premises is probably as a place to organise illegal abortions in the early 1970s. During the same period it also housed for one of the first Women's Congress' in Germany. Sometime later, in 1985, a "revolution" took place for which the revolution-minded members actively looked for new members in order to get rid of the board and introduce a new artistic leadership - an event later described as a "neo-conservative turn". In 1970 a contribution to an exhibition by students from the Munich Art Academy led to the closing of the Kunstverein by the Bayerische Kultusministerium (Bavarian Ministry of Culture). Paul Breitner would have liked to do the same, as he and other players from the football club Bayern München visited the football-exhibition which took place at the Kunstverein. The exhibition was organised by Haimo Liebich, who is today a member of Munich's Stadtrat (city council); is he still not allowed to the stadium or does the ban from the "Kaiser" not apply to politicians? To this very day researchers are debating whether in 1937 the exhibition of "Degenerate Art" took place in the galleries of the Kunstverein or in the neighbouring part which houses the Theatre Museum.1 Some people also speculate that the property owned by the Kunstverein before WWII, and now partly covered by the building of the Staatskanzlei (the ofices of the Bavarian governement), never properly changed hands in the confused postwar period. If this is the case then the Bavarian State would owe the Kunstverein 58 years of rent, and the Kunstverein would be financially secure. However this security would be withdrawn if they were to find out about the LSD an Italian Arte-Povera artist forgot in 1969, and which is remains in the store room.

Telling histories is a project that encompasses the current re-organisation and extension of the institution's archive. It is moreover a project that looks at three of the important exhibitions from the Kunstverein's recent history so as to study their local reception Poetry must be made by all! Transform the world! from 1970, Dove sta memoria by Gerhard Merz from 1986 and Eine Gesellschaft des Geschmacks (A Society of Taste) by Andrea Fraser from 1993. The controversies that arose around these three exhibitions are not only interesting in retrospect, but also supply material for a continuing discussion of the role, function and meaning of art institu tions. All three exhibitions triggered engaged debates about how the effect of art and its relation to society is shaped by their institutional framework and its related expectations. With Telling histories, we want to attempt to make these subjects interesting not only to protagonists from the artworld and Kunstverein members, but also to the broader public; for the work of art institutions - especially as seen in the history of Kunstvereins - is closely bound up with so-called public education and the forming of public opinion.

The occasion for the project Telling histories is the 180th anniversary of the Kunstverein München, which this year can also look back on 50 years in the Gallery building by the Hofgarten. Since 1823, when a group of artists, architects and connoisseurs brought the Kunstverein into being, its exhibitions have not always found the approval of the Munich public, but have often offered occasions for lively discussions and also sometimes for serious debate. In spite of its interesting and noccasionally troubled past, the history of Germany's second oldest Kunstverein has been only partially documented.2 Telling histories is inspired by the view that an institution should address its history so as to project considered perspectives for the future. In the form of projects we intend to investigate the conditions which the art institution places when mediating work, so as to find new possibilities and freedoms in collaborations with artists in the use of this instrument.

In the past the Kunstverein München has frequently been the place where such questions about the parameters of institutional work have been posed, both theoretically and in the aesthetical/practical form of exhibition projects: for example, in 1995 by Stephan Dillemuths Sommerakademie (Summer Academy), in 1993 by Fareed Armaly's project Parts, in 1993 by Andrea Fraser's Eine Gesellschaft des Geschmacks (A Society of Taste) and already in 1970 in the exhibition Poetry must be made by all! Transform the world! under the directorship of Rainer Kallhardt. In 1971 Kallhardt wrote in relation to this: "Institutions arise when habit, habituation or consensus fixes definite forms of behaviour for definite situations. This fixation serves the orientation of action".3 We may infer that institutional forms and practices are intelligible in their historical development, but that their continued significance beyond the traditional context must be communicated again and again, as well as in a broader sense.

For example, the events surrounding the exhibition Poetry must be made by all! Transform the world! were interpreted quite differently by different commentators. Whereas Laszlo Glozer in 1970 spoke of a irradiation of the "hidden power-political networks"4 of the Munich art scene, and so emphasised the political effect, Juliane Roh in 1972 saw "terroristic means" at work, through which "venerable" Kunstvereins were to be "put to the use" of minorities, and concluded that "the task of the Kunstverein is now no longer to inform the public about contemporary art, but rather to undertake the enlightenment of the people through art"5. All of this was because a documentary exhibition at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, curated by the Englishman Ronald Hunt, which collated photos, texts and models that offered a retrospective on artistic activities from Russian Constructivism, Dadaism and Surrealism to the events of May, 1968 in Paris. In addition to five other locations, the Munich station of the exhibition was scheduled from 8 July to 16 August, 1970 in the Kunstverein, but was prematurely ended on 3 August. The title of the exhibition, composed from a quotation from Lautréamont and one from Marx, is altogether in the spirit of the exhibited artistic and revolutionary projects: to work "revolutionarily and creatively",6 and no longer to assign artistic production and the shaping of society to different spheres of activity. The exhibition was composed of 5 parts. The main element consisted of 24 steel panels, 300 x 125 cm, on which altogether 230 enlarged photographs were presented about the theme. The panels were supplemented by free-standing objects: reconstructions and models, a lavishly producd and thematically organised catalogue,7 a "Book Café", a programme of seminars, films and discussion evenings; and the so-called "Fourth Wall", a tabula rasa which was made free for communication, commentary and other uses. In the Munich display of the travelling exhibition, this locally variable element was to become of particular importance. Specifically for Munich, Rainer Kallhardt, it's host in the city, decided to include the students of the Munich Academy of Arts and to turn responsibility for the "Fourth Wall" over to them.

In 1968/69, in an angry confrontation with large parts of the faculty and the Bavarian Ministry for Education and Culture, the students occupied the Academy and painted and wrote slogans on the walls. "Academy Turned into Pig-Sty" was the headline of Bild, the leading German tabloid.8 Kallhardt invited the students to reconstruct the wall paintings and other actions from the days of the rebellion in the Kunstverein, and so to set a local counter-part to the Stockholm exhibition with their own revolutionary artistic praxis. In the documentary photos of Branko Senjor, the resulting environment of wall texts and paintings, text posters, objects and a shelf of books with "revolutionary literature" becomes a collage of texts, photos, copies, commentary, painting and slogans, which grew thicker and thicker on the walls and floors of the Kunstverein in the course of the exhibition. One element, for example, was the documentation of the correspondence between the Academy Professor Hermann Kaspar, still employed in 1970, and Albert Speer, in which the Professor ingratiatingly recommends himself for the position of war-painter in England.

The provocative power of the exhibition probably lay in the actual emergence of its form from the artistic-political posture of a collective and their experience of the available social and academic roles, instead of from an intended aesthetic without an informing content. Although the installation was frequently dismissed as "adolescent", Laszlo Glozer aptly observed "that the students made no mistakes about the sources of their annoyance".9 Under pressure by the Bavarian Kultusministerium (Ministry of Culture), the head of Kunstverein's Board of Directors, Siegfried Janzen, demanded that Kallhardt close the Fourth Wall. This aroused a chorus of protest against the Board of Directors and national support for Kallhardt initiated by Karl Ruhrberg, Eberhard Roters and Uwe M. Schneede. Nevertheless, the Board resolved to close the students' contribution to the exhibition and somewhat later succeeded in doing so. As a consequence of these actions, which contradicted the concept and content of the exhibition, Moderna Museet insisted on breaking off the entire exhibition, and Swedish newspapers spoke of terrifying tendencies of censorship in Germany.

In retrospect, the exhibition may be said to have realised in a singular way the concern frequently formulated in the 60s and 70s that an art institution should also be a platform for actions and groups with non-artistic or not exclusively artistic goals.10 Poetry must be made by all! Transform the world! also showed the fronts that are formed by the demand for a non-committal aesthetic without political implications on the one hand, and that for a socially efficacious art onthe other, whenever the opportunity arises.

Perhaps even more controversial was Gerhard Merz's Dove sta memoria (19 September - 26 October 1986),11 as the numerous documented reactions both during and after the exhibition demonstrate. What some commentators found to be an exceptional achievement12, "of shockingly strong impressiveness" 13 and a "legendary event in the history of art in Munich" 14, others considered it a "calculatedly perverse game with the evocation and mixing of monumentality, sublimity and National Socialist symbols" 15, an "in every sense dubious exhibition" 16. Dove sta memoria was thus the trigger for an extended debate about the permissibility of fascistic iconography and about the possibility and limits of historical reconstructions.

In autumn of 1986 Gerhard Merz covered the entire upper storey of the freshly renovated Kunstverein with extensive wall paintings in the colours of caput mortuum and turquoise - a response to the architecture of the rooms that underscored and reinforced their classical character.17 The title of the exhibition - Where is memory in English - is a quotation from Ezra Pound's Pisan Cantos, written in 1945 when the poet was imprisoned for anti-American propaganda. An enlarged, monochrome silk-screen print of the Saint Sebastian of Cima da Congeliano (from about 1500) dominates the large exhibition room in its central position, not unlike an altar panel. In the back room Merz put a pillar with a sacrificial bowl on top, reminiscent not only of the lamps that were used at artistic events during the Third Reich or in the National Socialist death-cult, but also of the bowl of fire that is used to this day as a symbol of the Olympic Games. Opposite these, he placed a monochrome silk-screen print of an enlarged section from the cover picture of the National Socialist exhibition Degenerate Art: the sculpture The New Man by Otto Freundlich. The German-Jewish artist was murdered in a concentration camp six years after his work was shown at the defamatory Nazi propaganda exhibition in the Gallery building by the Hofgarten. In the front room, at the back of the stairs, another out-sized monochrome picture was placed like the one in the large room, but here positioned horizontally and was combined with the monochrome silk-screen print of an old photograph in which the human bones in the capuchin crypt in Rome could be seen.

In the controversy surrounding the historically, aesthetically and architecturally conceived exhibition, Merz was mainly reproached with having used the aesthetic of power and created a work that was not free from fascist implications. Interestingly, all the descriptions of the exhibition, whether from contemporary news reports in the daily press, articles in specialist journals, later essays and dissertations, or whether from advocates or from opponents, make use of the same language.18 Concepts such as "holy", "sublime", "hierarchical", "harmonious", "timeless", "ambivalent" or "pathetic" recur again and again, just as do references to absolute effect and radical form, to modernism and to post-modernism, associations with monuments and memorials, or comparisons to Kasimir Malevich and Ad Reinhardt.

Defenders of the exhibition were fascinated by the beauty or the intellectual complexity19 of the installation, which they approached with a certain awe. Between the lines of the commentaries there breathes an enthusiasm of a special kind: at last it seemed possible to approach the problematic German past through the agreeable means of the formally beautiful. Ingrid Rein thought highly of Merz's attempt, free from the usual moralizing, to "de-nazify" an ideologically loaded aesthetic, by focussing, according her commentary, on processes of perception and reflection. She is one of several writers who claim that Dove sta memoria deals with and questions psychic mechanisms rather than certain forms and therefore leaves it up to the viewer to make up her/his mind.20 Other critics even saw"new points of entry into the reception of fascism".21 The opponents of the work, on the other hand, rejected its monumentality 22 and criticised its blending out of reality.23 Besides the objection of having used fascist iconography in a careless and naive way, the attacks concentrated above all on how the artist and the exhibition invoked an aura of timelessness through the exclusion of all references to reality and an almost sacrally celebrated presentation. In this attempt to place oneself beyond history, critics suspected that parallels to Nazi ideology existed.24 It is worth noting that the interpretations of both the work's advocates and its opponents differ from that of the artist, who insisted that he worked exclusively in the aesthetic sphere and not with political statements.25 By the end of the debate, Gerhard Merz had turned his back on Munich; the city seemed no longer to offer fruitful surroundings for his creative work to him.26

The contemporary reception of Dove sta memoria opens a broad field of possible and necessary questions. Thus one cannot help but investigate the role played by the sensuous and emotional monopolising of the viewer through the sheer size and apparent impressiveness of the exhibition -both for the positive, as for the negative reactions it instigated. Did the splendour and sublimity of the work correspond in a certain respect, as Roberto Ohrt thought, with the Munich public's expectations and image of itself - here, in a former royal residence.27 What is the importance of Gerhard Merz being a local artist in putting this show on the international art map?28 Finally, in what way did the conditions of the time shape the debate?

In 1985 and 1986 essays by Martin Broszat and Ernst Nolte triggered the so-called Historikerstreit (Historian's Controversy), which, to simplify, pertained to two chief questions: was the mass murder of the Jews unique, or was it comparable to other cases of genocide? Does history have a social and political function. The critics imputed that the "revisionists" sought a unification of the image of German history. Jürgen Habermas classified their theses and adherents as part of a right-wing historiographic offensive. The Historikerstreit made the subject of National Socialism a current affair again, but because of the heated manner of argument, they remained relatively poor in clarifying information. Still, for the first time since the second world war, it seemed possible to take a relativising posture towards National Socialism before the German public. One sign of this change was that at the symposium "Kunst und Faschismus" (Art and Fascism), held in November 1987 at the Munich Academy of Arts, the work of Gerhard Merz was also discussed. As Poetry must be made by all! Transform the world!, so with Dove sta memoria: again the programme of the Kunstverein became the object of a public debate, and the art institution became the platform for the development of the debate.

Andrea Fraser's exhibition Eine Gesellschaft des Geschmacks (20 January - 7 March, 1993)29 was developed in co-operation with the nine members of the Kunstverein's Board of Directors. The project began with an interview with every individual member of the Board. The 27 hours of tape-recorded interviews were then transcribed, edited and printed anonymously in the exhibition catalogue. To the interviewees Fraser posed questions like "When did you first become involved with art?", or "Do you own art objects? What service do you think the Kunstverein provides in Munich? Do you think the Kunstverein is a location for a particular social group?"30 Among the answers were comments like: "Art was something that was less boring than other things."31, "I couldn't imagine a life without art. That sounds very pathetic, but I really couldn't imagine that."32 or "we are all like members of a society of taste"33. Later the interviewees recorded a spoken version of the texts in a recording studio, and this was edited into a one and a half hour collage which could be heard at the exhibition as an acoustic installation. In addition, 25 works of art belonging to members of the Board were shown in the rooms of the Kunstverein without indications of the names of the artists or of the owners. The centre of the large hall was marked by two museum benches that were supplied by the Haus der Kunst.

The institution of the Kunstverein interested Andrea Fraser as a social site which mirrors structures of the bourgeois public and where social struggles for position are thrashed out. Art here was understood as a social and cultural phenomenon that can be analysed and investigated. Fraser's method of approach, which dealt with "services" more than pictures and objects of art, was a novelty in Munich in 1993 - that is testified to by the contemporary reactions in the press. A series of critics found an aesthetic signature lacking and questioned whether Fraser's intentions were specifically artistic. "It has nothing to do with a normal exhibition", insisted one commentator.34 Repeatedly it was objected that the translation of documentary material into the format of an exhibition had miscarried. On the other hand, many critics approved of the change of perspective by which the artist slipped into the role of sociologist. The attempt from this perspective to scrutinise the "Kunstverein" institution and to make visible the limits of artistic production was also widely welcomed. Fraser's critique of institutions investigated, according to the then director of the Kunstverein Helmut Draxler, how the functional freedom of art, maintained by its modern understanding, is shaped both socially and politically by institutions. The critic Christian Kravagna noticed an "aesthetic schizophrenia" among the Board of Directors, and proposed for discussion the question of whom and in whose interest the Kunstverein really existed.35 It transpired that the desire for an international reputation and a prominent place on the artistic map were clear and constant motives of the Board of Directors. The interests of the public, on the other hand, played a slighter role; thus critics found complementary interviews with the "customers" were missing, especially with those who actually visited the exhibition. Kravagna's criticism was aimed in a similar direction: it saw the trouble with the exhibition above all in the detachment of Fraser's observations. Finally Jochen Becker, as considered Eine Gesellschaft des Geschmacks as a kind of symbiosis, contributed an important comment: the institution makes rooms, time and money available to Fraser, and she, in a counter-move, initiates a project that fulfils certain expectations and is of use to the institution.36 Her research thus functioned as a sort of institutional dissection which brought the actual conditions of the Kunstverein to light. It is revealing that one member of the Board of Directors felt herself to have been manipulated by this denuding operation and demanded (in vain) the removal of his own comments from the interview transcript.

The significance of the three exhibitions does not lie alone in their controversial reception in Munich; beyond this, they offer an insight into the many different artistic and curatorial "philosophies" that have been reflected in the work of the Kunstverein, and offer examples in which the intense German debate since the 1970s about the role of cultural institutions is sharply visible. Poetry must be made by all! Transform the world! is a singularly clear instance of the deliberate "alienation" of an art institution from its traditional goals by making it into a platform for political discussion and collective action. The documentary presentation of carefully selected historical material (and thus the waivering of "real" art works), together with the treatment of current subjects which were occasionally addressed directly in the context of the exhibition, proved to be, at least in Munich, an explosive mixture.

Gerhard Merz pursued a diametrically opposed strategy. He concentrated on the architecture of the Gallery building by the Hofgarten and its potential for atmospherically charged installations by using the specific characteristics of the building and its historical connotations as his starting-point. Both art and the shell that envelops it were, according to his idea, thus lifted and isolated from the everyday, forming an autonomous sphere whose independent inner spirit was to be explored. It is only consistent with this idea that the artist appears here in the role of the soloist who masters his instrument - the public - all by himself, and celebrates his image in the protected biotope of a splendidly decorated stage belonging to him alone. Andrea Fraser, in turn, uses the institution quite uninhibitedly as an object of sociological analysis. A process of making transparent the special membership structures of the Kunstverein and the significance of the institution in the formation of social, political and even economic values; and the Kunstverein in turn could expect to be the beneficiary of clarificatory and explanatory information about its function which in future could serve as the foundation for rational decisions. That this field-research should finally have debouched in an exhibition in the rooms of this particular Kunstverein appears, in retrospect, not to have been absolutely necessary. The project could probably also have fulfilled its envisaged purpose in another form; for instance, purely as a publication.

Telling histories will operate at various exhibitory and communicative levels, and includes artists whose stubborn style of working can productively confuse and open its concept. The first module of Telling histories is an exhibition for which parts of the institution's archive will be made available; the fundamental question about the meaning of history forms its conceptual frame. How should the recent past be dealt with, what form of presentation does justice to material which can be read and understood anew with every new examination? The artist Mabe Bethônico (Belo Horizonte) has set off on a research trip through the archives; more from an artistic than an historiographic perspective, she will open views for the exhibition visitor into the archive's still growing structure, which as a flexible "memory" receives, stores and transforms information. Since the early 1990s she has worked with extensive artistic projects encompassing archiving, for instance daily collecting of newspaper images through the fictive character of "the collector", and a fictive museum "museu Museu". Bethônico's goal for Telling histories is a visualisation that proceeds from the numerical surface of the facts and opens and extends a possible way of reading the archival material. The emerging "knowledge" about the institution allows inferences of the social system of people who, in its organisational and communicative processes, justify its production. Loosely along the lines of Bethônico's researches and of conceptual considerations from the Kunstverein, the artist Liam Gillick (London/New York) is providing a spatial situation which, preliminarily speaking, may be called the setting of the entire project. It is his concern so to intervene in the spatial arrangement of the project so that the chief quality of the archives, their potentiality, is preserved instead of being fixed in a definite way of reading: a project-immanent corrective.

As medial set-ups for the three selected "key exhibitions", the project of three public "talk shows", which will be staged in the exhibition room with the necessary technical means, will serve as the second module. As invited guests on the shows, several of the participants in the key exhibitions will find their way back to the scene of past events and discuss those events from a contemporary point of view. The Kunstverein will become a stage that offers the opportunity of rousing memories, reviving discussions and placing new perspectives in the limelight. The talk shows will be filmed, edited and shown at the exhibition. Some of the stylistic clichés of well-known talk shows will be quoted. The subjects and guests on the shows will be Poetry must be made by all! Transform the world! on 14 October, with Lydia Hartl, Rainer Kallhardt, Alfred Lachauer, Haimo Liebich, Ingrid Rein and Bernhart Schwenk; A Society of Taste on 16 October, with Bazon Brock, Gabriele Czöppan, Helmut Draxler, Ingrid Rein and Birgit Sonna; and Dove sta memoria on 17 October, with Klaus vom Bruch, Zdenek Felix, Martina Fuchs, Michaela Melián and Peter Strassl. The moderator will be Søren Grammel.

The symposium (5 - 26 Oct.) Curating with light luggage functions as a third module to the project. The symposium reflects on historical and actual models of art institutions and organisations that deal with the production and circulation of art and ideas in an experimental and flexible way. It takes into consideration the complexity of artistic practises produced since the 1960s that can adopt a wide range of variable formats, in many cases focused on strategies that establish relations between different systems or disciplines rather than producing a final visual object. How can these structures exist in places where there is not an established art institution with an infrastructure present in regions such as Western Europe or the USA? How do you make these platforms possible and effective without making them into something with a permanent or rigid state? How do you use the support of an institution and still have space for production and circulation in an experimental and flexible way? On the other hand, how do you have a certain continuity without the support of an institution?

Invited participants are Minerva Cuevas, artist and founder of the company Mejor Vida Corporation, Clémentine Deliss, independent curator, publisher of Metronome, and director of Future Academy; Cristina Freire, curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art of the University of São Paulo; Liam Gillick, artist; Jaroslaw Kozlowski, artist and writer on artist initiatives from the 60s in Eastern Europe; Hans-Ulrich Obrist, curator at Musée d'art moderne de la ville de Paris and of Museum in Progress, and editor in chief of Point d'Ironie; Barbara Steiner, director of Galerie für Zeitgenössische Kunst in Leipzig.

only in german

telling histories
Archiv - Ausstellung - Fallstudien - Talkshows - Symposium
Kuratoren: Sören Grammel, Maria Lind

Teilnehmer: Andrea Fraser, Gerhard Merz, Minerva Cuevas, Clementine Deliss, Cristina Freire, Liam Gillick, Jaroslaw Kozlowski, Ivo Mesquita, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Barbara Steiner, Mabe Bethonico, Lydia Hartl, Rainer Kallhardt, Alfred Lachauer, Haimo Liebich, Ingrid Rein, Bernhart Schwenk, Bazon Brock, Gabriele Czöppan, Helmut Draxler, Ingrid Rein, Birgit Sonna, Klaus vom Bruch, Zdenek Felix, Martina Fuchs, Michaela Melian, Peter Strassl ...