lne Gevers curator  \  writer  \  activist

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Avantgarde Strategies and Curatorial Interventions Today

I started the seminar 'Curating and its limits' with introducing myself as a curator and by reflecting on the practice of curating in general. This was continued with a lecture on an historical analyses of museumpractices, according to the method of 'critical history' of Michel Foucault. Next I gave a paper on the shifts of interests within the develop­ment of the Documenta-exhibitions ( from representing the grand narrative of the history and triumph of Modern Art, falling apart during the '60 and leading to a focuss on the curator as author that proved to be an even more fruitfull instrument of legitima­tion in the 170s and '80s). This presentation was meant as an introduction to the visit of Catherine David, organisor of DX, whom I interviewed the next day. Today, I would like to close these series on dominant practices of curating and focuss on artistic and curatorial interventions of a different order. Curatorial practices that do not belong to the dominant mode of exhibiti­on-making are the subject of today; strategies in presentation that seem to divert or even are seen as subversive in relation to the -often non-reflected- rules of the game. To start this field of investigation I want to return to the first decennia of the 20th century and refer to the practices of avantgarde artists of that time. From there I can decipher some lines of interest that have been picked up and sometimes are radically reworked by for instance second and third avantgarde generations. Concluding we could look at some contemporary artistic and curatorial interven­tions which I would relate more to this avantgarde tradition than to a more dominant mode of exhibitionmaking.

When I used the term avantgarde just now, of course the lecture of Susan Buck-Morss in Jan van Toorn' symposium 'Design beyond Design'crossed through my mind. Although I was inspired by the general tone of her lecture and could go along with her concluding remarks, I have to correct her rather quick attempt to place and name the whole history of avantgarde art of this century. With just a few references to the changing political dimensi­on of constructivist art (the implication of the square in the work of Malevich and Lissitsky), she started to describe the demolition of the 'square' (confusing it with rectangles) untill it became, in her words, nothing more than an empty sign at the time Newman painted his 'Who is afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue' and Ryman his monochro­mes. Not only as an arthistorian but also artphilosophically I have to object to this inadequate representation of such a complex and articulated artistic development. I did not openly attack her on this as it would have taken the attention away from her conclusion, which focussed on the intervention as possible strategy. The intervention as acontinuati­on of politics, for instance by appropria­ting the inappropriate, changes continuously accor­ding to each time and space. For this reason there can never be a final answer on what is 'art' and what is 'politics'. Using works of Fred Wilson and Krystof Wodiczko as examples she points at possible strategies that are taken up by artists who actually make art as a continua­tion of politics: strategies of temporal intervention or spatial displacement. Art should, as she stated, attack those structures and habits that feed our sense of compliance. It should interrupt, either by stopping time, slowing down or even referring back in time, or whatever other possible strategy is adequate. And this practice is not to be limited to art practices only. These kinds of subversive practices should actually be performed within all possible discursive fields within the cultural sphere (f.i. within the practice of curating). If only to keep us awake and to gard us from becoming completely numb and without resistance to the violence that is done to others and even to ourselves day after day. Violence, for instance of taking over power, the violence of appropriating other peoples voices that once enabled them to speak for themselves, seems to have become accepted at all levels. The pain that is implicated in this violence, however, is completely removed from the stage.       

As Buck-Morss pointed out as well, avantgarde, a term combining art and politics, has never been a clear, transparant or unanimous notion. An article that gives clear insight in the complex confusion that went with the usage of the term from the very beginning is "The idea of avant-garde in art and politics", published in 1970 by Donald E. Egbert.

He pointed out that the figurative use of the word avant-garde to denote radically progressive leaders of both art and society can be traced to Henri de Saint-Simon (1760-1825), the great French utopian socialist, acknowledged as the predecessor of Karl Marx and as such ancestor of modern communism. In his Le nouveau Christianisme, published in Paris in 1825, he envisaged a new christianity, based on a feeling of universal harmony, humanitarism, sympathy and love. He completely rejected the clergy of the old Christianity though as being utterly unsuited for promoting such a feeling. He believed that instead artists (=men of imagination), as a new kind of priesthood, were best fitted to move mankind to progress by stimula­ting sentiment. As he sought to give artists a leading role in the forthcoming good society, he placed them at the head of an elite administrative trinity, consisting of artists, scientists and industrialists-artisans. In expressing the conceptions of an artistic avant-garde and of a social vanguard, conceptions equally important for the history of modern art and of modern social radicalism, Saint-Simon used the word 'avant-garde' to convey both. The doctrines of Saint-Simon then, are the first clear foreshadowings of later developed marxist theories of a society and art, according to which society would be highly centralized under the direction of an elite group, with the end of art to be social utility achieved by making works of art didactic and easily understood by the masses.

From then onwards a split in interpretation was unavoidable. Social radicals, including the followers of Marx, whose interests were to be basically political and economic, followed this conception of art that tended to equate art with social propagana. Untill recently one can find its apologists, among whom f.i. Barbara Kluger or Alfredo Jaar. At the opposite pole, already shortly after the text of Saint-Simon was published, were some who accepted the kind of leading role which Saint-Simon gave to the artist gladly but who completely rejected his belief that art should be devoted to achieving social goals and therefore necessarily be functional, utalitarian, didactic and easily understandable. Anyhow, it is clear that out of Saint-Simon's conception of the artists'role there developed an enduring dilemma for the radical artists of that time, a dilemma that -in a slightly changed form- still is vivid within the artistic discourse today. Should the artist devote his art directly to forwarding radical social ideas as a member of an elite social avant-garde in accordance with the later doctrines of Saint-Simon and, still later, those of marxists or even Marxist-Leninists? And if so, should this art be socially realistic? (Jacques Louis David, Gustave Courbet) Or, on the contrary, should the artist consider himself to be simply a member of a purely artistic avant-garde? These questions became even stronger when by 1880 the idea of a political vanguard was related directly to 'the working class parties' according to the ideas of Marx and Engels. Marxists became accustomed to using avant-garde as a political term, culminating in Lenin who actually carried the Marxist conception of the party as consituting the political 'vanguard' to its ultimate conclusion by using the word avant-garde exceptionally for this enterprise: the communist party itself became the one true social and political avant-garde.

Although we are quite ready to accept formalist readings when we look at the paintings, and especcially when we focuss on the subject-matters of works of neo-impressionist and symbolist artists at the turn of this century, they had not lost their social and anarchistic interest. On the contrary, they were very aware of the developing split between their social views and the subjects of their works of art, about which they worried. But they instincti­vely felt that art must be much more than social propaganda. It is this complicated agenda at the basis of early avant-garde practice that set the tone for many interesting, though at the same time complex and fragmentary works of the early futurists, constructi­vists, dadaists, and surrealists.

How should we adress this historical avantgarde? What was their goal and what did they accom­plish? Peter Burger, a German marxist and artcritic and one of the first to falsifie the dominant narration of Modern Art (dedicated to a formal development leading to abstraction, came up with an answer). The intention of the historical avant-garde was, accor­ding to him, to destroy the false ideology of aesthetic autonomy of bourgeois art in order to reintegrate art and life. Their aim was to bridge the gap between their engage­ment with social and political life and their artistic production. For Burger the historical avant-garde ultimately failed (although it failed heroical­ly) in doing so: Duchamp failed to destroy traditio­nal art categories, Breton and Aragon failed to reconcile subjective transgression and social revolution, and the Constructivists failed to make the cultural means of production collective. With Hal Foster I would like to argue for a slightly different understanding. As these artists understood very well the difference between their social and political interests in life and their artistic production, facing the fact that there would always be this gab between lived reality and a work of art, avantgarde artists began to construct their own 'realities'. Without pretending to describe or analyse 'real life' objectively or even to influence it in any direct way, they started developing imaginary contexts. Constructivists, dadaist and surrea­lists did not describe existing worlds, wether the artworld or real life, in terms of socio-political images or otherwise. Far from expressing some total truth, they demonta­ged and deconstructed existing contexts into the irreducibili­ty of private, individual positions and languages. They contructed their own models. Models within which existing relations and conventions were either mimicked or critici­sed, distorted and displaced as well as revised. Models that could serve as contexts within which to test existing and non-existing codes, conventions, positions and forms of communication. Contexts that perhaps, ultimately, thematised exactly their failure to actually relate art and life. I quote Foster: "For the most acute avant-garde artists such as Duchamp, the aim is neither an abstract negation of art nor a romantic reconciliation with life but a perpetual testing of the conventions of both. Thus, rather than false, circular, and otherwise affirmative, avant-garde practice at its best is contradictory, mobile, and dialectical, even rhizoma­tic". Crucial dimensions of this historical avantgarde's art practice were for instance its mimetic functions. Dadaist artists used strategies of miming the degraded world of capitalist modernity in order not to embrace it but to mock it (Cologne Dada)(afb ). The utopic dimension, whereby the avant-garde does not pose what could be so much as what cannot be -precisely, again, as a critique of what is (de Stijl)(afb ), was important too. Foster characterizes the historical avant-garde as both contextual and performative: "contextual in the sense that the cabaret nihilism of the Zurich branch of Dada is a critical elaboration of the nihilism of World War I, or that the aesthetic anarchism of the Berlin branch of Dada is a critical elaboration of the anarchism of a country defeated militarily and torn up political­ly; and performative in the sense that both these attacks on art are waged, necessarily, in relation to its languages, institutions, structures of meaning, expectation, and reception. It is in this rhetorical relation that avant-garde rupture and revolution are located".(afb ) Fosters' reading of the historical avantgarde practices and interventions does, to my opinion, not exclude the aim of reintensifying the relation between art and life, it does however show the complexity of how these artists actually mimicked and tried out different dimensions of 'reality' in order to eventually effect socio-political developments. In terms of responsibility for socio-political questions, even to the extend of influencing social decisionmaking, the Russian avant-garde was perhaps the most succesfull (although it didn't last for long, 1917-1920).

I want to make a jump to the '60s and '70s and look at how the so-called first and second generations of neo-avantgarde artists have picked up and reworked the heritage of the historical avantgarde. My aim is to understand the historical difference between these avantgarde movements and to compare them with the renewed social/political engagement of artistic and curatorial practices of the 90s.

Again following Foster, who declared that it is not true that the historical avant-garde failed to integrate art and life, like Burger concluded, but that these artists tried to shape the conditions to actually test relations, dialogues or even models of communica­tion inbetween various fields. If the historical avant-garde practice does not necessarily have to be interpreted as a failure in terms of institutional critique for instance, as it was more a rhetorical attack of conventi­ons, both abstract and anarchistic, then how did the neo-avantgarde work to extend this? They might have accomplished more than just inverting the critique of the insitution of autonomous art into its very affirmation, as Burger concluded. Foster argues that instead of cancelling the project of the historical avant-garde, the neo-avant-garde might have comprehended it for the first time. Not immediate­ly: the first attempts to understand the nature of the historical avantgarde practice by neo-avantgarde artists of the fifties such as Robert Rauschenberg, Allen Kaprow, Piero Manzoni or Yves Klein, led to an institutionalisation of both practices.

As soon as this moment of its institutionali­sation arrived, however, it was the second generation of neo-avantgar­de, among whom Marcel Broodthaers, Daniel Buren and Michael Asher in the 1960's, that thoroughly under­stood that by its first repetition the avant-garde heritage "was made to appear historical before it was allowed to become effective, i.e., before its aesthetic-political ramifications could be sorted out, let alone elaborated". In other words, this becoming-institutional prompted the second neo-avantgarde into a creative analysis of the limitations of both historical and first generation neo- avantgar­des. These elaborations included, according to Foster: "the developing of paradigms like the readymade from an object that purports to be transgressive in its facticity (as in its first neo repetition), to a device that adresses the seriality of objects and images in advanced capitalism (as in Minimalist and Pop art), to a proposition that explores the linguistic dimension of the work of art (as in Conceptual art), to a marker of physical presence (as in site-specific art of the 1970's), to a form of critical mimicry of various discourses (as in allegorical art of the 1980's), and, finally, to a probe of sexual, ethnic, and social differences today (as in the work of such diverse artists as Sherrie Levine, David Hammons, and Robert Gober)". Foster's conclusion reads as follows: it was not the historical avant-garde but rather the neo-avant-garde that began to fully understand the role of the institution of art and adressed it as such. Its creative analysis was at once specific and deconstructive (rather than abstract and anarchistic), and as such the second generation neo-avantgarde artists enacted the project of the historical avantgar­de instead of inverting it. Last but not least contempo­rary artists, referred to as the third generation neo-avantgarde, have moved away from the grand oppositions of revolutio­nary language (still in use by second generation artists) that strongly echoed the oracular, often machistic pronouncements of the high modernists. Feminist critique, for instance, has chastened revolutionary language, and others who where suspicious about the exclusivity not just of art institutions but of critical discourses have influenced contempo­rary art practices as well. As a consequence, artists like Louise lawler, Silvia Kolbow­ski, Christopher Williams and Andrea Fraser have moved to more subtle displacements and/or strategic collaborations with different social groups (for instance Fred Wilson and Mark Dion).   

If we look at contemporary artistic strategegies that are being developed in order to create contexts for 'temporal intervention' and 'spatial displacement'(terms that seem to have a much longer history than we might have guessed at first instance), it becomes clear how the avantgarde strategies of historical periods are being used and tested on their validity once again. Due to conceptual and contextual artists of the '60s and '70s some tactics have not made it through selection, such as the pursuing of oppositional practices or the rejecting of dominant aesthetical forms. The main shift has been 'from oppositional practices towards monolithical institutions to multiple connections with fragmented instituti­ons' (Martin Lucas). In order to be able to transform things, even within a definite setting of frames, artists such as Rirkit Tiravanija, Philippe Parreno, Christian Philip Muller, Andrea Fraser a.o. do not hesitate to collaborate, manipulate, find a common ground (language), use technologies, to think globally but act locally, to use the tools for cultural production, turn to aesthetics that can only be shared by a small group, to abuse intervention (wether appropriate or inappropriate) and to de-mystify the status of the artist as well as that of the work. All these instru­ments are directed at the shifting of positions, identities and roles of artists and observers. Not so much the object and author are of interest here, but more the contexts, the processes and the observer. Even the de-mystifi­cation of the status of the artist as well as that of the work are not excluded from the above-mentioned strategies. Many contemporary artists even prefer the notion of the artist to become an open signifyer or at least allow themselves to shift identities in anticipation of the different agents that need to be adressed. According to the outcome of the work­shop 'Artists' Strategies' within the conference Beyond Ethics and Aesthetics many of the artists were ready to support the lable 'artists formerly known as artists'.

Many of the strategies discussed above could be grouped together as being 'context- and observer'-oriented rather than 'object-and author'-oriented. As such many avantgarde strategies up untill now strongly oppose dominant models of represention as they have been practiced by many musea and other institutions of art within the West throughout the 20th century. I would now like to look at some curatorial strategies, of the past and present. Strategies which, instead of following the dominant 'object- and author' oriented model, are closer to the 'context- and observer' oriented model which was being explored by the historical avantgarde as well as the neo-avantgardes.

Among the earliest 'avantgarde' museumdirectors and curators was the Alexander Dorner (1893-1957), director of the Landesmuseum in Hannover from 1923 till 1936. As a result of his daily practice with the presentation of art (old and contemporary), his engagement with the avantgarde movement of his time and the experience of working together with artists such as El Lissitzky and Moholy Nagy, he developed a theory of the 'living museum'. This 'living museum' was to construct a way of transcending the old boundaries of the 'Institution of Art', in order to arrive at a reintegration of art and modern society, in which film and other techniques would play a role that would be as important as painting and sculpture were in former times.

Later, in his book Uberwindung der Kunst (1959), he made a carefully worked out plan of how such a museum could be realised. Dorners view on presentations could be described as operational instead of reflexive, process-oriented instead of static; 'superindividual evolutionary' instead of 'individual-aesthetic' (Leering). His experiments with Lissitzky and Moholy-Nagy were essential in this respect.  

The plans for a Raum der Gegenwart, developed by Moholy-Nagy, is exemplary(slide 17). In the sketches for this space there was no longer a place for the traditional disciplines of art. In the Centre was a light-machine by Moholy-Nagy, and at the walls on either side large photographs were to represent the importance of modern architectural development and industrial design. These disciplines, together with typography, film and photography, were to be the newest contributions to the visual language of modern society. Two projection screens would be constantly at ones disposal for simultaneous displays of short films, of which one would be documentary and the other abstract.   This elaborate plan, which unfortunately was not realised - at first - because of budgetary reasons, and after 1933 for political reasons (the Nazis taking over power), does give insight into the tremendously far-reaching consequences promised by a presentation such as this. To give you some visual clues; I have a slide of an exhibition organised by M. Nagy together with Walter Gropius (Bauhaus): The Werkbund-exhibition in Paris, 1930. It was this exhibition that inspired Dorner to invite Moholy-Nagy to make the 'Raum der Gegenwart' (dia 18).

It was in 1938 that Willem Sandberg, as curator of the Stedelijk Museum of Amsterdam and under the directorship of Cornelis Roell, organised his first important experiment in the terms of presenting art. Sandbergs presentation Abstrakte Kunst (1938) can be regarded as an interesting mixture of the two models of exhibitionmaking, discussed above: the 'object- and author' oriented model (individual aesthetic approach) and the 'context- and observer' oriented one (superindividual-evolutionar approach). Biographers refer to Sandberg's left-oriented political stance and his overall social involvement, strongly influenced by his training as a typographer and his educational skills, in order to account for his broad interest for 'visual culture' in general instead of the Art with a capital A only.

However, and this is important, sharp divisions were still made between Art (with capital A), and other practices within the field of visual culture (design, architecture, film, graphics, vernacular culture etc.). The exhibition Abstrakte Kunst was organised by Sandberg in collaboration with the architect Mart Stam. Stam had been working with Mies van der Rohe in Berlin, and was acquainted with El Lissitzky. Stam and Sandberg were well aware of the position they took in the discourse around museum-policies and strategies in presentations, a discussion on the historical/thematical versus the aesthetic approach that went on in Germany as well as in the Netherlands from the early years of this century on. Their exhibition was characterized by the 'assymetrical scattering effect' (dia 31/32) which resulted from the complex arrangements in which the paintings, maquettes and models were hung and placed on different heights and in their various spatial relations. It must have felt like walking through a three dimensional version of a neo-plasticist painting. In a way one could categorize this approach as 'observer-oriented' (much effort has been given to imagining how the visitor would enter the space, how his/her attention would be grasped by the different works of art scattered around, and how this movement would ultimately effect the experience), but only within the limits set by the works of art, as the privileged signs. Attention to the individual works themselves was first priority. Other exhibitions by Sandberg are the 1949 Cobra-exhibition (slide 34) he organised together with Aldo van Eyck. In contrast to the expressive and eruptive effects of most of the works presented, Van Eyck chose a presentation that (like that of 1938) was again reminiscent of neo-plasticism (De Stijl). The result was even more extreme than Stams' exhibition - for instance the differences between the high and low hanging of the paintings.  

At the pinnacle of Sandbergs' work were the two exhibitions he made during the very last years as museum director of the Stedelijk: Bewogen Beweging (1961) and Dylaby (Dynamisch Labyrinth, 1962, Dia 36/37). The most characteristic element in exhibitions like Bewogen Beweging and Dylaby was the environmental approach. Dylaby, for instance, was an exhibition made on the spot by artists like Jean Tinguely (organisor), Daniel Spoerri, Martial Raysse, Ultvedt, Niki de St.Phalle, and Robert Rauschenberg. All kinds of materials were collected, and with the help of the employees of the museum, installations and environments were created within a few weeks, with the observer invited to participate and thus create workable and living contexts. The museum was literally turned into an experimental place for the arts, the artists, the curator, and the observers/participants. However, although Sandberg clearly distanced himself from the 'art object' as the only serious point of reference, it was the 'artistic creativity' he celebrated instead. This artistic creativity was connected exclusively to the individual artist, and it was only at the third instance that the public came into play. In this respect one could conclude that Sandberg, ultimately, did not engage himself with the 'context-and observer-oriented' model as much as one might have expected - it follows also that he must have held some value for the 'object and author-oriented' model.

There are more arguments with which one could underline the suggestion that Sandberg was 'avantgardiste', that is to say, he did follow the (neo)avantgardist artists of his time closely, and he gave them immediate visibility (Cobra and Nul), but at the same time there is clear evidence that, as soon as the 'Institution of Art' (in this case the Concept of Art as well as the Context in which it is presented) was questioned, his engagement had its limits.

Other curators who worked in close cooperation and alongside with avantgarde artists and who shared their interest in intervening in existing situations or in creating new contexts within which to test certain relations in the '60s and '70s were Harald Szeemann, Jean Leering, Seth Siegelaub a.o. One of the initiators of a broad museum-discussion in the '70s was Jean Leering, director of the van Abbe Museum from 1964-1973. He criticised the extreme aestheticizing of art, as a museum practice that was not only anachronistic in relation to what was actually happening outside the 'white walls', but it was also totally in contradiction to artistic developments. Unfortunately, these museum-debates did not lead to fundamental changes or different strategies of presentation. Leering himself did organise some interesting presentations, among which De Straat (1972) is unquestionably the most famous example. He was convinced of the possibility of bringing art outside the museum walls and clarifying its relevance on a more general, social level. The exhibition focussed on 'collective creativity', but within it the art functioned only marginally.

And, although Leering made several other attempts to bridge the gap between art and the praxis of life, it is revealing that these exhibitions always functioned apart from the so called 'art exhibitions'(one of the few examples is the Bruce Nauman exhibition, where a reading table was installed in the middle of a space, filled with carefully displayed art).

About Harald Szeemann a lot was already said at the lecture on the Documenta's. When Szeemann was asked to organise Documenta 5 he already had quite a reputation as an 'avantgardist' curator. As a freelance curator and the director of the Kunsthalle in Bern, he worked in close connection with the artists and shared their interests in a wider socio-political field. After the failure of the first concept of Doc 5, which was to go along with the artistic avantgarde of that moment (Fluxus, happenings etc), he decided, together with Bazon Brock and Jean-Christoph Amman, to conceptualise a paper that did no longer put the artist in the centre but the relation between representation and reality (of the one who represents and the one who is represented). In doing so he would be able to focus on a larger discursive and practical field than only the artistic field and he could enrich the exhibition with other forms of images and, as a result, place the artistic work within a larger, social context. The curators did want to thematise the impossibility to divide artistic from larger cultural image production which is something in direct oppositi­on to the former isolation of artistic practice. As I discussed earlier, only fragments of this second concept were realized. When the Documenta was a fact, it seemed to reproduce much more the 'object-and author--oriented model that the institution of Art privileges than the model Szeemann, Brock and Amman much have had in their minds when conceptualising the show. With his concept of the 'Individuelle Mythologieen', according to which the Documenta was realized in the end, Szeemann stood again in line with the institutionalised High Art and its creative Genius.

An important exhibition in terms of its strategies was Les Immateriaux (1989) of the French philosopher Jean Francois Lyotard (together with the 'Centre de Creation Industrielle). As a very literal context within which new relations can be tested Les Immateriaux can be seen as a presentation of a 'new world order' in which our future relations to technology and to late capitalist mass culture is emphasised. It presented a shift from the old paradigm of mimetic codes and referential narratives (thus provoking the practice of viewing art in a museum as well as the arthistorical standards of displaying unique, original art objects) to techno-scientific models of electronic reproduction and the abstraction of the visual, effected by these models. Les Immateriaux was an interactive environment in which 'reality' was no longer presented in human or artistic terms, but was largely dependant on cybernetic, immaterial data flows. As a labyrinth of sounds and signs in which the spectator as a sort of space traveller could get lost, Les Immateriaux was a statement claiming that the worlds of language (computer language) now had totally replaced that of matter. Lyotard even went one step further. Instead of the material as an independent entity he invoked the world order of synthetic processes. Instead of experiential reality we move into the world of the grids, matrixes and pulses of electronic communi­cation (compare the 'technological' interests of Lissitsky and Moholy-Nagy).

Among the few contemporary curators who prefer to work together with or alongside artists to develop and contextualise certain problematics instead of following the concerns of the art institutions without questioning them is Helmut Draxler, until 1966 director of the Münchener Kunstverein. The aim was to problematize and break with traditions and codes within the institution of art and to develop alternatives for a more direct relationship with the different publics and society as a whole. Although many more curators and freelance-curators do try out different strategies in close cooperation with artists (Hans Ulrich Obrist), I want to focus on the practice of Draxler as he is one of the few 'directors' I know who did not just do one try-out, but who steadily worked out a policy, based on this interventionist manner of working. Together with Hedwig Saxenhuber he organised a range of exhibitions, symposiums and other activities among which a retrospective of the films of Yvonne Rainer which gave them the opportunity to show the continuation of questions raised by social references, the feminist aspect and the boundary-crossing relevance of film since the 1970s. In between exhibitions of Christian Philip Muller, Adrian Piper and Andrea Fraser, which were all theme-oriented (as well as 'context- and observer' oriented), they themselves took up themes as well. In 1994 they decided to once again turn the structure of their work on its head, this time by relying less on individual exhibitions but instead, favouring thematic group work as much as presentations of other projects, theory events, films, videos, and tactical programme topics. This is how they even went to organise a table tennis tournament in February 1994, intended to serve as an example of social integration as well as providing an example of their utilitarian understanding of the 'holy' exhibition hall. The Kunstverein was turned into a gymnasium. At the same time events were organised, such as presentations from Buro Bert, Minimal Club, a video programme by Jason Simon (Downsizing the Image Factory) on the American documentary film scene, films by Gordon Matta Clark and a small exhibition of works by Bas Jan Ader (Dia's).

The Utopie of Design in March/April that same year dealt with the 'Utopia design' of the 1960s and early 1970s. The attention was focussed on the constructions made for the 1972 Olympics in order to show how this 'social design' of urban landscape plus corporate identity may have worked wonderfully and yet-as far as their own objective to pacify the rebellious youth movement was concerned- also failed miserably. An important project too was organised together with Stephan Dillemuth: the Summer Academy. A temporary open academy, 1994, with over forty exhibiti­ons. It created quite an amount of chaos as groups from various academies in Düsseldorf, Berlin, Vienna and Munich assembled to discuss their education situation and to present their own projects. In addition there were lectures on theory and presentations from artists friends and groups like Four Walls (Brooklyn). (The idea was to free the term 'academy' from its institutional constraints, from the restrictions of the ever-present system of master classes, and replace it with self-organised projects, presentations and a lively exchange with people from other academies. Primarily it was about being there, but it was also about eradicating as far as possible the hierarchy between researchers and students, so that all present could be producer and audience simultaneously). Another thematic group show, Oh Boy, it's a Girl (Saxenhu­ber/Wege) is know quite well as some of our participants were in the show. It sought to compare the feminist questions raised by artists in the 1960s and 1970s with those today. Back then Carolee Schneemann, Valie Export and Gina Pane made their bodies into battlefields in order to pick out social expectations and constraints as a central theme. Another approach, which in particular took up transvestite and transsexual references, led more directly to today's pieces, which were for the most part work at the dissolution of the binary form of gender relations. Works from the 1970s by Christian Lindow, G.J. Lischka, Jurgen Klauke and William Wegman already pointed to the present-day work of Elke Krystufek, Catherine Opie, G.P. Jones, Alix Lambert and Inez van Lamsweerde. (dia). In 1995 Draxler/Saxenhuber worked together with Louise Lawler anf Group Material. Both turned out to become large exhibitions: Lawler with A Spot on the Wall, including for the large part new works and a small selection of older ones from the 1980s. Group Materials' Market dealt with countermeasures using the old slogans, demands and formulations of citizens' rights movements, feminists, the lesbian and gay movement and cultural minorities as exposed today by advertising and marketing. In order to create new markets, individual groups are distinguished from the confusing variety of new social movements. Similarities and differences are categorised and labelled to constantly create new consumer areas. The exhibition developed the discourse of products, of advertising images and slogans, in order to bring out their true motives: pure competition, survival of the fittest, the colonializing of everyday life.

After a retrospective of films of Trinh T. Minh-ha and an exhibition by Thomas Locher they organised their last project: 15 Jahre 1980. This exhibition intended to take up certain elements of the urbanist, political and subcultural discourse of the early 80s and discuss these in the current context. Jochen Becker organised a sequence of events under the title Young Urban Umbau (Young Urban Reconstruction) which dealt critically with, in particular, urban development in Berlin from the time of the squatters' unrest, through the International Building Design Exhibition in 1984, to the present day capital euphoria. Along with these were presentations and discussions of the history of the anarchists' magazine Radikal (180-1984), of the former Munich magazine Das Blatt, as well as of the Neue Deutsche Welle (German New wave) and the Munich band F.K.S. The pro­gram was completed with films from Black Cinema from London, organised by Mathias Poledna and Martin Beck.

I figure that the investment of such curators as Helmut Draxler and Hedwig Saxenhuber is clear by now. Not only an investment in terms of theoretical and practical preparation and organisational hours that went into it, but an investment that come forth from a personal engagement which places them next to and together with the artists instead of on a different level (think of the dilemma of Szeemann). With these kinds of exhibitions and investigations they however did run high risks. After five years of experiment Draxler had to leave (also Saxenhuber) to make place for a new director. He now works as a freelance writer and curator, earning little money.


Ine Gevers

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