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Rob Perrée: Enwezor's Haus der Kunst begint eigen biennial

Enwezor's Haus der Kunst begint eigen biennial

In Munich, a New “Biennial of Artists” at the Haus der Kunst

Ulla Reiter, “DIRIGENT (FIVE-HEADED CONDUCTOR)” (2011) / Foto: Uli Präcklein
Foto: Uli Präcklein
by Alexander Forbes
Published: August 13, 2013

Since 1949, artists from the city of Munich have organized an annual “Grosse Kunstausstellug” (Great Art Exhibition) in the Nazi-era Haus der Kunst. The exhibition responded directly to the museum’s initial purpose as a propaganda machine for the Nazi Regime. It held the “Grosse Deutsche Kunstausstellung” from 1937-1944, an infamous nationalist display of German art in which the criteria for so-called degenerate art were cemented and excluded in favor of populist-oriented figurative painting that heralded regime values.

This year sees the exhibition’s organizing committee, the Ausstellungsleitung der Großen Kunstausstellung im Haus der Kunst München e.V., drop that weighty historical reference — and the annual model — in exchange for a biennial exhibition format. For its part, Haus der Kunst director Okwui Enwezor has taken up that historical mantle as a focus of the institution’s programming throughout the rest of the year. But the city-led initiative, inaugurated on August 5th by the Bavarian culture minister, Ludwig Spaenle, dons a much more innocuous title this year, the “Biennale der Künstler” (Biennial of the Artists) and a theme that engages with Munich’s present rather than it’s fraught past: “Vanity Flair: Luxus und Vergänglichkeit.”

The title plays on the city’s longstanding slogan “Luxus and Gemütlichkeit,” which despite its clumsiness in English (literally, luxury and coziness) does neatly fit the Bavarian capital, which is heralded as one of the cleanest and most livable urban environments on the planet (save maybe during Oktoberfest). The biennial’s show, however, comes off as vastly more self-aware than that slogan might otherwise seem today, Vergänglichkeit translating most closely as “transience” in English.

Curators Eva Ruhland and Pavel Zelechovsky throw around jargon regarding the permanent crisis necessitated in artmaking, vanitas and its effects on perceptions of luxury, and the name Vanity Fair’s origins as that of a shop in John Bunyan’s 1678 allegory, “The Pilgrim’s Progress.” But they also allude to more down-home contingencies: the magazine of the same name shuttered its German edition in 2009 after just two years of publication. It’s a reminder that despite the city’s bubble-like feel and nearly unshakable economic prowess, outside forces (i.e. the financial collapse) can reach in and redefine what luxury and coziness might mean.

With 40 artists, the biennial is modest in size compared to many of its international counterparts. And most of the artists are by no means household names. To sample: Michael Hofsetter opens with “Das Licht des Wirklichen,” a wall-based neon quote from Theodor Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory, “Die Wirklichkeit der Kunstwerke zeugt für die Möglichkeit des Möglichen” (The reality of artworks testifies to the possibility of the possible). Sabine Bretschneider’s floor sculpture “Good Goodbye” (2012) features polyurethane balloons, their strings pointed towards the ceiling, accompanied by a video feed turned 180 degrees so that the viewers onscreen see themselves apparently walking on the ceiling.

Moving though the show, death features prominently in the works selected. Joss Bachhofers’s photo series taken throughout his travels captures streetside memorials for those who have died in auto accidents. Uruguayan artist Patricia Wich riffs on Day of the Dead celebrations with a wedding cake for a skeletal bride and groom. Vera Mercer’s large-scale photos take up classical compositions of still-life painting: In “Read headed woodpecker” (2008), she arranged the titular dead bird on a desert plate with raspberries, later serving it to guests at the exhibition.

More political in orientation is Stefanie Unruh’s “Silence” (2010-2013). In the short, animated film, Unruh portrays 16 international journalists that, like Anna Politkowskaja, were killed on the basis of their research or articles that they had published. Likewise, Timur Dizdar’s “Privileg” (2013) uses the simple gesture of filling a sink with black water to spark a discourse on water quality worldwide.

The “Biennale der Künstler” runs through October 6, 2013 at Munich’s Haus der Kunst.