Wednesday, September 19, 2007


From Münster I took the train to Kassel where I had a few days to take in Documenta 12, which was a good deal better than the reviews would have you believe. Rather than share my favorites, which tended to be the more political works, I would like to catch up to where I am now: Berlin.

One of the most impressive aspects of traveling by train through Germany is the visible proof of this country’s dedication to green solutions to our global environmental crisis. The rural landscape absolutely bristles with windmills. The picture I show here is hardly exceptional, it one of several dozen photographs I took of windmill-laden landscapes en-route to Berlin. I’ve also included a nice image of how mail and newspapers are delivered in this big city.

I have been steeped in the study of prints made during the “Great War” – what a misnomer if ever there was one. So far I’ve looked at portfolios by George Grosz, Max Beckmann, Ludwig Meidner, Willy Jäckel and Natalia Goncharova. I’m not in a position to post any images of these works, but I am overwhelmed and not sure how to share it. Goncharova managed a brilliant confluence of Russian Orthodox imagery and images of the new machines of war; the word "apocalyptic" is usually applied to Meidner, but he was telling it, vividly, like it was; Grosz was very cunning with his multilingual titles (which do not amount to translations or transliterations in most cases) for his Gott Mit Uns portfolio (an idea that could find apt application today); and Willy Jäckel, a superb draftsman with training similar to that of Lovis Corinth, as I understand it, put forth a damning series about the war that was quickly suppressed by the officials (he ended up 40 kilometers from the front making trench maps).

We may not learn from history, but when we look at it really carefully it turns out we were equally frustrated by this fact in the past.

Sunday, September 16, 2007


Once each decade since 1977 the city of Münster has hosted a city-wide sculpture exhibition. I was able to spend nearly two days at Skulptur Projekte Münster 07. One of the wonderful features of this project is that the thirty-three works created for 2007 can be visited along with thirty-seven works from previous years that are still in place around the city. Happily, it is necessary to rent a bicycle to see many of the outlying sculptural installations (a rented bicycle is shown here in front of Ilya Kabakov’s lyrical antenna of poetry “Blikst Du hinauf und liest die Worte…” [“Looking up. Reading the Words…”].

Some of the most successful works are those that have a meaningful association with historical sites or events specific to Münster, such as Martha Rosler’s Unsettling the Fragments [Erschütterung der Fragmente] which focuses attention on a number of aspects of the city’s history such as the cages on the tower of Church of Saint Lambert that were used to display the executed bodies of Anabaptists, such as Jan van Leyden (who can be seen in a brilliant engraving by Albrecht Aldegrever). I also enjoyed Andeas Siekmann’s Trickle down. Der öffentliche Raum im Zeitalter seiner Privatisierung [Trickle down. Public Space in the Era of its Privatization], and Bruce Nauman’s Square Depression [Quadratische Senkung].

Everyone I spoke to in the community loved Rebecca Horn’s, Das gegenläufige Konzeert (The Contrary Concert) – an installation work in one the cities old fortifications that was used in the Second World War to interrogate, torture and kill prisoners. Horn’s installation is largely auditory. The dimly lit corridors and rooms of this masonry maze have many mechanized hammers that slowly tap at the structure. Other sounds come from an electrical arc and a device that lets drops of water fall from the center of the fortification to a pool below. These subtle sounds provide all that the visitor needs to forge fuller associations internally.

Bicycles rounded out this visit, through the delightful work of Guy Ben-Ner, I’d give it to you if I could, but I borrowed it [Ich gäbe es dir, wenn ich könnte, aber es ist nur geliehen]. To view this piece the viewer pedals something like an exercise bicycle that powers a video display (the faster you pedal, the faster the video runs; pedal backward and the video runs backwards as well). Spoiler alert → the video concerns bicycle parts, specifically those found in a museum: sculptural works by Jean Tinguely, Pablo Picasso, and Marcel Duchamp. In the video, Ben-Ner, his son and his daughter proceed to whisk the works, past a dozing guard and out of the museum where the clever family recombines the parts to form a working bicycle. Lovely!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

News from Belgium

Looking back to my arrival in Belgium a few weeks ago I am happy to report that bicycling and stencil-printing are alive and well. I am on a study tour to see prints in coming weeks, especially those made during the First World War.

My first few days in Antwerp I looked at many etchings by the Belgian printmaker Walter Vaes, whose career might have been a tedious recital of well-established and somewhat derivative subjects were it not for a series of hallucinatory subjects that crept onto his small etching plates during his years as an expatriate in Holland during the First World War.

A trip to Ieper led to a nice encounter with colleagues at the Flanders Field Museum. I had gone to ask if they had any information about Henry de Groux’s unusual series of etchings, Les Visages de la Victoire, only to learn that they are about to exhibit their versions of this series as well as publish a catalogue. I will show a detail of one of his prints here: a group of soldiers in gas masks. De Groux spent the war years in Paris and witnessed the events along the front. He had been fond of Beethoven, Goethe and Wagner, and one can imagine that he was deeply troubled by a war that would have him looking over the trenches toward those who had inspired him.

Friends in Ghent were nice enough to take me on a day’s outing to the very southwest corner of Belgium, to visit the cemetery at Vladslo where the remains of 25,000 German soldiers who fought during the First World War are buried. The cemetery includes a moving sculptural group by Käthe Kollwitz, whose son had fought and died in the war and is buried a few feet in front of his mother's monument.

We then visited the community of Watou, which hosts a wonderful series of summer exhibitions and poetry readings each summer, this was Watou Poëziezomer 2007. Poetry was everywhere to be read or heard, and a remarkable line-up of artists had their work displayed in the old barns around town. Among the 27 older and contemporary artists were John Cage, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, John Armleder, Josef Beuys, William Kentridege and Yoko Ono.