Texte zur zeitgenössischen Fotografie und digitalen Bildkunst
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ongoing remarks 2nd episode (summer/autumn 2003)

von Thomas Leuner

In ‘ongoing remarks‘ I briefly introduce current events in photography, which seem worth mentioning to me. My remarks on these events are supposed to activate further discourse. To use the medium internet by this means, I have first informed all institutions mentioned in the article and have given them the opportunity to state. In this edition, the head office of the department of public relations of the state museums of Berlin and the editors of ‘Info-Dienst-Kunst‘ are concerned. Happily, Karlheinz Schmid, the editor-in-chief of ‘Info-Dienst-Kunst‘ and ‘Kunstzeitung‘, willingly agreed to an e-mail discussion. See under 4th discussion.


1. The Berlin Misery
2. The DCP and the ‘General‘
3. Flops
4. Discussion with Karlheinz Schmid

1. The Berlin Misery

The ‘Linienstraße‘ in ‘Berlin Mitte‘ seems to develop into a photo mile. The photo galleries CO Berlin, Bodo Niemann and Kicken are seated there. The photo gallery Bartelt moves from ‘Wielandstrasse‘ in ‘Charlottenburg‘ to number 161. As to say, next to the Ifa-Galerie, the NBK, the photo gallery Imago and the Kunststiftung Poll have settled around the corner. Kicken has bought a house there – therefore, not a short-term trend.

A development which surely goes into the right direction. The accommodation lies in the ‘Galerienviertel‘ behind the ‘Auguststraße‘ and directly in the area of the station ‘Friedrichstraße‘. Well, it is central and within reach for flown-in collectors. This is important for the location in Berlin, because within the next decades collectors will also come almost exclusively from outside. But, while talking about the photography in Berlin, immediately the question is risen, why there is no ‘Maison de la photographie‘ or a similar public culture institute in the capital of Berlin that deals with its photography.

That this train with this idea has left long ago is often failed to see. The foundation boom of such institutions laid in the eighties. At that time a similar institution was planned for the ‘Schwartzschen Villa‘ in Steglitz in west Berlin, but was not realized, caused by the competition with the photographic collection of the ‘Berlinische Galerie‘. Fatal at this development was the further destiny of the Berlinische Galerie. With its continuous collapse since 1990, the spatial base of the everywhere praised photographic collection was withdrawn. In addition, the retreat of the founder of the collection Janos Frecot. His successor, Ulrich Domröse, exclusively concentrated on file works, focussing the DDR-photography. Since 1990 the photographic collection had unplugged itself from the public discourse over photography. Also the ‘Deutsches Centrum für Photographie (DCP)‘ of the ‘Sammlung Preußischen Kulturbesitzes‘ has not improved the situation. It soon became recognizable that president Schuster was only concerned in the sight of the collection with its pictures and to catalogue them, like it is today‘s museum standard. This has happened and the called experts, like Manfred Heiting and the involved photo historians, could leave again. Further activities were systematically boycotted by the ‘General‘. See therefore the conversation with Manfred Heiting in the ‘World‘ at: www.welt.de/finden/ (Search string: Heitling). The following developments around the DCP have not got anything to do with the real Berlin and its innovative potenzial of the 20 to 40-years old. (See therefore the article no. 2 ­ The DCP and the ‘General‘). An emaciation becomes also visible within the other institutions that are supported by public, which have used up slowly the resources stand of 1990. How far this emaciation is also caused by themselves, is only in a few cases obviously clear. The once active ‘Arbeitsgruppe Fotografie‘ of the NGBK already dissolved years ago, because of lack in concept. The photo exhibitions of photo art, watched by Alexander Tolney at the NBK, insistently stay at the stand of the eighties. Over the exhibits a formal smoothness is laid that was as ‘Fotokunst‘ innovative once, but that demotes the pictures to graphical room jewelry now.

The places of exhibition in the districts Neukölln, Schöneberg and Dahlem (West) and Prenzlauerberg, Friedrichshain, Treptow (Ost) added important actual contributions to photography before 1990. These areas slowly collapsed to a large extent, by lack of money and integration into the ‘Neu-Berliner Kulturverbund‘.

The planned Photography Festival in 2005 will blow up ineffectively for Berlin, since in unfortunate tradition the city of Berlin is seen as a stage and not as an own region that is struggling for its own identity. Since latest information it already has broken down, after having spent the first supports.

What remains? The essential institutions in Berlin, which carry the photography, are commercial galleries. Overview: www.spirits-in-berlin.de/Galerie.

In the fullness, this is impressive and astonishing. However: A gallery, which has its focus on selling, can only represent a fraction of a cultural fabric by separation and sales orientation, which makes up the totality of a cultural region.


Matthias Arndt, the owner of a gallery, answered in a ‘Tageszeitung‘ interview on July 2nd, 03 the following question: What surprises you the most in the Berlin art’s landscape? ‘That the meaning of the in Berlin resulted and mediated contemporary art finds recognition worldwide (...), without impressing or affecting the local museums or institutions (...) and the culture politics. The perspective taken by Matthias Arndt puts that the ignorance and bad will of the responsible persons is known. This is surely not right, it is rather dominating an atmosphere of lamenting helplessness and strongly holding on to the familiar. There are no thoughts of departure. Therefore, the question in this situation must be: On what do I spend the available money and how can I canvass new money for Berlin? Since the release does not come from the outside, the available money should flow into the construction of an own infrastructure first. Miracles, like in Hamburg by the collection Gundlach, are not expected. Rather the cooperation and networking of that what is actually existant in town has to be driven forward and made visible to the outside. As to say, the city has to help itself. Metaphorical said: A region can only develop itself, if the necessary means of transport are being built. In the area of cooperation and networking the photo country ‘Nord-Rhein-Westfalen‘ is already ahead and has the lead further improved. The latest: ‘Fotografie in NRW ­ ein Handbuch‘ (editor: Kultursekretariat NRW, ISBN 3-89861-120-2, 16.90€). In this handbook, everything is editorially worked out well: Galleries, collections, possibilities in studies, etc. - Furthermore is planned: a decentralized enquiry center for the history of the media. In this direction there are no ideas, let alone concrete plans for Berlin.

2. The DCP and the ‘General‘

Klaus Peter Schuster is the president of the state museums of the ‘Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz.www.smb.spk-berlin.de. This foundation is the successor of the cultural possession of the state of Prussia that was dissolved by the Allies. Mr Schuster is the ‘General‘ of this foundation of merged museums. Well, he has the power that refers to Prussia as the heartland of the German Empire. Why this culture inventory was not also democratically organised, remains inexplicable from nowaday's view. Therefore, ‘General‘ Schuster is actually a ‘Prussian General‘, who can completely do what he wants, according to the 19th's century. This General has no interest in modern photography. The remarks of Manfred Heiting in the interview in the ‘World‘ clarifies Mr Schuster’s lack of interest. See article no. 1. By this lack of interest is the west Berlin tradition of disregard for the medium photography continued. For lasting damage of the new capital and Germany. Neither an ordered collection activity takes place, nor an independent contribution to the investigation and representation of German photography is provided. The new, surprisingly explosive development of photography in Europe, even in the German speaking area, has passed the foundation almost without trace. Gaps have opened up in the inventory that can not be mend any more. This is a serious omission and becomes bigger day for day that Mr Schuster provides the course.

Remark: The ‘General‘ is already offended, for example: ‘Resign, Mr General!‘ – ‘Kunstzeitung Nr. 85 September 2003‘. But, this campaign has a wrong direction of impulse. Experts say: A radical structuring of the ‘tanker‘ ‘Stiftung preußischer Kulturbesitz‘ is necessary. So: The smashing of a construct from the 19th century and the dissolving into a combine of largely autonomous institutions. Well, not Mr Schuster is the problem, but that a ‘General‘ has not got anything to do within a modern democratic culture. It is not possible to mediate the fact to the public that each deputy principal of a high school has more autonomy than the single directors of the Berlin museums. Only after the smashing of the tanker ‘Preußischer Kulturbesitz‘, the loose obliged mobile steamers of the single institutions will be able, thanks to competition and self-determination, to use their potenzial. The museum‘s people will find themselves also in such a competition, who want to give themselves a special profile by the emphasis on photography.

3. Flops - who, why, where
had no idea

Informationsdienst Kunst about ‘Personalien: wer was wie macht‘. In no. 280, page 4 was to read: ‘Who would have thought this: Wolfgang Tillmanns, London, the new professor at the ‘Städelschule‘, organizes a performance in the air well of the university, so that all students and colleagues could get to know him, while being very outgoing. Example: The man, who likes to take pictures behind the scene, explained, his most unusual motive would be the Queen, whom he had photographed during a parade in a blue outfit, accompanied by men wearing bear-fur, before a shining mobile telephone advertisement. ‘Snapshot-romance instead of messy-optics.‘.

So far, so good.

Anyway, I immediately consulted the nice editor in the depth of the west German province (Regensburg):

‘Dear Mr Schmid,

I think you mistake Wolfgang Tillmanns for Jürgen Teller! Both fashion photographers of the same generation. However: Tillmanns became known by pictures of the Techno generation, otherwise he likes gay-kitsch. Nothing to do with messy-esthetics! However, Teller has made the famous mess-report in the ‘SZ-Magazin‘: ‘with the bare model Kristen McMenamy, who represented the physical hardships and injuries within a fashion show production without make up, as highlight painted herself a Versace heart on her body‘. This is the man you mean. The ‘Galerie Contemporary Fine‘ just tries to establish him at the art market under the title: ‘zwei Schäuferle mit Kloß und eine Kinderportion mit Pommes Frites‘. Recommendation for reading about photography: www.ikon-magazin.de.

Best greetings from Berlin.‘

Remark: If one knows that in 2002 only 5% of the art historical final examinations on German-speaking universities were occupied with photography, this flop is not by chance. The dimension of the valley of the unsuspecting, in which 160 years of the history of the media are removed, is immense. Therefore this column on ‘Flops – wer, warum, wo keine Ahnung hatte.‘ will be continued.

4. Discussion with Karlheinz Schmid about:
Mess of Tillmans? And:
Mr Schuster!

K. S.
Dear Mr Leuner, now stop with the nonsense, continiuously implying a mix up by myself. If I write in the ‘Informationsdienst KUNST‘ ‘Tillmans‘, I also mean Tillmans – and not Teller. And also: Please, look into your old geography atlas. Regensburg has nothing to do with the ‘West German province‘. Extra tuition especially for you, for the department flop: Regensburg lies in Bavaria that is not in the west.

T. L.
Dear Mr Schmid, I always liked your column in the ‘Kunstzeitung‘ ‘‘Schmid says: ‘Thumb down‘‘ – (That is how it was called). This was real ‘Trash‘! However, accordingly your recipient quality is not distinctive. Back to the facts: 1. With Tillmanns/Teller I wanted to build a golden bridge for you. The photography by Tillman is based on the Street-Fashion-photography developed in England. This was created at the end of the sixties in London and developed out of the Street-Photography of the Americans and from a new fashion opinion, which is basically inspired by the street. For this purpose, even an English fashion magazine is published. Tillmanns has combined this photography with the new German photography of the nineties (‘SZ-Magazin‘) and has used it for the Techno fashion. Opposite to the more realistic application of the Anglo-Saxons, he has introduced a German lyrical element. Your idea of esthetics is not clear to me, when you describe this photography as ‘messy‘. Then, is Teller’s photography no longer art, because too ‘messy‘?
2. In Berlin one calls all areas of the earlier BRD ‘Western Germany‘. Eastern Germany stands in contrast, formerly DDR. ‘Regensburg‘ is in the BRD. Or what?

K. S.
Dear Mr Leuner, before we become cramped, I will try, with a little wink, to make a last attempt in this case to clearify my position. Believe me: I absolutely can show ‘recipient quality‘. Meanwhile: When Tillmans (not ‘Tillmanns‘!) e.g. takes a picture of a punk who is pissing on a chair, then, my quoted ‘messy-optics‘ has to been seen in this former connection. By your leave, you must not give me extra tuition in the area of photo history. Your impudent insinuation that I could have mixed up Tillmans and Teller, has very much annoyed me. Okay? Secondly: I live and work not only in Regensburg, but approximately good half the month in Berlin, ‘Prenzlauer Berg‘. So, I know, what is happening in the east, where the west can be found. Nevertheless: For me, Bavaria is in the south. And we both lead this silly, unnecessary dialog in the BRD. Okay?!

T. L.
Dear Mr Schmid, if I batter down open doors, this is conscious to me. Of course, I have noticed your liking for photography. However, unfortunately those people get the showers, who lean themselves the furthest out of the window. You know this. Because of Tillmans, I would like to summarize the facts: We agree that the picture language of Tillmans is relatively esthetic, not irritating or conventional (depending on viewpoint), its great quality lies in its visual clarity. Well, there is no ‘mess‘ to be found in the optics. Then, the question is, are the picture subjects ‘messy‘ and are pictures taken ‘behind the scenes‘? As an example of ‘messy‘ you have chosen the photo of a man with a punky hairstyle, who is peeing on a chair. But: A Punk, like you think, he is not! To quote me once: In my latest book ‘In the Shadow of the Eagle – photo report 1981-85‘ you can see real punks in the chapter ‘The Music Scene‘. – If you are interested in it, I can send you a review copy. (For further information, in this mail is a file with the ‘Tagesspiegel‘ interview of November 9th, 03, enclosed, in which I am questioned about the topic of the book, the subculture of Berlin/West at the beginning of the eighties.). In the exhibition ‘Unterbrochene Karrieren, Partnerschaft – Jochen Klein und Wolfgang Tillmans‘ NGBK Berlin (www.nbgk.de/start/index – to find under exhibitions 2002) was clearly recognizable that Tillmans is moving amongst the gay subculture. It are the boys, who go into the darkroom, wearing a military outfit. They are not particularly messy. By the way, the punky hairstyle goes back to Scorcseses ‘Taxi-Driver‘ and had not had anything to do with the punk-proles. Anyway, the weighting of Tillmans works looks that way: 1. The awareness of life of the techno generation (developed out of fashion photogaphy) – therefore he has got the Turner award. www.tate.org.uk/britain/exhibitions/tillmans/ 2. ‘Friends‘ – already ten years ago Nan Goldin worked on this topic. 3. The gay aspect – was a provocation for England at the Turner awards, but with a Lord Mayor Wowereit cold coffee to us. 4. Abstract photo art – in the right knowledge that the graphic ‘Photo Art‘, which is popular amongst the photo scene, is weakened, he has re-entried it. 5. New, the keyword ‘direct photography‘ (according to Weskis ‘Cruel and Tender‘) - e.g.: His contribution to ‘Architektur der Obdachlosigkeit‘, Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich.
Of course, the question is thrilling, why you were so disillusioned at Tillmans presentation in Frankfurt. For this, a short digression: Have you read ‘das Reale an der Rückholfeder‘ by Walead Beshty in ‘Texte zur Kunst‘ no. 51 of September 03 about ‘Cruel and Tender‘? In this column Weksi and Dexter are reproached for transporting a naive artist‘s view and for removing the political issues of the context. The currently most important photo curator of Germany is reproached for ‘simplizistische Abhandlung des einmal gestellten Themas‘. Similar in tendency: Edgar Schwarz in ‘Kunstforum‘ no. 166, page 394. That is clear and unfortunately right, but shows, how unreflected the curator’s standard of photography is. ‘Cruel and Tender‘ is miles above the dephts of Honnef‘s ‘Von Körpern und anderen Dingen‘, produced at the ‘Deutsches Historisches Museum‘, Berlin.
Back to you: This naive artist‘s image is also shared by Tillmans ­ you can recognize this by his artist‘s books. The context is more and more removed, also from the older pictures, to create an artist’s image - here: A little Bad Boy with gay sex. That he actually can not fill out this image, you have noticed in Frankfurt.
Of course, I am personally interested: When has Tillmans come into your perception? Well, first as he entried the forming arts. Since I also had the applied photography in view, I knew Tillmans pictures from the magazine publications in England. In comparison to Teller, they were clearly more pastel-coloured. If one knows this prehistory, expressions for Tillmans pictures like ‘messy-optics‘ appear like ‘have not you mixed-up something?‘
The real conflict in the background is the complete ignorance between these two areas, which deal with photography: On the one hand the photo scene, on the other the forming arts. The classic photography ignores (and disdains) photography, which is accepted in the forming arts. With the so called ‘Photo Art‘, it has opened an own store. However, the forming arts believes photography as a variant of the ‘New Media‘ and ignores the fact that photography has 160 years on it’s back and is the most popular artistic medium in society. This ignorance that has been existing for over two decades, happily starts getting slowly soddened – e.g. see the exhibition: - F.C. Gundlach / Zdenek Felix ‘Clear Vision‘ IHdP – Deichtorhallen, Hamburg.

Mr Schuster!

K. S.
Concerning the ‘Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz‘: What else shall I say? It can not be described more clearly; you know my article in the ‘KUNSTZEITUNG‘. With best greetings - Karlheinz Schmid

T. L.
3. The first time I heard about the thought of dividing the museums ‘Preußischer Kulturbesitz‘ was by Schmidt-Wulffen. Therefore a thought that is worth thinking about. You could also develop your position. On your chosen way, you have no chance against Mr Schuster! Best greetings from Berlin - Thomas Leuner

K. S.
Thirdly: My friend Stephan Schmidt-Wulffen, who has once, about 20 years ago, published his first art-article with me, (at that time I was working as an ‘art‘-editor in Hamburg), is a clever guy and he has given many impulses for the great art-discourse. Beyond all doubt. Meanwhile: The smashing of the heavy foundation-steamer in Berlin is an age-old topic that has already occupied many culture politicians, museum’s people and critics before him. I am sure, you also have understood exactly that my attack against Schuster was ment as an attack against this kind of power concentration, therefore reaching far above Schuster’s particulars. You may believe me: I know, what runs or sticks in the ‘Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz‘ and I am always ready to develop positions, also checking the own statement. Sorry, finally I am no smart-aleck, but exclusively write about things of whom I understand as much as possible. Okay? Nothing for bad, best greetings - Karlheinz Schmid

T. L.
The owner of a gallery, Bodo Niemann, had told me once (Mr Schuster had just left the gallery) that he would drop in regularly, looking at historical photographs. However, his efforts in interesting Schuster in modern photography, was completely bounced off. If one looks at the initiatives in Hamburg (Gundlach) or in Munich (Siemens/‘Pinakothek der Moderne‘) and how they are trying to close the rough gaps in the collections to take themselves into position for future, one can only get sick concerning Berlin and the ‘Bundes-Fotokultur‘. According to the latest informations by Enno Kaufhold, there will be founded a ‘Helmut Newton Museum‘ in the Jebensstraße. The DCP, which defrays the maintenance of the house, can use two floors for own exhibitions there. In the museum you can find Newtons own collection, which predominantly consists of his pictures. Further exhibitions depend on the head of the house’s taste. The other pictures of Newton‘s collection (its size is unknown) remain in Monte Carlo. Now, the tragedy goes on, in which the flat smell of Old-Man-Sex is in the air. Well, constructive considerations over the mastering of this situation, after this, exclude themselves. Best greetings to the ending year - Thomas Leuner, Berlin-Kreuzberg

© Thomas Leuner, December 2003


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