ongoing remarks 3rd episode (spring/summer 2004)
von Thomas Leuner
This version of ‘ongoing remarks‘ deals with the topic of photography in the ‘state‘s advanced civilization‘.
Photography in the museum – ‘Stagnation in Change‘
After all, contemporary photography has made it into the sacred halls of the German museums. Like natural great exhibitions surveyed important photographic positions in Munich, Cologne, Hamburg and Berlin during the last six months.
This is surely remarkable since the sentence - the right place for photography is the arts and crafts and the photo museum - was still valid until 1990.
The exhibition of ‘Cruel and Tender‘ by Thomas Weski and Emma Dexter was the most ambitious one that was shown in the Tate Modern in London first. This one represents the attempt to release the Museum Ludwig Köln from the smelly corner of the L. Fritz Grubert Collection, which represented the cultural fig leaf of the Fotokina. (November 29th, 2003 till February 18th, 2004)
The exhibition ‘A Clear Vision‘, which was arranged by the collection Gundlach, really vibrated in ambition, and celebrated the start of the International House of Photography in the Deichtorhallen in Hamburg. The art-historian Zdenek Felix was the curator (from October 29th, 2003 till January 25th, 2004).
Munich showed itself in great scene with ‘Any Photography a Picture, the Siemens Photo Collection‘ at the Pinacotheca of the Modern Age, on the occasion of the handing over of the collection to the Bavarian state. Established by the picture-archivist Inka Graeve Ingelmann (December 18th, 2003 till March 7th, 2004).
As back marker - Berlin, where big photography acts are only possible by imports of the Festspiel AG (Martin Gropiusbau) or exhibitions of the German Historical Museum.
‘Of Bodies and Other Things‘ is the title of the spectacle in the German Historical Museum, which appears as confusing as the bewildering ways of the reception of photography in Germany since the seventies. No other embodies this lurching between megalomania and inferiority like the curator Klaus Honnef. He is the ‘German photo specialist‘ who has accompanied ‘our‘ photography on its way between honest amateur-eroticism, postmodern picture-building and documentary author-photography since the end of the seventies (November 19th, 2003 till February 16th, 2004).
Well: Four big acts on photography in immediately short time. Surely chance, but also a special cultural event that just challenges to examine the stand of the German museums‘ photo-culture critically.
What is clear in the meantime: The boom of photography in the nineties and the completely surprising success of the German photography - hardly aware in the inland - has led to feverish activities of the museums. The completely missing of an own collection in the traditional German museums‘ landscape triggers great - at least verbal – activities everywhere.
The hot-air merchants par excellence are the Staatliche Museen Preußischer Kulturbesitz in Berlin. At the beginning it was the German Centre of Photography in the Stülerbau, now a Mini-Museum is born: The Berlin Photo Museum was opened in the former emperor‘s hall above the Newton Museum in the building Jebensstraße 2 with works by Raimund Kummer. And how does this hall look like? Like Berlin: A former hall of 665 square meters with a ceiling height of eleven meters, destroyed in the second World War, afterwards only restored with the raw walls. Naked brick walls with a visible roof truss, places you can find in Berlin like sand by the sea. Any comment is unnecessary here.
During this decade the trend of photography is provided by the population: The addiction to pictures of oneself and others is unbroken and aasumes new dimensions with mobile-telephone- camera and mini-video-clips.
Even if the cultural activity, shaken by the Modern Age, takes a rest at the cloned Leipziger Mal-Allerlei, this is only the barking of the dogs, the caravan goes on. The digital torture-porns of Abu Ghraib show in a flash that a new era of picture propaganda has started, caused by the internet. And this battle comes – like always - from the bottom.
The Events and its performances
Disillusionment is caused by the titles: ‘Any Photography a Picture‘ – yes, and then? Or ‘Of Bodies and Other Things‘ - but what isn‘t a ‘thing‘? ‘A Clear Vision‘, Mr Gundlach’s concept of man? ‘Terrible and Tender‘ - somehow original, but still a kind of poetry album. ‘Cruel and Tender‘ is the title of an ancient shock film by the theater-author Luc Bondy, which had recently premiere in London with great success.
What is suspected by the banality of the titles, is confirmed by the exhibition publications. The tubes are big - four heavyweight catalogs with an expensive pressure -, but the wine is scanty and with old, regurgitate content.
It really is astonishing with which unbroken self-confidence banalities and art-historical textbook wisdoms are presented on high gloss paper in affected layout. Nobody would put a blame on such publications being paid from one’s own bag – any owner of a gallery, any artist has to do this. Who understands catalog prefaces as annoying compulsory exercise, passes the chance of the art mediation, the discourse and the scientific refurbishing - genuine tasks of culture, financed by the taxpayer.
Here, as a negative example, the contribution of Ulrich Bischoff in the catalog ‘Any Photography a Picture‘, Pinacotheca of the Modern Age, Munich:
‘In all four picture genera – landscape, still life, portrait and history - the artist complies with the simple and unambiguous task, both in the medium photography and oil painting: The general task of any art is the production of a picture close to reality. Changing the real into a picture. In so far one can also reformulate the art of photography: The art of recording on photosensitive disk has become the art of remodelling. During the search for truthfulness the eye gropes, in analogy to the hand of a blind men, along the object, as close as possible to life, 'Close to Life', to get a rough idea of the suspected, the felt. Under historical points of view Adorno‘s phenomenal description of the work of art is of weight: Essential factor of the picture is the Becoming by remodelling. However, the recording of the real and therefore, the quality of the picture must be able to be tested on the degree of tenderness, with which the advances‘ process has been carried out: Truthful formed works, in which the forming hand gropes for the material at the softest.‘ (page 31 in the catalog)
The text is clear. The art-historical thought of the plushy seventies, the photography as an unbroken continuation of the concrete painting of the 19th and 20th century, and: Here somebody writes about a collection, whose concept he declines.
The heart of the Siemens Collection, essentially stamped by Thomas Weski, takes the position of ‘Straight Photography‘. And it says: Let ‘direct photography‘ and not art only then begin, if that on the photo-disk recorded is reformulated by the ‘art of remodelling‘.
Ulrich Bischoff in plain text: He likes the digitally worked out photography, the produced, possibly still the experimental photography – therefore anything, where no ‘machine‘ is directly at work.
Let alone the title of the essay by Thomas Weski in the catalog to the exhibition ‘How you look at it‘ of 1996 – ‘Against Scratching and Scribbling on the Disk‘ – that clearly shows what worlds are beating around the bush here.
What has the text of Bischoff got to do in the catalog of the Siemens Collection?
It is getting embarrassing for Ulrich Bischoff, while arguing with pictures of the painter Wilhelm Trübner from Dresden, with postcard-motifs by Van Gogh and Caspar David Friedrich and additionally, by reproducing these pictures in the catalog.
There is a minimum of requirements on texts about photography - thanks to America, also to read about e.g. in: ‘Criticizing Photographs - an introduction to understand images‘ by Terry Barret, Ohio State University (ISBN 0-8748-906-3). 140 pages of craft. And one can expect this. How this is exemplarily used, is shown by Peter Galassi in ‘Gurskys world‘, catalog Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2001 (ISBN 0-87070-016-2, also in German).
On average the contributions of those authors, who are writing exhibition-reviews for their living are more qualified.
Of course the usual waffle of payed authors, for example Marion Lesek in the Kunstzeitung 12/03 about ‘Cruel and Tender‘. Boris Hohmeyer in Art 11/03 and Alfred Nemeczek in Art 12/03 about ‘Of Bodies and Other Things‘ (PR in double use) and Andrea Lange in Photonews 7/04 ‘Any Photography a Picture‘.
Then, the ‘know-all reviews‘, whose criticism on a curatory work consists in knowing better which artist should have been inevitably and who should have been cast out. For example: Kerstin Stremmel in Photonews 2/04 about ‘Cruel and Tender‘, who actually claims, the staged reality of a Jeff Walls would be missing. Kaspar König just has got ‘Women and her doctor‘ and this would have fitted well in the show.
Namely upright and brave arguing for photography, but similar in trend: Hansgert Lambers in the Kunstzeitung 3/04 about ‘Of bodies and Other Things‘.
There are always stimulating sentences, if a tearing into pieces lines up. For example Ronald Berg in Zitty 27/03 about ‘Of Bodies and Other Things‘: ‘Who doesn't dream, declares like Wolfgang Tillmans the everyday culture to art.‘. Or Edgar Schwarz in Kunstforum 166, page 394 ‘The Staging of the Real‘ (also as term of the real-time) and its subsequent acquisition and restructuring by the everyday reception and Walead Beshty in Texte zur Kunst no. 51, page 167. William Eggleston‘s photographic essays as illustration of the Southerner aristocracy in a phase of radical changes (Civil Rights Movement of the sixties) about ‘Cruel and Tender‘. As well as Hansgert Lambers in the above mentioned article ‘The picture of a production is not a produced picture!‘, and Brita Sachs in the FAZ of 24/02/2004 about ‘Any Photography a Picture‘: A common rule in photographic picture-language in contrast to painting only becomes visible in the part ‘history‘, the hodgepodge for narrative and historical concepts.
Here, the central questions were indicated: ‘Where does photography stand in the age of global media art‘?
It just isn’t sufficient to ask the collector and his curator in an interview like ‘A clear Vision‘: ‘How have you made this?‘ Mr Gundlach isn't Hitchcock and his interview partners aren't Truffaut.
Anyway, this interview! Collector Gundlach and curator Felix are ‘head-worded‘ by the mid- thirties Ingo Taubhorn and Ruppert Pfab, to say questioned would be overdone. - O-tone: ‘Mr Felix, what type of man is the collector?‘ Or: ‘How would you build up an own collection?‘ Pfab to Gundlach: ‘You have an important private photo-collection. What motivates you to collect? You go to fairs, talk with artists and gallery owners. What is your motivation in always carrying on?‘ Gundlach: ‘That is difficult to describe. I have already often said: That’s the end now!‘
What sounds quite funny at first glance and says much about the vanity of the two old-68‘s, actually is depressing: In 2001 Rupert Pfab has presented one of the quite few German monographs in the area of photography, that are written readable and with an intimate knowledge of the medium. It is his thesis ‘Studien zur Düsseldorfer Photographie‘ (Weimar VDG, 2001, ISBN 3-89739-201-1), wherein he thoroughly and in detail questions the most important photographers of Düsseldorf.
Why isn't he the curator?
To research once again: On page 35 of the Hamburg catalog beneath the title ‘Art chamber I, picture 8, collection of F.C.Gundlach‘ a picture by Ingo Taubhorn is to be seen, which shows a quiet life with books and photo boxes – probably a room at Gundlach‘s home, where he is keeping his photo collection. One can’t believe his eyes: The collection pictures are packed in the original cartons for photographic paper! As well-known, these boxes are completely unsuitably for the storage of pictures, because of the contained chemicals.
The reproductions of the pictures form the heart of the catalog.
The requests are clear:
Due to the similarity to the print, well reproduced pictures can absolutely convey the impression of the original. Of course this turns out well in particular with pictures which were already thought by the photographer in the graphic format and whose order of the pictures takes the median rules of the book into account. This photographic book and catalog culture goes back to the art photography magazine Camera whose editor Allen Porter developed the idea of the ‘Magazine as Photo Gallery‘ in the sixties. The decisive breakthrough was by the Duplex printing- technology, which could cause in contrast to the former used copper printing the aura of modern printing-technology.
These reproduction possibilities, suited to the media, have only been used partly. This is valid for the colour-diagrams in the catalog about ‘Cruel and Tender‘, published by the Hatje and Cantz publishing house. The catalog ‘Any Photography a Picture‘, published by the Dumont publishing house, is only convincing in the black-and-white reproductions. The other catalogs are persisting in the formal and typographical standard of a non-fiction book.
On the spot
The resonance of the audience for ‘Cruel and Tender‘ was, similar to London, overwhelming and really made points for the statistics of the Museum Ludwig.
This surely is because of exclusively showing pictures of people in clear and economical hanging within spacious rooms. The selection of photographers corresponds to the known list by Thomas Weski, which he already recorded while being the curator of the Sprengel Museum in Hanover: From Robert Adams to Garry Winograd, artists of the ‘Straight Photography‘ and its German counterparts. It seems to have become the life's work of Weski to hammer this position of a ‘reality oriented‘ photography into the public. But that is also why there has been continuous criticism of his activity as curator since years. See: Peter V. Brinkemper in Photonews 11/03, page 2, to ‘Of Bodies and Other Things‘.
However, the impression of the dominance of this position has its reason in the lack of other distinguished curator personalties in contemporary photography.
In this place shall be mentioned the successor of Thomas Weski at the Sprengel Museum in Hanover, Inka Schube. An excerpt from her in the internet published preface to the current exhibition Zoltán Jókays insistingly proves this:
‘The picture language Zoltán Jókay‘s lies in a pre-modern historical reference room, even if the photographer refers to models like August Sander or Diane Arbus. It is of an old masterly manner, also an old testamentary intensive expression, that refers to the baroque, to painters like Raffael. Therefore no lavish formats are required, no provable images obliged to Christian icons: It is moreover the manner how Jókay condenses human conditions of existence. One can describe this mode of operation, with regards to his predecessors Sander and Arbus, as a step ‘back to the front'. He never dissects his 'models' according to the rules of the critical modern age. With this, they always stay human beings in an almost romantic meaning at an intimate moment of searching for the sureness of identity.‘
That is lyric of dismay, but no curator text. The text doesn't help the photographer either, it can cause only the opposite.
It is actually about the introduction of a documentary-photographer of the generation of the nineties’s New German Photography. The peculiarity of this group of portrait-photographers is the dominance in a style of taking back in an easy, narrative, reporting manner, that consciously picks up regional topics in smooth and pastel colours. - Bernhard Fuchs, Albrecht Tübke, Göran Gnaudschun, Jitka Hanslová, to mention only few names. This, as a clear delimitation to the style of the Becher pupils, who have abused themselves in beating the big drum for winners of the globalization process. Models are American photographers of the ‘New Topographics‘, particularly Robert Adams and his successors in colour photography, who are consciously working with introverted pictures. All persons involved are connected by an biography of the eastern Elbe, with a photographic socialization after the fall of the Berlin Wall in the West.
But back to the requirements of an up-to-date curator in photography.
The ‘list of artists‘ is the authorship of the curator, therefore sacrosanct. Whether the pictures are finally convincing, is another thing. However, ‘Secrecy Step 1‘ is still valid for the choice of the curator (choice is probably the wrong word) and after that, the presented concept.
However, the exhibition process, communicated in public, is steadily gaining greater importance. Just the Dokumenta 10 and 11 shall be mentioned as examples here. It is to make the process of the exhibition development transparent to the outside. So the finding of the exhibition becomes part of the public event discourse, in which the audience can take part.
Such experiences and tests are completely missing in the field of photography.
It is the same with Weski. This lack of public communication is one of the reasons why Weski is reproached for being one-sided as a curator towards the selection of the artists. The ruthlessness as the monomaniacal sponsor of some few artists cannot be shaken off so simply.
Of course, background is the rapid development of photography, where no clues are, apart from the own observations and their theoretical appreciations. Here, the trained photographer Thomas Weski isn‘t in his element.
His theory of ‘realistic photography description‘ is only a sign of insecurity to handle with new photographic positions. A direct picture can be more ‘realistic‘ than one taken by observation. Examples: Boris Mikhailov – see therefore my remarks concerning the exhibition ‘Corpus Christi‘ - or August Sander. Aren‘t his pictures produced portraits of selected models? Wouldn't one say nowadays, Sander would be the inventor of the ‘People Photography‘ that has become popular by advertisement? Isn't the digitally handicraft of Andreas Gursky‘s ‘Picture Graphic‘ in realistic style, without ‘reality‘? For example his picture ‘Greely‘ shown in the exhibition of the year 2003?
However, a methodical criticism of Weski‘s curator-activity seems more essential to me:
The single artists are shown removed from their historical and social context and reduced to apparently subjective artists/photographers positions. The given reference of some artists to explain the investigation in realistic photography during the 20th century, fatally reminds of a history that describes the sequence of the times with rulers and important persons. Current discussions about art, culture and the concept of society are passing this ‘naive‘ world-view by.
Due to the confrontation against modern art-photography in the environment of Cologne, the curator Weski escaped to Munich. A death was to complain, the shelved con-curator Reinhold Misselbeck died of heart-failures. But his widow, Inge Misselbeck, was avenging on the spot and held up the flag for: the new cultural fig leaf of the Fotokina, the art photo-fair photofaircologne, of course together with the aged L. Fritz Gruber, whose collection had already been looked after by Reinhold Misselbeck in the Museum Ludwig.
Yes, that’s how a fairytale could end, an opera could begin, but unfortunately only the curtain for a new piece of the Cologne photo-clique is lifted, here.
The international house of photography
In ‘A Clear Vision‘ the collection Gundlach takes the principle to heart, that the qualitatively best works arise, if the artists are close to their breakthrough. The ambition is urgent, the first experiences have been made, all energy is gathered. These works in mostly smaller formats aren’t as ‘representative‘ as later works that are more orientated to selling, but have the immediacy of the new and the risk.
Otto Steinert with very unknown portraits of the years 1949 and 1952; Diane Arbus with prints of the beginning of the sixties - the Baryt-prints were presented in a quite modern way, free to the unevenness of the material, in a deep-set frame; Fischli and Weiß in black-and-white, 1985; the painter Albert Oehlen with stop signs; The American fashion photographer Erwin Blumenfeld with his drawings of the twenties and portraits of the thirties – the list could be endlessly continued.
The handwriting of a collector can be recognized here, who has been collecting as fashion photographer and – what is quite visible – as a gay person without vanities. Unfortunately, this impressive and touching part of the collection is getting reduced by a great convolution of pictures, where the collector‘s ambition becomes recognizable to illustrate the lexicon of contemporary photography. Therefore, also second quality pictures can be seen: Cindy Sherman in colour of 1994, new Fischli and Weiß in large size, a faded Tillmans from the year 2000, Rineke Dijkstra of 1999, smooth Michael Najjars a.o. That’s a pity.
However, the collection discovers on her authentic way the East European photography, to whom the realistic photography of the former GDR belongs, even if this is intensely denied. Whether Evelyn Richter, Gundula Schulze or Antanas Sutkus – here, it has been collected with the naive soul of a photographer, with the intimacy knowledge, how pictures are felt by the camera.
It only remains to say that the hanging of Zedenik Felix freely handles with the different positions of photography, but no ‘picture mush‘ is created, like Honnef in Berlin.
Anyway, this exhibition seems to be covered by an aura of strain. It is too obvious that it is to fill the gap in the collection of the photography in Hamburg – and of course also in Germany.
One can clarify this by looking round next-door.
Diagonally opposite to the entrance of the exhibition ‘A Clear Vision‘, the exhibition ‘Corpus Christi - Representation of Christ in the Photography of 1850-2001‘ was shown at the same time. This touring exhibition is a highly adavanced project of the photography section of the Israel Museum Tel Aviv and a surprise.
It actually isn’t about showing Christ in a photo-historical view, but – and that is new in consequence and in the quantity of the material - about the investigation of ‘The Photography and the Pathos‘. Suddenly it gets clear that pathos, staginess, mysticism, kitsch, sentimentality and trash are essential features of photo-culture – and that since its birth. The ‘genre‘ in photography isn't a criterion of order, but shifts the view: A GI, shocked to death, squating in the mud of Vietnam is as emotive produced as: Mrs Abramovic on her white horse, the symbolistically installed family members of Margarete Cameron, the mongoloids during the Holy Communion Leonardo‘s in the context of advertising. Caused by the merciless curator‘s concept, for example Boris Mikhailov‘s outsiders finally become what they are: Hallucinations about the tumbling of Russia between the civilizations.
Unfortunately, the exhibition topic ‘Corpus of Christ‘ is taken literally and turned into the correctly Protestant topic ‘religious fundamentalism‘.
So, no fun anymore, no laughing and nasty remarks on kitsch and art, no - an accompanying program threatens:
On Sundays, 2 pm (not on February, 1st and on Easter Sunday): Theological guided tour of the exhibition with pastor Alexander Röder from Hamburg, leader of the Kirchlicher Kunstdienst der Nordelbischen Evangelisch-Lutherischen Kirche.
Friday, March 26th, 2004, 4 pm – 5.30 pm: Special guided tour
A picture of a man - Jesus Christ between Bible, art and today
An educational guided tour in religion for the youth, parents and teachers of the exhibition ‘Corpus Christi‘ with Inge Hanson and Andreas Schultheiß of the Pädagogisch-Theologisches Institut.
The international house of photography
The ambition is pushing onwards. This is surely a good sign. However, a specific problem of Hamburg turns up in the mixture of culturally interested handicraft photographers and the intellectual standards of the forming arts. It sometimes seems very naive, if, like in the symposium (!) about 'Colour in Photography,' the present standards of the magazine photography are introduced as artistic positions, moody romancing about the topic 'we have all been black and-white once' (Ulf Erdmann Ziegler‘ and one meets one another after the 'dispute' (about what) at the 'barbecue' on the Deichtorplatz. This all sounds like an evening’s program for the mild Mediterranean nights during the festival of Arles.
‘Of Bodies and Other Things‘
The outer data cuts a sorry figure. The German Historical Museum provides the genre: German and arts and crafts. The curator still confines himself: produced photography about the topic ‘body‘ in the period of 1920 until presence. This could have yielded an interesting exhibition which, however, would have required an intensive enquiry.
Anyway, the topic is immense, it goes through many genres: Fashion, sports, portrait, act and science.
And what does curator Klaus Honnef make out of it?
The concepts are made sodden: Out of bodies, with the addition ‘and Other Things‘, evolves anything one can take a picture of. The term ‘produced‘ is only opposed to journalistic photography. Photo-artists are those who don't work journalistically and who define themselves as art-authors.
And who is this: ‘autonome deutsche fotografische Kunst‘, developed by Klaus Honnef and a part of the German photography-scene.
The list of names is predefined and is only varied in the contemporary. Well: Blossfeld, Sander, Renger-Patsch, Riefenstahl, List and the Subjective Photography; Becher, Blume, Sieverding - and then it becomes more and more diffuse: Martens, Schmitz, Mayers a.o.
This canon is propagated by the supporters of an autonomous development of the photo-art in diverse variations since the seventies. Once the exhibition is called ‘The power of Pictures‘, once the material is - like here - introduced in the sense of ‘thing‘.
Behind that is the lobby of the German photographic-collections, which refers to the view of Otto Steinert. A special German way is assumed, whose development formulates itself to the esthetic. For example: SK Sammlung Köln (www.sk-kultur.de), Fotografische Sammlung Essen (www.museum-folkwang.de), Berlinische Galerie (www.berlinischegalerie.de). Also most of the classical photography auctions are determined by this canon. – Bassenge (www.bassenge.com), Dietrich Schneider-Henn (www.schneider-henn.de) a.o.
The bitter criticism that has been expressed towards the exhibition of Klaus Honnef, was mainly based on giving the exhibition a title that does not coincide with the adequately known content in any way.
However, it is also clearly shown that nowadays the position of an autonomous German photo-art is no longer accepted without opposition and the younger generation lacks simply of understatement.
Of course, the question remains why such an experienced exhibition organisator and photo-critic like Klaus Honnef maneuvers himself to the offside. That is difficult to understand, because he is one of the quite few experts in photography, who have had an intensively critical look at the contemporary forming arts over years. A qualification which most photo historians and critics are missing.
An explanation can only be indicated. Trained photo-critics of the early 68‘s generation, like Klaus Honnef, still obtain their theoretical basis from the German view on photography that is aware of the German photography of the 20th century as handicraft – not without good reasons, the others actually had no chance. Concerning this version, there aren't any photographers who are artists. If they remain in the context of the medium, they are condemned to the arts and crafts. Artists working with photography are doing art, even if they are missing the mediate knowledge. The discussion at the end of the seventies can be read in detail in: ‘Photographie als Medium. 10 Thesen zur konventionellen und konzeptionellen Photography‘ by Rolf H. Krauss (publishing house A. Nagel, 1st edition 1979, ISBN 3-89322-707-5).
Here, it gets clear that for educated contemporaries the German manually-oriented photography was, in a depressing measure, ignorant in education (and partly still is). One must only read the remarks of Renger-Patsch, to comprehend this. Therefore, intelligent and modern photographers of the late 20th century have been reversed to ‘conceptional artists who work with photography‘ - as the married couple Becher.
So it gets understandable, why ‘journalistic photography‘ isn't art for Klaus Honnef, but each production becomes art, even if the arrangements are naked arts and crafts. For example the exhibits of Mrs Schmitz.
The radical change of the eighties has withdrawn the basis of this theory that is more observative than analytic.
See concerning the radical change: Esther Ruelfs, ‘Werkstatt Wirklichkeit. Stipendiaten aus zwanzig Jahren ‘ in: Katalog über die Stipendiaten der Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach-Stiftung, Museum Folkwang, Steidl publishing house 2003 (ISBN 3-88243-880-0).
However, this isn't common property. Just exhibition organisators and curators, who deny the modernity of the medium, rather go back to this attempt in new variations.
A current example: Maria De Corral (age-group 1942) has built up the collection ‘Colección de Fotografía Contemporánea de Telefónica‘ with considerable effort within two years, which shall be the cultural sign of the Spanish telephone company for her international activities. De Corral: ‘Therefore, the collection of Telefónica concentrates less on photos than on artists, who use photography not as a documentary or narrative medium, but as a medium to create an autonomous picture or an autonomous expression.‘ A decisive criterion would be that ‘the photographs have physical presence for the observer‘ – as to say: formats of more than 1m x 1m.
Interview with Claudia Stein in: Photonews no. 2/04 (www.fundacion.telefonica.com/arte).
One main emphasis of this collection are the pictures of the married couple Becher and their pupils. However, they have helped the breakthrough of documentary-photography as an artistic-language. But the prints of the Bechers definitely have formats under 1m x 1m.
These educated protagonists too clearly meander with their theories to gather only their ‘darlings‘.
The German Historical Museum has had a furious start under the former head of Munich‘s Stadtmuseum, Stölz in 1992. His profound knowledge of photography gathered in Munich was of benefit to him. With a blow not only intelligent photography was shown in normal exhibitions, but also an own gallery of photography - also with contemporary photographers. At that time, Monika Flacke was responsible for this.
This special esteem of photography has disappeared, the exhibition ‘Of Bodies and Other Things‘ was a touring exhibition and episode. It is shown ‘The XX. Century. Photographs of German History 1880-1990‘ from the collection of the German Historical Museum. The curator is Dieter Vorsteher.
Any picture that can be found in the archives is getting muddled into a historical ‘illustrated broadsheet‘. Whether art-photographer or snapshots, lost properties or professionals, all that matters is the correct motif.
It was right to attack this exhibition as a relapse into a time where the opinion was held, photos would be made by machines and one would only push the trigger.
The Siemens Collection
A surprisingly aloof exhibition which cannot deny the one to one reflection of the photography-idea during the eighties. This genuine time-interruption is based on several factors: Here, photography is still understood as a variant of graphic and introduced as a form of the ‘Fine Print‘. Blow-ups and installations are awkward alien elements. Additionally stopgaps like: Rineke Dijkstra with the disposition of painting from the nineties, a poor Axel Hütte.
The presentation has no concept, even the material isn't used for checking the current meaning. This is an exhibition of a collection which has been completely fetched out of the magazine without revision.
Within the Siemens Collection something recognizably is going wrong. And not only since today.
In 1993 the photo publicist Ulf Erdmann Ziegler already said: ‘In the New Pinacotheca of Munich, where in splendid rooms Victorian art is represented, the only place for the ambitious Siemens project was in the cellar, where the great formats stuck on beige wallpapers between ceiling and ground. But as the top curator of the modern department, Ulrich Bischoff, announced, remedial action is taken now:
In separate purchases with symmetrical use of means, the state painting collections and Siemens claim to have assembled the contemporary trends in the international artistic photography in substantial examples by end of the decade. If there isn't any quarrel before, the collections will be brought together in the completed new building, within a couple of years.‘
In: Ulf Erdmann Ziegler, ‘Magische Allianzen. Fotografie und Kunst‘, Lindinger + Schmid publishing house 1996. The article is called: ‘Zwischen Abscheu und Neugier: Siemens Fotoprojekt 1987-1992‘.
The further exhibition activities confirm the impression, that the most negative variant of the possible developments has become true (see below).
The Pinacotheca of the Modern Age puts after: From May 8th, 2004 until September 12th, 2004 the Allianz Fotografiesammlung (142 exhibits) is presented, which has been loan in the long term.
Fotografiesammlung der Allianz AG for the Pinacotheca of the Modern Age, Munich (www.pinakothek.de).
By this Munich‘s need for photographs of the mainstream-nineties is finally fulfilled and - as tranquillizer - the ‘classics‘ of the twenties and fifties will also follow.
This collection is a typical collection of representation and therefore matches to the Pinacotheca of the Modern Age, that uses the visual possibilities of a BMW- showroom for the representation of the modern art. The attitude of the alliance is surely patronizing. However, the actual engine of the collection activity might be the view of the PR and the image of the company. Accordingly representative are the selection of the exhibits.
In contrast, the Siemens Collection is based on the effort to regard itself as a part of society and also to tie the artists/photographers as a part of the process.
This concept is nowadays more up-to-date than it has been during its development and also corresponds with the few other pioneering photographic collections, as for example that of Wilhelm Schürmann from Aachen.
With this it gets clear that the Siemens Collection isn't wanted: The wrong place, the wrong people, the lacking consciousness of the peculiarity of the concept. This Ulf Erdmann Ziegler had already feared in 1993. The curator Ingelheim isn't cut to size for the collection: She is specialist in the photography of the twenties. She has also made use of the established blow-up photography for contemporary exhibitions: ‘Soliloquys‘ and ‘The Architecture of the Homeless‘ have been her visiting card.
Furthermore the completely lack of accompanying events is striking. Meanwhile a must for ambitious curators. Current examples: Fotomuseum Winterthur (www.fotomuseum.ch), C/O Berlin (www.co-Berlin.com), Internationales Haus der Photographie Hamburg (www.deichtorhallen.de).
Conclusion: ‘Stagnation in radical change‘, the German plight
By opening the Kunstforum volumes 171 (July till August 2002) and 172 (September till October 2004), this analysis is to one’s own astonishment also drastically varified: These two volumes are devoted to the reorientation of photography - therefore our topic. The authors and interlocutors are: Wielfried Wiegand (FAZ) L. Fritz Gruber, Klaus Honnef, the married couple Becher, Lothar Schirmer, Rober Lebeck, Manfred Heiting, Thomas Weski, Ute Eskildsen, Janos Frecto, Hertha Wolf, Wilhelm Schurmann, Rudolf Kicken – age-group around sixty. All protagonist of the photography scene since the beginning of the eighties.
Thomas Leuner, 29.09.04
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