by Shraddha NairMay 05, 2021
In a world where exhibitions impose extra-architectural meaning to unrelated buildings, the Hamburger Kunsthalle’s ongoing exhibition, The Absurd Beauty of Space: 7 artists vs. Ungers, refreshingly approaches the very concept of designing an exhibition through methodologies that are intrinsically affected by its venue’s historical and physical properties. Curated by Alexander Klar with the assistance of Jan Steinke, the exhibition of contemporary painting, in the expanded sense of the term, brings together the practices of seven artists who are prompted to respond to the atmosphere created by their host structure, the Galerie der Gegenwart designed by Oswald Mathias Ungers in 1996. “The only brief was, please work with the architecture,” reflects Klar, “it is a difficult building from a curatorial viewpoint and many curators have decided to just build structures within the gallery to almost negate the architecture as it exists and do something contrary. I wanted to get all of the old structure visible again”.
This is translated by the sense of unity conveyed amongst the several units of the exhibition, between the works by the seven artists who were called upon to create work, the audience and the space. “The building is so difficult for a white cube hanging. In the same time, all those troubles make the other side completely possible, where we are doing immersive art where the viewer is part of the work,” thinking for the contemporary art at the Kunsthalle, whose position at the art institution was previously relatively insignificant. While Klar is interested in redefining the museum’s purview, he does this by trying to problematise public opinion about the space, “the whole idea of immersive-ness is sitting within the architecture of Mathias Ungers, which helps me a lot with what I would like to do with the museum. Basically, what I think is the white cube might be perfect for art but it is not perfect for the viewer. What I am looking for is a space that is perfect for the viewer and, of course, the right place for the art”.
Within this basic mould, the artists were encouraged to explore the boundaries of artistic practice as the exhibition explored some present-day possibilities of painting as a genre or medium: Helga Schmidhuber filled up a gallery creating a Wunderkammer, or a cabinet of curiosities, through her image-making and scale of installation, Claudia Weiser created a cube that on a micro level reflected the larger shape of the Galerie der Gegenwart, Domnik Halmers explored the space between two and three-dimensionality, while Dana Greiner presented amongst the plethora of non-traditional media the semantic possibilities of the medium in its traditional form, amongst other material and conceptual exploration along the boundaries of the artform. The remaining artists, Jan Albers, Franziska Reinbothe and Sol Calero, continue these explorations, each in their own way protesting the boundaries imposed by quadrangles. What is most interesting in each of their installation is how they uniquely appear as parerga to some overarching discourse that in enshrined in the skeleton of the Galerie der Gegenwart, which was the newest of the Kunsthalle’s three buildings with the other two dating back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries with each hosting artworks from their respective time periods.
The exhibition succeeds in establishing layers of dialogue through the emerging themes of each individual artwork, providing viewers with an opportunity to witness art history in its making, at least in terms of it being a case study of when the museum can become a muse, as Klar described the trajectory of his personal motivations with the project. While the integration of various sedimentary contexts is given more importance in contemporary curatorial practices, their coming together is not treated as being crucial to a more comprehensive audience experience and architecture especially is not given its due cognisance as though its position is merely as an involuntary background. What The Absurd Beauty of Space does self-consciously must be an organic norm, and until the day when this can be thought to be trues exhibitions such as this can only enrich public opinions about exhibition-making.
(The Absurd Beauty of Space: Seven Artists vs Ungers is on display at Galerie der Gegenwart, Hamburger Kunsthalle, till March 7, 2021.)