Dierk Schmidt: Galerie Ursula Walbrol

Article excerpt

Dierk Schmidt is concerned with the possibilities of historical painting in the present day. In his recent exhibition "Hostages," he established a network of historical associations with a recent occurrence: On October 19, 2001, a boat carrying 397 asylum seekers sank off the coast of Australia. The actual circumstances of the sinking were never fully clarified, but given Australia's draconian refugee policies, people do seem to have become, as Schmidt has put it, "hostages between political and bureaucratic systems." He draws a parallel between this event and a much older tragedy: On July 2, 1816, the Medusa, flagship of a French naval unit, ran aground in the vicinity of Cap Blanc with some four hundred passengers comprising both soldiers and settlers. The lifeboats were quickly taken by officers and important passengers, while the common soldiers, sailors, and settlers crowded onto an improvised raft that was supposed to be ragged by the lifeboats. When a storm arose, the hawser snapped; after twelve days, only fifteen of the 150 people on the raft were still alive. The French painter Theodore Gericault captured this moment in his monumental historical painting The Raft of the Medusa, 1818.

At the time, Gericault's painting was hung high up and in very bad light in a room of the Louvre. In Schmidt's painting of precisely this room, Louvre 2001/Salon Carre 1819, 2001-2002, he included next to the Gericault another significant historical painting, Delacroix's Liberty Leading the People, 1830. He represented the Australian shipwreck with printouts of reports found on the Internet. Hung from the wall was a short quotation from Peter Weiss's Aesthetik des Widerstands (The Aesthetics of Resistance [1983]) describing Gericault's painting and posing the general question of how, if at all, art can be useful in political struggles. …