"Sculpture Projects in Munster." (Art Exhibit)

By Buchloh, Benjamin H. D. | Artforum International, September 1997 | Go to article overview

"Sculpture Projects in Munster." (Art Exhibit)


Buchloh, Benjamin H. D., Artforum International


When Tony Smith famously attempted in 1966 to come to terms with the radical changes imminent in sculptural production and perception, he pointed to two seemingly unrelated examples of highly overdetermined social spaces: one a site of the future, a strip of the then-unfinished New Jersey Turnpike, the other a ruin of recent history, the infamous Nurnberg Stadium built by the Nazi government for its Reichsparteitag. What linked the two in Smith's statement was - we realize in hindsight - the recognition of a crucial moment in the transformation of public space. New technologies of mass organization and transportation altered the conventions of spatial perception and generated radically different forms of social space: on the one hand a totalitarian public sphere in both its fascist and state-socialist formations, on the other, a systematically planned and enforced capitalist consumer culture in the Western countries, which altered public perception in a manner easily matching, despite its fundamental differences, the intensity of the changes brought about by the totalitarian models. The recently united Germany has of course its manifest historical and contemporary share of all three spheres - fascist, state socialist, and consumerist - and one might have imagined that the painful evidence everywhere of this condition would offer the ideal circumstances for sculptural reflection on German territory in the late '90s.

Judging by their entries, most of the seventy-seven sculptors in this third installment of "Sculpture Projects in Munster" thought about neither Nurnberg nor New Jersey. Instead, it seems, they understood the exhibition to be primarily situated in the simultaneous collective practices of enforced leisure permeating the now-defunct social spaces of public communication. Despite curators Kasper Konig and Klaus Bussmann's best efforts to address the increasingly evident contradictions in sculpture, be they physical, discursive, or institutional, the general inability - not least among sculptors - to theorize the meaning of "public space" at the end of the century appears to render these contradictions insurmountable. (This terminological crisis is of course only the epiphenomenon of a much deeper one in the understanding of the conditions of the public sphere and dependent conditions of simultaneous, collective reception that have, after all, been the ideal to which sculpture aspired since its foundation in religious and secular monuments.) This analysis would constitute one model of theorizing sculpture's epistemic contradictions at the end of the century.

"Sculpture Projects in Munster" gives ample evidence of the fate of contemporary sculpture once the ideological state apparatus has shut the door on sociopolitical reflection, much less practice. Begun as an appendix to a survey of twentieth-century sculpture in 1977 (a moment when the adamant reception of Minimal and post-Minimal sculpture in Germany seemed to promise a revival in the medium), renewed in 1987 and again this summer, the show has come to reflect the production of art as an advanced form of entertainment for an ever-more sophisticated and increasingly bored European middle class, which would not know where to turn without blockbuster exhibitions (a condition necessitated through an overdeveloped cultural infrastructure, with its myriad corporate-, state-, and community-supported exhibition institutions, corporate and private investment collections, and ambitious curators who fancy themselves nomads, meaning they race from city to city in service of the multinational monopoly of the culture industry). These artists seem to take as a given that the function of sculpture is to furnish these compensatory leisure spaces. In Munster - the epitome of a deeply complacent middle-class city - any number of examples can be found: Ilya Kabakov's radio tower, Fischli and Weiss' outdoor garden, Jorge Pardo's pier extending into the Lake Aasee, Bert Theis' "platform for philosophical discussion," and worst of all, in their mix of banality and pretense, the supposedly therapeutic devices of Marie-Ange Guilleminot. …

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