The Lost Contingent: Paul Maenz's Prophetic 1967 Event and the Ambiguities of Historical Priority

By Boettger, Suzaan | Art Journal, Spring 2003 | Go to article overview

The Lost Contingent: Paul Maenz's Prophetic 1967 Event and the Ambiguities of Historical Priority


Boettger, Suzaan, Art Journal


With appreciation to Paul Maenz for his detailed replies to my questions, beginning with a fax from Berlin on Thanksgiving Day, 1994. This article also benefited by the responses to my query concerning issues of originality on the email listserv Consortium of Art and Architectural Historians (CAAH), founded and moderated by Marilyn Lavin, particularly the texts provided and written by Gary Schwartz and Amy lone.

"All this will one day be yours, sweetheart." Paul Maenz was not making any promises to me, but was reaching back to before he became a major German dealer to translate the enigmatic pledge on the catalogue for one of the first exhibitions he organized. The adventurous show had presented loosely arranged installations, many using natural materials, in advance of the exhibition of similar works in NewYork. It was astonishing to uncover this prehistory of Postminimalism before Earthworks-and more broadly Postminimalism-began to coalesce as an identifiable style later in the 1960s and the early 1970S. Maenz's exhibition/event is unmentioned in English-language discussions of the 1960s except for a terse description by Lucy Lippard in her 1973 SixYears chronology, the instigation of my investigation.1 But even more provocative is the fact that while the show seems to have been all but unknown in the United States, close variations of some of the European works in it were made within a few years by other artists, chiefly Americans. Did those repetitions result from knowledge of these precedents, or were they parallel discoveries illustrating the increasingly international dynamic of the late-i96os art scene?

Maenz's group show was so temporary that its title derived from its duration: 19:45-21:55. Elements more of a participatory event than a static display, the projects enacted between 7:45 P.M. and 9:55 P.M. were made of eccentric materials such as sawdust, earth, blocks of ice, or a loaf of bread. On the opening page of the slim catalogue documenting it, the numbers of that time span, the date SEPTEMBER 9TH 1967 (not in European format), and location-- FRANKFURT GERMANY-are given in a large, thick, sans-serif font. At the top of the next page, printed in a contrasting, small, unobtrusive serif font associated with typewriters, was the intriguing epigraph "Dies alles Herzchen wird einmal Dir gehoren."

Stated in German in an otherwise English-language publication (produced by Maenz in Frankfurt), and including the term of endearment "Herzchen," the line "All this will one day be yours, sweetheart" evokes a whispered seduction in a foreign tongue. Maenz explained that it "ironically refers to those grand movie gestures, like when the sheikh points out the vast desert lands to his young successor" and promises his world.2 This fanciful allusion is not the sort of reference one usually finds on programs of radically experiential art and suggests Maenz's own "grand" ambitions.

A few years earlier, working in the art department of the Frankfurt office of the American advertising firm Young & Rubicam, Maenz had met the artist Peter Roehr, who Maenz considers influential "on all levels" to his thinking about art. Transferred first toY&R's Paris office, he then lived in New York City, working fort&R as an art director, from fall 1965 to early 1967. In 1966 he purchased from Sol LeWitt's studio the artist's last sculpture in black and first modular construction, (First Modular Structure, 1965, Neues Museum Weimar). Also while in New York, Maenz founded, along with independent curator Willoughby Sharp, Kineticism Press. The press's 1966 brochure shows photographs of two pensive young men in buttoned-up dark suits. Its "Statement" declares: "Works of art and artistic ideas are identical" and "We are dedicated to the total distribution of artistic information in all media."3 During this time in New York, Pop

art was flourishing and what would come to be called Minimalism received its institutional sanction in the Jewish Museum's large spring 1966 show Primary Structures. …

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