Academic journal article German Quarterly

Homeland Bavaria--for whom?

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Homeland Bavaria--for whom?

Article excerpt

My experience of Germany is very limited, based primarily on an invitation I received in 1991 to participate-along with several artists from the United States and Europe-in creating site-specific installations that related to the history of the Konigsplatz in Munich.

I'd like to share this project with you, but let me position it in the context of many years that I've spent thinking about the relationship of representation to power, particularly what kinds of images make their way into public spaces. I want to contextualize myself as one of many contemporary cultural workers who have sought to make visible-or more central-certain marginalized or forgotten images and histories, certain covert ideologies.

The curator who invited me to participate in the Konigsplatz project, Werner Fenz, was Austrian, and he had organized a significant public art project in Graz, Austria, in 1988, called Bezugspunkte ("Points of Reference"), which marked the 50th anniversary of the Nazi invasion there. Artists such as Hans Haacke, a German who has spent most of his adult life in the US, and Beate Passow, from Munich, were among many who marked the relationship of contemporary sites to the Nazi occupation. Haacke recreated the Triumphal Column which the Nazis had installed in Bismarckplatz in 1938; Passow raised the issue of complicity between National Socialism and the Catholic Church by installing photographs and an audiotape at the Bishop's Palace, underlining the silence of Pope Pius XII in contrast to the outspokenness of Thomas Mann.

The Konigsplatz in Munich had a longer history: King Ludwig I of Bavaria in the early nineteenth century had commissioned the construction of two great museums, the Antikensammlungen (Museum of Classical Antiquities) and the Glyptothek, which housed his collection of classical sculpture. The Konigsplatz became an important ceremonial site as well. In 1895, for example, the Antikensammlungen was festooned for a celebration of Bismarck's birthday. During the Third Reich, two identical "temples of honor" were erected to the so-called Nazi "martyrs" of 1923 at the east side of the square, while the plaza was paved and appropriated for rallies and parades. In the 1980s the grassy areas were restored as part of an ongoing "de-Nazification" process.

I had read about this history before arriving in Munich; but among the things that struck me visually when I first saw the Konigsplatz in June 1991 were the niches around the periphery of the Glyptothek, filled with statues of famous men. Both mythical and historical, the male figures ranged from that of Prometheus to Renaissance artists Donatello and Michelangelo. I responded by creating an installation on the facade of the building opposite the Antikensammlungen, which included a series of simulated niches filled with female figures. Although time and money constraints meant limiting myself to only six figures, I was able to develop a focus in choosing them, thanks to the excellent guidance I received from the Frauenstudien (Women's Studies) group in Munich.

The installation was titled "Homeland Bavaria-for whom?" and was meant to provoke thinking about the issues I mentioned earlier: what is the relationship of representation to power? who belongs-- and whose image belongs-in public space?

Anchoring either end of the building facade (east and west wings) I chose two figures who represented traditionally esteemed women connected to the Konigsplatz site: the prototypical blonde Aryan of Nazi Youth League rallies; and the figure of Athena taken from the frieze over the entrance to the Glyptothek. The middle panels superimposed these icons over two additional women who referenced King Ludwig's imperial role as collector: a portrait of Helene Sedelmeyer, the shoemaker's daughter, one of many women chosen by Ludwig to be painted for his Schonheits-- galerie (Gallery of Beauties) at the Nymphenburg Palace in Munich; and the figure of Hecuba, taken from an Attic vase in the collection of the Antikensammlungen. …

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