In their 1970 essay Ein konkreter Vorschlag (A Concrete Proposal), Eberhard Roters and Dietrich Mahlow, the founding director of Kunsthalle Nürnberg, drew up a vision for exhibiting art. Their plan was to achieve the greatest possible degree of flexibility for exhibitions, to reach a broader public and to facilitate many different modes of artistic expression by creating 30 rooms for just as many artists.
Over 40 years later, Nuremberg’s Institute of Modern Art, Kunsthalle Nürnberg, Kunstverein Nürnberg and Das Neue Museum took this proposal as their starting point for a joint show that puts the issue of space in the spotlight. Mahlow’s idea that each artist should have the use of a separate room is mostly realized, although it was impossible to arrive at a precise and homogenous presentation format. Both the exhibition and the catalogue reflected the curators’ focus on the diversity of space as a concept while highlighting its architectural, performative, theatrical, political, media and social aspects.
Michaela Melián’s Diorama (2012) provided the clearest example of this diversity. A large number of transparent objects appear on a table at eye level: ashtrays, bottles, bowls, forks, rulers, light bulbs, glasses, crystal balls, CD and cassette cases. The ensemble is illuminated by a video projector and a slide projector, whose beams are refracted by two prisms and cast onto the wall. The projections show a wooden model of the city of Nuremberg from 1937 (from which the synagogue has been ‘pre-emptively’ removed) and a sequence from Triumph of the Will (1935) Leni Riefenstahl’s film of the 6th Nuremberg Rally (the scene that shows the city from Hitler’s approaching plane). The installation addresses Modernism’s complex entanglement with history; its Utopia of a different world – a city of glass and light – breaks up under the weight of its own errors.
By contrast, Christine and Irene Hohenbüchler’s dingfestmachen (2012) – colourful plastic foam cubes covered with patterned fabrics, lace, braids and trimmings – is all about making a space for participation. Intended as an invitation to play, the work left room for creativity – that monstrous buzzword not only in museums but also in education, research and finance. Creativity was something of a recurrent theme in the exhibition and showed up in Isa Melsheimer’s O-Houses (2012) and Katerina Sedá’s Nedá se svítt (You Win Some, You Lose Some, 2012), which also use embroidery, painting and drawing on fabric.
Nairy Baghramian is one of the few participating artists to consider labour. In Butcher, Barber, Angler & Others (2009), abstract formal components and other elements – including a salon hairdryer and a butcher’s table – form an ensemble that evokes various professions. Baghramian is interested in the relationship between work and life, in forms of production and in their position between what Walter Benjamin calls ‘cult value’ and ‘exhibition value’. A more in-depth treatment of these issues and the way they relate to concepts of space would have been welcome in the exhibition as a whole.
Michael Beutler’s installation Poached Egg (2012) was particularly spectacular. Using the simplest of materials – paper-covered wire mesh on a bamboo frame – he constructed a space that turns around its own axis. You enter the work through a gap in the wire mesh and immediately lose all sense of direction. Beutler aims for a direct experience of space and succeeds in triggering a sense of dizziness, even nausea.
Marc Camille Chaimowicz’s Jean Cocteau… (2003–ongoing) combines queer and pop-cultural references – record covers, art works, wall drawings and wallpaper – with props and furniture. In terms of space, the work oscillates between film set and window decoration, public exhibition and private interior.
30 Künstler / 30 Räume showed in a concrete way how various institutions could cooperate. In hindsight, Roters and Mahlow’s concepts for a new Kunsthalle may appear visionary. While focusing on built spaces, the exhibition also showed that what actually defines the character of a museum and exhibition space – namely the kind of differentiated and committed exhibition work in evidence here – has come to be the exception rather than the rule.
Translated by Nicholas Grindell