The subdued atmosphere of a collector’s house: a small Modernist sideboard with a figurine placed on it, archival material in vitrines, large-format photographs, slide and film projections onto white rectangles, on walls otherwise painted in saturated plain colours. The impression of a private home is, however, fractured by two rectangles – one sawn out of the floor to reveal an underlying wood structure, the other out of a wall that would normally hide the view out of a window onto a building opposite.
Kathrin Sonntag chose this visual choreography to engage with the prehistory of the prize she received last year from the Dr. Georg and Josi Guggenheim Foundation. The Guggenheims collected more than 150 works of pre- and postwar Modernism; in 2005, after their death, their private collection went to auction at Christie’s, creating the financial basis for the generous prize awarded annually to an emerging artist. Sonntag’s research material – letters, notes and back issues of Du magazine – is spread among three vitrines, each of which has a distinct theme: art as commodity; living with art; and collecting objects from nature. Sonntag both uses the Guggenheims’ material and links it with her own. A large-format slide projection (Annex, 2010) shows a series of close-ups in the artist’s studio in which different elements are layered with a 2005 Christie’s catalogue. For example, a ripped-open envelope – white and yellow on the outside, grey on the inside – obscures some information concerning Roy Lichtenstein’s Study for the Great Pyramid (1969) which bears exactly the same colours, while under the catalogue is a sheet of paper with a yellow and black pattern. It’s as if the envelope and paper continue Lichtenstein’s comic-style picture into three dimensions.
Although the colours, lines and views of the studio situations are carefully matched to the motifs from the collection, they still have an air of the incidental or purposefully unfinished. Rather than photographic scrutiny of the history and context of an art collection – as in the work of Louise Lawler – the focus here is on stories of personal connections in everyday engagement with art. In view of the heterogeneous material and the complex narrative, that Sonntag prevents this from becoming an arbitrary hotchpotch is astonishing. Maybe she succeeds because, instead of trying to create a Gesamtkunstwerk, she offers only fragmentary glimpses of connections between art and biographical material. But perhaps it is also linked with what Roland Barthes called the ‘co-presence’ of the photographic medium: even if the event depicted lies in the past, the metaphysical quality of this co-presence means it always also concerns the present moment and its viewers.
Translated by Nicholas Grindell