in Frieze | 10 SEP 97
Featured in
Issue 36

Sculpture Projects in Münster

Arriving in Münster from the opening of documenta in Kassel, one could almost hear the visitors sigh with relief as the burden imposed by Catherine David began to slip from their shoulders.

in Frieze | 10 SEP 97

Arriving in Münster from the opening of documenta in Kassel, one could almost hear the visitors sigh with relief as the burden imposed by Catherine David began to slip from their shoulders. 'Sculpture. Projects in Münster' - the third mammoth artistic event of Summer 1997 - had a pleasant atmosphere about it from the outset. Indeed, long before the opening, the organisers had stressed their intention for openness and clarity, sending out press releases almost daily with new artists' names, projects they were planning, then rejecting, and then planning again. And there was the website, unique for a show of this size and extremely well designed, providing information about how things were going at any particular time. After David's contrived exercises in silence and secrecy, Münster provided a warm welcome, untempered by the opening days' rain.

Certainly, this was all easier to achieve for 'Sculpture. Projects' than for documenta, rich in tradition but also groaning under it. Organised by Klaus Bußmann and Kasper König, the Münster show was first held in 1977. At that time, many were still to be convinced of the merits of sculpture in public places, not least the general public, the Catholic church (which is very strong in Münster) and a hesitant city government. But the exhibition went down very well with the international press who put it in the same league as documenta from the start. For the sequel ten years later many felt that the curators had rested on their laurels a little too much, and most of the advance goodwill was frittered away. It was hard to conceive of the show as a whole, individual works were difficult to locate and generally the idea of sculpture and its status as a public work was not what it had been.

The full stop in the title of this year's exhibition is a new development, intended to confirm that individual works no longer have to be sculpture - Münster can function as a public space for a wide range of artistic media. This change has come about in response to the interventionist work of a new generation of artists who prefer to address urban spaces and landscapes in a more communicative and exploratory way, rather than seeking to enrich it simply by the installation of their own autonomous sculptures. Tobias Rehberger's initial (rejected) proposal, for example, was to incorporate Donald Judd's work Ohne Titel (Untitled), which Judd had created for the exhibition in 1977. The two rings of concrete placed one inside the other would be used as a bar surrounded by seating, the inside of the circle providing space for drinks and a DJ console. Aiming to question the self-sufficiency and austerity of Judd's work, Rehberger's benign intervention would also have been a cross-generational homage to the Münster project, reminding the public of Judd's 20 year-old contribution.

The plans, designs and documentation for the individual projects could be seen in the Westfälisches Landesmuseum in the centre of the city. These included unrealised projects, such as Rehberger's and perhaps the most impressive, Gabriel Orozco's proposal to build a Ferris wheel, half of which would be below ground level, in Hindenburgplatz. The square has a historically dubious name - Hindenburg is seen as having helped to pave the way for the Nazi dictatorship - and Hans Haacke toyed with similar ideas in the siting of his project. Standort Merry-go Round (Location Merry-go-round, 1997) consisted of a children's roundabout complete with music and lights, surrounded by planks of wood and crowned with barbed wire. He placed his installation next to a 1909 war memorial dedicated to the three Prussian wars between 1864 and 1871. While the work could be considered overstated and somewhat churlish, criticising a militaristic and authoritarian period in German history, it also challenged, consciously or not, some of the works that stood all too decoratively and harmlessly on the same tree-lined promenade. These included Andrea Zittel's A-Z Deserted Islands (1997), fibreglass islands floating like blobs of whipped cream in a pool; Dan Graham's Fun House (1997), one of his two-way mirror pavilions, now very well-established and generally popular; and the Phantasiewohnwagen (Fantasy Caravans, 1997) by Atelier van Lieshout parked on a patch of grass by the footpath.

One of the major problems with this year's exhibition was the way in which certain works, such as those described above, were lined up as if installed in an open-air museum. While making the Project more visitor-friendly, this meant that some of the exhibits did not achieve their full impact, and it might have been an idea to ask visitors to walk a little further to rescue some of the works from simply decorating Münster's idyllic town centre. Douglas Gordon's video installation Between Darkness and Light (after William Blake) (1997) resisted this fate. A film screen was constructed in a pedestrian subway, almost completely blocking one's path. On it were projected two emotionally charged films, both dealing with religious obsession and miracles (The Exorcist, 1973 and The Song of Bernadette, 1943) one on either side of the screen. The simultaneous showing of the two films paralleled the position of the pedestrian tunnel under the road, a place where two modes of transport co-exist, but also suggested these passages as potentially useful social spaces.

Münster's lake, the Aasee, has a different atmosphere altogether, with plenty of room on its banks for works to develop their - sometimes rather dubious - poetry. Isa Genzken's Vollmond (Full Moon)(1997), a glass sphere that glows after dark, was one of these, as was Ilya Kabakov's installation Looking up. Reading the words... (1997), a poem by Goethe written in thin wire suspended in the sky. Characteristically, Bethan Huws asks us to walk the furthest. Her work The Quest for Self (1997) is right at the end of the Aasee, where she discovered a little patch of woodland and a path that leads through it and then back again along its edge. Her contribution was to identify the path on a map and write a meditative description of her walk along it. Far away from the centre of Münster and the art with which it was filled, Huws created a peaceful work that was almost invisible.

Likewise Herman de Vries' Sanctuarium (1997), an oval brick structure, three metres high and open at the top, simply enclosed an area of grass in the spacious Schloßpark. Above the four oval openings in the wall were verses in Sanskrit: 'om. this is perfect. that is perfect. perfect comes from perfect. take perfect from perfect, the remainder is perfect'. Huws' work also had similarities to Maria Eichhorn's Erwerb des Grundstücks Ecke Tibusstraße/Breul, Gemarkung Münster, Flur 5 (Acquisition of a plot at the junction of Tibusstraße and Breul, administrative area Münster, corridor 5, 1997). Eichhorn recorded the purchase of this small plot of land and left it unchanged during the exhibition, identifying it only with a sign. Her work pointed out that public art is made on land that has been specially made available to it, and that few public works, however critically and politically aware, acknowledge this fact.

Günter's (wiederbeleuchtet) (Günter's - illuminated again, 1997), the work actually realised by Tobias Rehberger, brought home the point that art cannot create space for itself in public places unimpeded. In front of the glass façade of a lecture theatre that had been illuminated from the inside, and thus transformed into a glowing mass, the artist installed a bar and DJ equipment on red artificial grass. It was intended to function as a party venue that would be open every evening for the enjoyment of both residents and visitors, but on the opening night guests were treated to the sight of a nun who runs a nearby nursing home instructing the DJs to turn the music off at 11 pm. People stood still and silent in Rehberger's communication area, clinging on to their drinks, their bodies forming black silhouettes in front of the glowing white building, providing a most aesthetic end to 'Sculpture. Projects in Münster'.