Report from Düsseldorf
by Rosanne Altstatt
 
     
 
 
The contemporary art scene in Düsseldorf derives much of its energy from the presence of the Düsseldorf Art Academy. Joseph Beuys taught there for many years -- he was even fired by local authorities after a sit-in protesting the school's admission policy. Today's stars at the academy include the painter Markus Lupertz, the photographers Bernd & Hilla Becher and, most recently, Scottish video-installation artist Douglas Gordon.
     
 
Installation view of Amelie von Wufflen's paintings (right) and Josef Strau's drawing at Ursula Walbröl
 
Snowflake Office
Guest curators at galleries are fairly rare in Germany, but there are some signs of change. An example has now been set by Clemens Krümmel, a 30-something art historian from Bochum who organized "Snowflake Office" -- a poetic reference to the temporary nature of the project -- at Galerie Ursula Walbröl, a small, out-of-the-way haven for up-and-coming artists. For a series of seven shows stretching from January 1999 through the end of September, Krümmel paired up (mostly) former students of the Art Academy, many of whom are making a go of it in Berlin.

Among the more interesting contributions were photomontages by Amelie von Wulffen. In reference to an ever-changing architecural landscape, the "Berliner" artist creates "sequentially Cubist" buildings that burst out of their two-dimensional format and continue changing before your eyes with each newly collaged layer. Expanding the exhibition with a combination of academic theory and imagination, Josef Strau's works from his series "Digital Dreams" combine current architecture and ideology through text fragments and pencil drawings.

The final installment of "Snowflake Office" featured an installation by Rupert Huber that included a supposedly hermetically sealed aquarium filled with rotting leftovers of a meal, plus paintings strewn about the gallery and a sound installation that ran in sync with a video by Denise Lasagni. The installation continually created new combinations of sound, image (and smell).

Fresh Fish at Fischer
The undisputedly most well-established gallery in town -- Konrad Fischer Galerie -- has recently mounted a series of shows by young Düsseldorf artists in its back galleries. The exhibitions have the catchy title "Fischer's Frische Fische" (Fischer's Fresh Fish). In September it featured work by two artists, Linn Lühn and Daniela Steinfeld.

Lühn makes oversized drawings of empty shelf-like constructions, hung here in the gallery and its corridors. She also built a shaky structure that stretched up to the ceiling and sprawled out into the space. White neon lights running along the boards gave the structure a cold glow. This approach to something a German could might "Innenarchitektur" felt rather cramped and didn't pack much of a punch. It could take on a presence of its own if it were installed elsewhere.

Steinfeld's photographs echo the theme of the body and self-exploration that has become too typical of young female artists. Several images show female limbs with artificial malformations and extensions, photographed at close range and from unconventional angles. Also on view were pictures of opaque, colored panty hose wrapped around a fist and fingers to create solid, flower-like shapes.

     
 
Jürgen Meyer
RO 8
1998
at Konrad Fischer
 
Peter Sutter
installation view of
Der Alpstein und Seine Geologie and Toggenburger Tepui
1999
at Michael Cosar
 
Peter Sutter
Toggenburger Tepui
(detail)
at Michael Cosar
 
Judith Samen
Untitled, 1998
at Sies + Hoke
 
Chris Newman
Untitled, 1999
at Gabriele Kraushaar
 
Katherina Mayer
Seànce
at Gabriele Kraushaar
 
Alain Bernardini
installation view
at Thomas Taubert
 
Alexander Guy
Navigator Two Dinghy
1999
at Galerie Conrads
 
Perhaps it's safer to go up to Fischer's main galleries and retreat to painting that's more in the classical tradition. There the canvases by Jürgen Meyer, lavish brushstrokes in orange oil layered over a translucent yellow resin ground, remind me of a little kid in a museum I heard say "I want to bite it!" when confronted with a work by Hans Hofmann.

Sutter's Swiss mountains
The most imaginative works recently on view in Düsseldorf were Peter Sutter's paintings of mountains at Galerie Michael Cosar, which has recently reolcated to a new space. Sutter, who lives in Cologne and has showed at Luis Campana there, has made a four-part series depicting the mountains surrounding the Swiss valley where he grew up. The paintings show a very accurate and somewhat psychedelic mapping of the region's geology. Near the top of each work is painted a small radio station on a peak, which emits concentric rings of color like radio waves emanating down the mountain sides.

Each color field is in fact determined by the various types of stone found in that area, and can be decoded in a cartographer's key. The detailed color scheme suggests the influence of Sutter's teacher at the academy, the abstract painter Gotthard Graubner.

Though an exact model of one of the region's typical alpine cabins was also on display, Sutter is never completely serious about Swiss mountain culture. The invite for the show was a goofy cartoon of two mountain men (the blond is Sutter, the other his friend the geologist), inscribed with the hayseed slogan, "We live in the mountains and hate the countryside."

Women & potatoes at Sies + Höke
In a newly renovated space at Poststr. 7, dealer Nina Höke has now opened a gallery with Alexander Sies (formerly on the Hohe Str.) and is showing photographs and sculpture by Judith Samen, a 1995 graduate of the Düsseldorf Art Academy. The photos mostly depict women, partially nude, often with potatoes, bread or some other food piled about their feet or dangling from the hem of a knee-length slip. Is this an existential statement or a piece of Off-Off-Broadway theater?

The photos are framed by massive pine structures, in one case constituting an entire cabin (it houses an image of an old woman wearing a potato sack and staring into nothingness.) Samen's objects include a wooden pedestal stacked with yellow rounds of cheese and a box to filled with potatoes. Art historical references abound -- the Dutch still life, Surrealist allusions to food, Renaissance portraiture -- but it all seems a bit too clean, pat and academic to get the blood stirring.

Galerie Gabriele Kraushaar
In her new galleries at Orangeriestr. 6, Gabriele Kraushaar brought together drawings by a range of artists who are better known for work in other mediums. Chris Newman, for instance, was represented by one painting and a piece of music, along with ten drawings. Particularly engaging are Ulrike Kessl's red net bags. They look like flat computer analyses of 3D objects, and are shown partially open as though floating and filled with air.

Though the new gallery is big, it's not huge, and there were too many works on view. Everywhere you turned there was something different to see, and much of the work merits more than a quick glance. Among the other artists were Thomas Lehnerer, Katharina Mayer, Helmut Schweizer, Anja Wiese, Jongsuk Yoon, Jenny Watson, Kathartina Hinsberg and Detlef Becherer.

Bernardini in the park
Alain Bernardini has made a Paris park the object of his gaze ever since his brother hung himself from a tree there many years ago. At Galerie Thomas Taubert he has installed several video stills directly onto the walls, each image listing the time and picturing the foreman of a park maintenance crew standing around with apparently nothing to do. On the left storefront window was a description of the park scene and in the right window a video with nothing but running credits for anonymous film characters. Taking up the bulk of the space in the gallery was an industrial-sized lawnmower. Bernardini seems to note that life in the park continues in all its nameless banality in stark contrast to the tragedy that he remembers.

Guy in the kiddie pool
Does Pop Art live on? Judging from the paintings of inflatable toys by Alexander Guy at Galerie Conrads it certainly does -- and it has jumped into the kiddie pool. Big, bright and almost photo-realistic, the strange aquatic world of plastic ducks, dolphins, alligators and whales has swum into the gallery.

ROSANNE ALTSTATT is a curator and critic working in Cologne.