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Back to Reviews 97


letter from cologne

by Rosanne Altstatt  

Annebarbe Kau
The Game

Franka Hornschemeyer
2750 DIN

Maria Brunner

Matthias Groebel
L 0695

Stefan Abt

Leiko Ikemura

Leiko Ikemura
Seitlich Stehende in Blau

Carl Andre
The Void Enclosed by the Squares of Three, Four and Five

Paul Thek
Fishman in Excelsis Table
1971- 72

   The Cologne art world's big spring event is Premiere Days, a weekend festival for which about 70 galleries held simultaneous opening's on Apr. 25. Hordes of art lovers squeezed into galleries big and small to catch a glimpse of the newest works and of each other.

Annebarbe Kau at Gabriele Rivet
Opening night saw quite a crowd at Gabriele Rivet, which hosted the first gallery exhibition of Cologne artist Annebarbe Kau. A former student of Nam June Paik who has exhibited in media festivals for a number of years, Kau makes what could be called delicately balanced sound objects. This show included drawings, wire screens folded into handbag-like objects and, at the heart of the installation, four sound pieces. Das Spiel (The Game), a large, cylindrical roll of the orange plastic net used to cordon off construction sites, lies on the floor with a loudspeaker hung just inside each end. A popping noise, which sounds like a tennis ball in play, can be heard alternately from each of the two speakers.

The hard plastic is loose and open, but the sound of a ball in endless volley gives the work a trapped feeling. With simple materials and the power of sound, Kau creates an illusion of filled space. But the room is not just full, it is alive with sounds. They include a grating noise emitted from inside a hanging cage structure made of folded wire (titled Krk); an occasional whoosh from a speaker strapped beneath a yellow web of bungee cords (Splash); and the very claustrophobic sound of inhaling and exhaling coming from a tall, green mesh cylinder held together by paper clips (Mon amie).

Franka Hornschemeyer at Galerie Rolf Ricke
At the neighboring Galerie Rolf Ricke, Franka Hornschemeyer built a labyrinthine structure called 2750 DIN out of the sheet metal studs used for sheet rock walls. The framework contains units that are large enough to walk into but too small to do more than stand in. The sculpture makes the viewer conscious of inside and outside, as it consists of units inside itself but also remains a single unit separated from the rest of the gallery space. The work feels like it was made for this space, though this is actually the artist's first non-site-specific.

Hornschemeyer (b. 1958) has always worked with building materials and here continues to explore the unfinished, skeletal side of space and architecture. It's also very fitting that she now lives in both Cologne and "the biggest construction site in Europe" -- Berlin. The exhibition also contains photographs: a series of views of public toilets; an image of the metal racks in a jam-packed Brooklyn convenience store; a picture of neat rows of tombstones crammed between two buildings supported by I-beams overhead. The photos reiterate Hornschemeyer's preoccupation with divided space, but they don't quite have the presence of the sculpture on site.

Maria Brunner at Galerie Gisela Capitain
Maria Brunner's exhibition "Cut" at Galerie Gisela Capitain is made up of enlarged film or television stills, out of which the artist has cut key geometrical pieces. In the five-piece series, "Der Letzte Tango," orbs of light in the background of a dance scene have been cut out to let the empty spaces glow against the white gallery wall. The "zero-spots" construct negative spaces that highlight and compete head to head with the scene's positive contours. This 35-year-old Austrian born artist aims to reduce the image to a static, two-dimensional plane, removed from the context of the film itself. Her attempt is quite successful, particularly in the series "Pocket," that uses images of a billiard game, and with the two unidentified "Interieur" scenes. The transformation is more difficult with a film as well-known and emotionally striking as The Last Tango in Paris -- though this series is visually the most vivid and harmonious of all the works in the show.

Matthias Groebel at Galerie Berndt
The perceptual differences between moving images and stills are also addressed by Matthias Groebel in his exhibition at Galerie Berndt. Groebel transfers images from television to a computer and then onto canvas. The images are not only removed from their original context, they are also manipulated in the computer -- a caption reading "Painted Walls" for instance, is added, details of the picture may be erased or altered -- before the works are mechanically painted onto canvas. These are portraits of regular people that appear to be taken from Reality TV shows like Hard Copy or Cops. The painter's interest in both portraiture and documentation is what shines from the canvas. His figures have a certain aura of toughness or strength about their bodies and expressions. Groebel's manipulations, too, link his paintings to their media origins and support a theme of fake reality in representation on television as well as in art.

Stefan Abt at Michael Janssen
Stefan Abt has filmed what could be called a distant reality in his movie Granada, currently being shown on a huge, lonely screen at Michael Janssen. Hung from the ceiling in the middle of the room, the screen is almost as tall and wide as the gallery itself. Granada, a 19-minute film with four sequences shot on different locations, has no real subject. What is the connection between a wind-surfing instructor at work on the beach with his students, a small plane on the ground, an elderly Swabian man with a goat talking about God-knows-what, and a stripper in a rose garden? None, really.

Though the film is fractured when it comes to narrative, it is unified by being bathed in color. The effect on the film's heat-sensitive film by the temperature at each outdoor location determined the movie's overall color scheme. The wind-surfing sequence, shot on Wyk island in North Fresia, Germany, turned out to be in varying hues of blue, while the Houston stripper's episode carries into the red area of the spectrum. Even though Abt shows perfectly normal, everyday scenes, he has moved them away from the viewer to far away places that can only be reached visually.

Leiko Ikemura at Galerie Karsten Greve
A more tactile exhibition is presented by the multi-national artist Leiko Ikemura (who has lived in Japan, Spain, Switzerland and now in Cologne and Berlin) at Galerie Karsten Greve's Albertusstrasse branch. Ikemura's recent works exude a sensuality of pure innocence. The main character in this show of paintings, watercolors and sculptures is a little girl in a flowing frock, a character who has surfaced intermittently over the past few years in Ikemura's work. Her figure in oil blends into dark, sunset colors; the faceless outline is painted sparingly in the watercolors; and ceramic girls recline to join flatly with the plane beneath them as their hollowed-out skirts open to the side.

The girl's horizontal position is repeated in most of the works and seems to imply sleep and peace. Gone is the aggression found in many of the artist's earlier works. Here, Ikemura expands on the sensitively delicate elements of her artistic oeuvre. With Legend in Blau (Reclining in Blue), the girl is on her side, back to back with a smaller figure that seems to grow from its mother. Liegende Doppelfigur (Reclining Double Figure) has the girl horizontally mirrored, inseparable from her second persona. The sculptures, which might easily resemble a girlhood Ikemura, don't just suggest variations of a figure, but different states of a youthful female element in the inner-self.

Carl Andre at Stommeln
Such werethe highlights of Cologne's Premiere Days. Needless to say, most of the exhibitions at city museums are similarly impressive. Unfortunately, one less happy exhibition in town deserves mention: Carl Andre's installation in the synagogue at Stommeln. In The Void Enclosed by the Squares of Three, Four and Five, Andre has once again placed square plates together to form three metal carpets that viewers can walk on. The metal floor pieces, with sides of three, four and five units respectively, touch corners (inexactly, I might add), forming an empty right triangle in their center. The installation gives the feeling of being less made for the space than plopped into it: the largest sheet is pushed up against the step running along the length of the east wall where the aedicule would house the Torah, the smallest piece comes up close to the partitioned-off vestibule, whereas a disproportionate amount of open space lies behind the middle-sized sheet. Somehow, it feels a little off-kilter.

Because the installation seems to be there solely for its own sake, the empty central triangle is not "the point of the most intense energy" referred to in the catalog. The energy keeps to itself, thank you, residing in the building's stained glass, arched windows, warm brick walls and the Star of David pattern cut into its wooden gallery. The synagogue is a beautifully symmetrical building built in 1882 and one of the few to survive the German Nazis' attempt to destroy Jewish culture. Stommeln has previously been the site of successful art installations, such as a work by Mischa Kuball that flooded light through the windows out into the darkness of the night. For its one installation per year, the synagogue deserves more than Andre delivered. The breakthroughs the artist made in the '60s and '70s -- his horizontal sculptures challenging space and the viewer's body -- simply do not have the same relevance today.

Paul Thek at St. Peter's
A site like Stommeln calls for a sensitive touch -- like that applied by the Archbishop Diocese Museum to its exhibitions. This small museum, located at the foot of Cologne's cathedral, is affiliated with the Catholic Church. In the past it has devoted itself to pairing works from past ages together with contemporary art. The museum is also currently taking pieces from its collection to other sites, such as bringing works by Paul Thek to St. Peter's, a Catholic church in the center of Cologne dedicated to presenting contemporary art in its worship space. The Archiepiscopal Diocese Museum will again travel some of its holdings when it installs Richard Serra's The Drowned and the Saved in the former Sacristy of St. Kolumba on June 13.

Museum Ludwig News
The spirit of movement seems also to have extended to the Museum Ludwig. Aside from it's change in director -- Marc Scheps will retire and be replaced by Dr. Jochen Poetter from the Staatlichen Kunsthalle Baden-Baden (Baden-Baden State Art Exhibition Center) on Oct 1, 1997-- the Museum Ludwig is also finally opening Scheps' satellite facility at "Halle Kalk." This former factory building across the Rhine river in Cologne-Deutz will feature contemporary art as the museum's new branch. The hall is scheduled to open on June 8 with an exhibition by Jannis Kounellis, which will include new works that deal with the as-yet-unrenovated space, as well as earlier pieces.

Finally, this summer's art activity spreads out beyond Cologne, as everyone must know by now. In June we have the openings of the Basel Art Fair, Documenta X, the Munster Sculpture Project and the Venice Biennal. It promises to be an art-filled spring and summer that will keep us on the move.

ROSANNE ALTSTATT is a critic and curator working in Cologne.