The art scene in Düsseldorf, long overshadowed by neighboring Cologne, has recently been looking up. In addition to the big museum shows, Düsseldorf galleries and art spaces are presenting young artists, mostly plucked from the famous Düsseldorf Art Academy. As the Germans say, "Das aus dem eigenen Garten schmeckt am Besten." What comes from your own garden tastes the best.
There is plenty to see at the major institutions on the Grabbeplatz, but the place to start is at the Kunstsammlung NRW. On view through Oct. 16, 1999, is "Dolls Bodies Automatons: Phantasms of Modernism," curated by Pia Müller-Tamm and Katharina Sykora. This fascinating show focuses on the avant-garde obsession with human simulants. Shades of Blade Runner!
Apart from the stunning Surrealist works by de Chirico, Brauner, Dali, Bellmer and many more, loads of carefully designed Constructivist drawings and gruesome Expressionist paintings, there are many unusual surprises. One gallery is dedicated to Cubo-Futuristic marionettes, another to Oskar Schlemmer's Triadisches Balett, featuring two figurines and a video of the entire performance.
An incredibly large array of 1920s and '30s photography captures the fetishization of the (mostly nude female) body, a well-known specialty of the Surrealists.
Give yourself plenty of time at the museum to take in the Jackson Pollock exhibition of 29 paintings and graphic works from MoMA in New York and various European collections. Hurry -- it closes on Oct. 3. Pollock isn't shown that often in Europe.
Kunstverein für die Rheinlande und Westfalen
Upstairs at the Kunstverein, on the other side of the Grabbeplatz square, is a more contemporary exhibition called "Mode of Art," curated by Michael Krawjewski. The works of art are a bit like colorfully wrapped candy; they all look enticing, but some are delicious and some you want to spit out.
The whimsical and erotic fantasies by Düsseldorf artist Sonja Alhäuser are especially sweet. On view are her Chocolate Machines, pencil and watercolors of a nude figure rising and sinking out of a hot bath of chocolate. Works by the other 16 artists visually scream for attention from all sides. It's on until Oct. 10.
In the same building as the Kunstverein is the Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, where "Heaven," is on display until Oct. 17. The show's poster features the subtitle "An exhibition that will break your heart," which aptly describes what happens to the art lover after seeing all the kitsch in the show. Consumerism as religion is a major theme here, as expressed by celebrities' heads on religious saints' bodies, a satin "sweatcloth" with what is supposed to be Elvis' signature, and a full-sized figurine of Princess Di in a priestly robe.
Shirin Nashat's Rapture, which gained attention at the Venice Bienniale, and a surprisingly inventive new piece by Tony Oursler called Separation, make the show worthwhile, but the best stuff isn't in heaven, it's in hell. Emerging from the dark side are Jake and Dinos Chapman's figurines and etchings modeled on Goya's "Disasters of War" series. Dark, dynamic and introspective wins over bright, flat and superficial any day.
SITE, a new exhibition space and magazine initiated by the artists Ralf Brög, Sven Lütgen and Petra Rinck, has been receiving lots of attention lately. In the magazine's second edition, the artists claim they wanted to open their own non-commercial space in order to exhibit and expand their circle and establish a dialogue between participating artists. This concept has been heard many times before on many continents. Who cares? But judging from their magazine there are, indeed, some inventive artists, mostly from Düsseldorf, taking part. No wonder the Stiftung Kunst und Kultur des Landes NRW (the foundation doling out the state's lottery profits) decided to support them.
Also under the wing of a bigger institution is Parkhaus, an art space run by and supported in part by the Künstlerverein Malkasten, where the stars of the Academy's faculty supposedly hang out. The name says it all; Parkhaus is in a rustic garden house in the Malkasten Park. Recently showing was Ute Janssen's Interactive@ltar, an installation where you could turn lights on little altars on and off via the Internet. The altars were only up for a weekend, but the website is still there: http://kuk.com/lara/interactive@ltar/
Another Art Academy graduate, Corinna Schnitt, had a show off the beaten path at Kulturbahnhof Eller. Schnitt draws typical middle-class German neighborhoods with little cross-stitch-like markings. In one case, the artist had a suburban street complete with hedges and window boxes of geraniums cross-stitched to order. The images are taken from photos and stills in her series of videos in which the artist actively tries to keep her surroundings clean and comfortable. In long monologues Schnitt explains the rationale behind obsessive-compulsive behavior in the everyday life of an exaggerated yet not completely atypical member of society.
ROSANNE ALTSTATT is a curator and critic working in Cologne.