After exhaustive preparations and at great expense, it was finally and definitely proved on 16 March of this year that video simply cannot be handled as a criterion within fine art practice anymore. The proof of the failure of the concept video art was supplied by means of a forbidden combination of two classic scientific methods: empirical research and indirect demonstration. In plain English that means a practical experiment and an argument which starts with the opposite of the intended conclusion. Every schoolkid who takes science knows that this combination will simply result in a failed experiment and that in principle you cannot prove that something is impossible that way. However, it's more complicated than that.
Of course HERZOGENRATH and DECKER did not organize the exhibition Videoskulptur, Retrospektiu und Aktuell 1963 -1989 simply in order to explode the myth of video art or video sculpture for once and for all. They did it so as //to show its specific possibilities
and qualities// (see the ad in MM 3-2) by means of a survey of the history and contemporary highpoints of this 'art discipline'. The KOLNISCHER KUNSTVEREIN and the DUMONT KUNSTHALLE were amongst the spaces made available to them. What's more they had a budget that was unusually generous for this kind of event including liberal quantities of equipment from SONY.
The selecting of work was reasonably free; every artist is more than happy to participate in an exhibition of this scale and the prestige of organization and curators is sufficient to attract a queue of sponsors. What's more there is too little commercial interest to involve the usual corruption of conditional sales by gallery directors and
HERZOGENRATH has a formidable reputation as an organizer of exhibitions: he is the director of the KOLNISCHER KUNSTVEREIN, has collaborated on various DOCUMENTAS and has just been appointed Hauptkustos at the NATIONAL GALERIE in Berlin. He has many video exhibitions to his name. EDITH DECKER is also certainly
not just anybody; she has written an excellent thesis on NAM JUNE PAIK and collaborated on the last SKULPTUR PROJECTE MUNSTER.
The qualities of both organizers and the many outstanding artists plus the superb conditions ensure that this enterprise was more than just a failed experiment on a small scale. The organizers have not attempted to provide an indirect demonstration, they are beyond reproach. And that's why the result may still yield conclusions.
Just as the title indicates, Videoskulptur 1963-1989 Retrospektiv und Aktuell divides into two parts. There was a survey in the KÖLNISCHER KUNSTVEREIN covering the early developments of three-dimensional video work: from PAIK and VOSTELL to VIOLA,
SERVAAS, GRAF + ZYX. Videoskulptur seems to encompass video installations but not single channel works (tapes). That also applied to the DUMONT KUNSTHALLE: a confrontation of about 20 works from the Eighties.
The exhibition in the KUNSTVEREIN was a particularly successful historical survey. It began with a group of works from the 60s which approached the institution of television from a more or less political perspective: VOSTELL'S Heuschrecken, a couple of Zen TVs by PAIK, LES LEVINE'S Iris, DOUGLAS DAVIS' Images from the Present Tense and TV Mirror by WOLF KAHLEN. In the rest of the building were objects and installations that maintained a more structural relation with the television set, closed circuits and video as material.
PETER CAMPUS' Interface is a good example of this: the viewer is shocked by the confrontation a life-size video projection of himself through a large plate of glass in which he also sees himself mirrored. The combination of the two more or less coinciding, transparent doppelgängers robs both of any sense of naturalness. The gaze of the other and the actual reflection repel and attract.
Other highpoints of this part of the exhibition include one of BRUCE NAUMANN'S Video Corridors, in which he creates a similar situation in time, and BILL VIOLA'S He Weeps for You, an installation where the camera's microscopic gaze (far less that of the author than
in his other work) is directed at the viewer through an occasionally falling drop of water. ROOS THEUWS' Forma lucis, a Wall Piece from 1988 was extremely beautiful. She experiments aesthetically with the coloured electronic light of the cathode ray tube which is filtered and reflected by an optical system of matt glass and mirror and placed in a
box that is long past the stage of getting rid of the monitor.
It is interesting that this work can be compared with PAIK'S objects, a couple of spaces previously. In fact PAIK makes a completely concept-based statement, a FLUXUS joke, where the wrecked television is merely the means of transport. As a souvenir you can
always perform his action on your own telly with a simple pair of nail scissors (BATMAN says be sure to unplug the set first). Right from that moment (when PAIK did it) we see a magnificent flow of art trying to get free of the object. Hence the oldest works in the exhibition do not need to be saved, they can just be reconstructed with modern equipment. Of course video was the ideal material (because it was immaterial) in the Seventies, when the striving for pure concept -based values in art experienced its apogee and avant-garde didn’t give a shit about money and commerce.
ROOS THEUWS' Forma Lucis is a good representative work of the development of the Eighties; the famished art world pounced on the new painting and then helped itself to //...works fairly big but not too big; well crafted but not too crafted that they make you think that the work is a work of craftmanship; they are made of nice materials but
they are not so nice that they make you think it is about the material; they look a little like paintings and they look a little like sculptures, but they are not really categorisable as either one of those things - they geneally sell for a fair lot of money. (STUART MORGAN during Museumjournaal's Do They Write like Mandarins//? symposion, KUNSTRAI, Amsterdam 1988).THEUWS completes this voltage curve perfectly.
Forma Lucis also fits with the older work, not that it's oldfashioned but because, through the artist's purely aesthetic approach, one of the medium's qualities is once more taken as subject matter. The KUNSTVEREIN was not specifically labelled Retrospektiv. All the
work from the period '63 -'80 seemed to have been lumped together because medium and material form a theme. This creates an interesting and coherent exhibition.
At first the historical relationship acts as a cohesive force and it's excellent to see all those milestones of early video together. A collection of relics of high curiosity value, it really hits when you first enter: Gosh! So is that really PAIK'S broken TV.... Great! You are
amazed that DOUGLAS DAVIS still takes the trouble to turn a television to the wall (of course he didn't actually have to do it himself), and then you realize that indeed it still works.
After a while more and more connections are made and the works could be grouped in a big circle to exchange jokes, aphorisms, criticism, poems, analytical discussion and amazement. About their own existence, the viewer's, time and the electronic media. On the one hand the works transcend their medium: a quality that every (good)art work has, on the other hand they constantly return to it, so that the set-up is more than a trivial historical surveyor a sample sheet of the specific possibilities and qualities of Videoskulptur.
But everything goes haywire in the DUMONT KUNSTHALLE. This giant factory hall contained a rich collection of good works from a choice selection of international artists.
Surrounding a large open space with installations by SCHWARZ, LAFONTAINE, GUNTHER, KIESSLING, ABRAMOVIC, KUBOTA, YOM BRUCH, PAIK, STUDIO AZURRO and BIRNBAUM were about ten cubicles which had been knocked together, more or less sealed off, each containing one or two works. There really isn't much point in
mentioning names; the above list will be enough for anyone at all informed about the production in this area over the last ten years. Eleven people who were interesting enough in themselves but why did they have to be shoved into a space like that? And what did they have in common? Simply the fact that they all use television sets! And then what? Are there formal similarities? No. Similar content? No. Critical, thematic, theoretical, geographic, sexual, commercial similarities or those of friendship, nationality, race or generation? No, no, no!!! The only reason to lump them all together is that they all use television sets. The things that the artists are actually involved with are of an extraordinary diverse nature. They vary from BIRNBAUM'S extremely personal observations of her environment, via LAFONTAINE'S dramatic themes of primal urges to YOM BRUCH'S almost tangible Russian television bulges. From ABRAMOVIC'S mystical ecstacy to KIESSLING'S ingenious mobile. Of course art works always include some statement about their medium/material. But that's certainly not been the most important thing in the production of the last few years. The works find their meaning in extremely diverse contexts. That meaning is denied or at any rate ignored by selecting them for an exhibition with Videoskulptur as its only criterion (plus Quality of course ...); as I stated above an art work always transcends its material, that's what makes it an art work; this
exhibition reduces the works to pure material. Hence they are affected by a trivial educative set-up: Look at all the wonderful things an artist can do with video!
The space in Cologne (where it was practically impossible to see the works separately without wearing blinkers and disconnecting your memory) made it crystal-clear how this approach suppresses the actual meaning of the works.
Perhaps it would have been better to show them in separate locations, either individually or in small groups (of course it's possible to create some meaningful combinations within the whole assortment). So that the work could have been presented as well as possible in exhibition terms. The installations and objects would have worked well in the space (of course nothing really worked in the factory hall). The sound should have been directly audible and not by means of those ingenious infra-red telephone receivers (experiencing
the sound in the space is part of the work). And the various works could have then been shown on their own terms.
But, laying aside all technical and financial problems, the exhibition would have had just as little cohesion of content. At the very most the superfluity and meaninglessness of this prefabricated collection'would have been less striking. And it would have been
better to have fulfilled its original objective: making the medium's specific possibilities and qualities accessible to a broad audience.
Maybe the exhibition in the DUMONT KUNSTHALLE does satisfy this educative criterion. However, the question is whether there really is any point in showing the above-mentioned possibilities and qualities to a broad public at the point when the work's content has less and less to do with the medium's possibilities. Indeed, is the public actually interested in the medium per se? Isn't it confusing presenting a work under a title that has little to do with that work's meaning, especially for a general audience?
I think that most of the works will remain fairly inaccessible to the layman who has no knowledge of their artistic context. If this context is not Videoskulptur then our layman won't make much progress with this kind of presentation. Of course, this does not detract from the qualities of the Retrospektiv. Plus the Aktuell part is the clearest
demonstration of the uselessness of the concept of Video Art as a criterion for art practice that I have ever seen. It was extremely enlightening. This exhibition's failure must be down to the recipe; the ingredients, the kitchen and the cooks were all first class. I hope
that the international family of Video Art will profit from the lesson.
translation ANNIE WRIGHT
The artist KLAUS PETER SCHNUTTGER-WEBS started out in Cologne in 1981, developing from being a critic who attacked the commodity-based character of the art market to become a real cult figure who plays a serious game with art in all its forms of expression. This article discusses his defence of the simulation of art.
The KLAUS PETER SCHNUTTGER-WEBS MUSEUM opened three years ago and was
closed again shortly afterwards when funds ran out. Today if you phone the Directorate, you will be informed that there are no plans to re-open the museum in the immediate future. The Director is still lost somewhere in the labyrinth of the museum's graphics collection. The floodsecure car park with its heated parking lots is still waiting for a buyer. It would take some 100 gardeners to keep the 500 square kilometer sculpture park in order. Unfortunately it is likely to face a fate similar to that of the Sacro Bosco in Bomarzo, Italy which was overrun by nature and forgotten for centuries before
being rediscovered after the last war.
The KPSW MUSEUM was able to sell its 30-minute-Iong toboggan slide to a nearby
amusement park but the proceeds weren't enough to cover the Museum's expenses for
longer than 6 months. Negociations for private sponsoring are underway, although
companies interested are said to include SONY, AMERICAN EXPRESS, DEUTSCHE
BANK, PHILIPP MORRIS, PHILLIPS, TETRA PAK,LUFTHANSA,MBBandthe government of Saudi Arabia the funds are so far tied up in other projects. It is therefore necessary to use the media to give the museum a forum which will enable it to exist in the future.
//We are in the museum. Nowadays this fact simply can't be ignored and it can't even be
excluded from the text. We are inside the museum with the art. Is the museum the message?// LASZLO GLOZER, Westkunst, Cologne 1981, p.248
The KLAUS PETER SCHNUTTGER-WEBS project is a work in progress. More specifically, it is a project whose manifestations do not develop primarily out of some immanent logic but are dependent on external events, on contextual developments. As a
consequence, its objective is not to be found in the autonomy of art but purely in its destabilising as a social system - a task which demands a great deal of courage and skill,
intelligence and independence. In West Germany, art as a social system is composed
of an unholy alliance of public and private capital, whose institutional instruments and
in this case the art museum - engage in the unbridled production of ideologies
which have the function of mystifying quite profane strategies of success in art. The cardinal example here is the commission made up of art museum curators and directors
responsible for quality control of ART COLOGNE, which carried out an inspection in within a single day and issued its guarantee for the high standard of quality of the artistic
wares on offer: and we are talking here about a market with around 165 galleries collectively displaying several thousand works, two-thirds of which came from young artists whom, in all conscience, could not be classified as deserving such superlatives simply because their work was too new and had not developed to maturity.
In other countries, corruption of the mind is, to my knowledge, more open and
apparent. The theory-supplying function of the media, particularly certain art periodicals'
is openly discussed in an almost exhibitionist manner: this is true of Italy, for
example, or the United States, and the same thing is happening with a leading British
journal. In West Germany, however, the mask of scientific objectivity - which is traditionally worn not only at the universities but is also adopted for the work of art museums
- uses quality as a standard for homogenising and controlling what is happening
in the market. It is a crucial element in the mediation of art and represents a radical
bulwark against any attempt to develop open debate. This is a typical problem of the Eighties but its roots can in fact be traced back to certain developments in the Sixties.
//The problem began in the mid-l 960s. The consequence of opting out in the early
days led to forms being created which contradict the arrangement of art along walls
and around communally-used spaces. It is no longer possible to implant art and still
include the full breadth of its intentions and achievements. We have to admit it: we are
in the museum. But it is a different museum: never before was the museum such a
basefor the avant-garde as in our times. Art that has not been created for the Grande Galerie fills the arena provided by an empty museum ([ossilbly one of the Grunderiahre
buildings) and reveals its full potential. Once art reaches the limits of wat can be exhibited,
it can be stage-managed instead.//
This was written by LASZLO GLOZER for the Westkunst catalogue (p.285) which was
held in Cologne in 1981. He is referring to the art of the Sixties having argued earlier
in the book that opting out of the picture is characteristic of post-1960 art. What becomes clear here is the ambivalent role played by the art museum as an institution in the period that followed the exhaustion of the initial utopian impulse of the historical avant-garde. It is quite understandable why artists have increasingly taken the museum as a theme for their own work. One only has to think of CLAES OLDENBURG'S //Mouse
Museum, DANIEL SPOERRI'S Musee Sentimental de Cologne//, or GENERAL IDEA'S
1984 Miss General Idea Pavillion, though the last in fact remained a complete fiction.
MARCEL BROODTHAERS also created a Musee d'Art Moderne that was subdivided into departments and sections which he realised in his various exhibitions.
What makes artists become involved with the museum is an underlying doubt as to
the foundations of reality. In this respect, BROODTHAERS' approach was radically consistent: he took the world of art to be a metaphor for the world in general and its
societies. Playing with the real is undoubtedly one of the major themes of modern
art. It is not the way it appears to you, says LUIGI PIRANDELLO, the Italian dramatist
whose sole subject is the interchangeability of appearance and reality and the subsequent
loss of identity connected with this.
Ceci n'est pas une pipe, says MAGRITTE ... and MARCEL DUCHAMP finally took the objects away and put his own deliberations and thoughts in their place.
When BROODTHAERS first exhibited in a gallery, he published the following text
which brilliantly expresses the ambivalent attitude of the avant-garde: //I, too, have asked
myself whether maybe I could sell something and have some success in life. For
some time I have been good at nothing. I'm forty years old// ...
//Then I hit on the idea ofcoming up with something unscrupulous and got to work at
once. Three months later I showed the results to PHILIPPE EDOUARD TOUSSAINT, the
owner of the ST.LA URENT GALLERY: 'That's really art, I want to exhibit everything'. Alright, I answered. If I sell something, he takes 30%. This seems to be the usual deal, though some galleries take as much as 75%. So what's it all about? It's about objects, of course//.
We can therefore see why artists invented their own museums. It is a matter of art
competing with a social environment which has the tendency to pervert art. And it is a
matter of preserving the higher goals, the ideals of modern art. If art does not want to
be involved in the whirlpool of commercialisation, it has to come up with its own models of presentation and documentation. And these museums are given an ironical form in the work and influence of KLAUS PETER SCHNUTTGER-WEBS.
KLAUS PETER SCHNUTTGER-WEBS is a fictional artist created by ULRICH
TILLMANN in 1981. (Later on, BETTINA GRUBER en MARIA VEDDER joined him.) Originally, TILLMANN used this figure exclusively to emphasize the irony of market behaviour in the art world. From the start, TILLMANN'S interest focused on the fierce debate about the artistic worthiness of photography and the effect of this on the way photography has been treated: technical criteria of quality (nonacidic paper, perfect development of a print etc.) became increasingly decisive for assessing the artistic merit of a photograph and are now central in determining its market value. The debate about the
character of the original is even more absurd: the medium itself contradicts this
notion per se. Yet for economic reasons it has been artificially introduced by means of
original prints and very limited editions.
TILLMANN'S intention was to develop a
strategy aimed at exposing the techniques used to legitimate the artistic content of
what is definitively a reproductive medium by reducing its own arguments to absurdity.
TILLMANN'S next strategic move (which made an enormous impact in photographic
circles some years ago) was his exhibition entitled Masterworks of Art Photography the
Tillmann and Vollmer Collection in which the authorship of trailblazing
pictures in photographic history had been rewritten: perfect facsimiles were made of
famous pictures with the subject changed in one (decisive) detail. The photographs were
then attributed to persons who only played a very marginal role or none at all in the
history of photography. The obvious conclusion is that the creative act ofgenius
merely takes the form of altering one detail, a kind of correction, which, does not in any
way represent the original visual invention for which the photograph is known. At this
point, the eminently contextual relevance of TILLMANN'S work becomes clear. He
draws attention to the significance of a production of reality which is subject to the
arbitrariness of the moment or, rather, the deliberateness of calculation.
The principal route taken by KLAUS PETER SCHNUTTGER-WEBS in his
approach to a purely medial reality is already evident. It began with small steps
and reached its climax to date in the Klaus Peter Schnüttger- Webs Museum exhibition
in the SIMULTANHALLE, a structure 'set up' simultaneously with the opening of
MUSEUM LUDWIG building in Cologne on 6.9.1986.The medial framework of an
inauguration of a new museum building is created - with meticulous attention to detail
- for the museum of a fictitious work. In this way, SCHNÜTTGER-WEBS, who had until this point assumed an almost exclusively medial reality, was now transformed into a largely material reality, especially since contemporary artists also took part in this action whose work appeared to prove the direct influence of older art personalities: BRIAN ENO, GEORG HEROLD, THOMAS GRÜNFELD and COLETTE. As the exhibition lasted a single
day, the event took on the fleeting character of a performance. This was the beginning
of a constant medial presence of the artist SCHNUTTGER-WEBS. Using the pedantic
manner of an archivist, all the documents proving the museum's existence were
compiled and published in 1987 as a cassette together with originals by the artist:
the poster, invitation cards and all the press material including the special pass for the
preview are linked with all reports in the daily papers and art journals and, moreover,
with every reference in the various listings at local, regional and national levels. The
video cassette of recordings at the opening of the KPSW MUSEUM also plays an
important role here, as does an audiocassette of all the radio broadcasts about the
The works shown in the museum and in the cassette display undifferentiated artistic
creations alongside artifacts, intention alongside chance, document alongside
fiction. What emerges is an amalgam in which the whole Cologne area appears to
be a sculpture park. A de facto claim has also been laid to this park in the latest
action: a bus excursion round a new housing estate on the outskirts of Cologne
which expresses the aesthetic ideas of the property developers in a particulary crass
Only the detail is accessibleand interpretable. Consequently, we have retaken some elementary lessons. We have to recogniseand analyse the components with which reality is constructed. Using these components - like a set ofchildren's building bricks - we must try to make a fresh start. First: In the Beginning was the Word. Second: In the Beginning was the Letter. Third: In the Beginning is the Subject. (KARL RUHRBERG, Die Bilder und die Worte// (The Pictures and the Words), in Catalogue Marcel Broodthaers, Cologne 1980, p.10.)
However, by the time the museum was opened it had already become clear that the
figure of the artist SCHNUTTGER-WEBS had reached a degree of reality which went far
beyond its original function of critical comment and extended into the conceptual field of art reflection. What was being discussed here was no longer simply the
destabilisation of the established system of judgmental standards within the art world,
i.e. the aspect dealt with since the early Sixties by TILLMANN, GRUBER and
VEDDER in the tradition of the artists' museum; rather, KPSW had increasingly
turned into an allegory of artistic production, into a magic figure: a PERSONA
who could contribute towards a theory of creativity that was relevant to our times.
The fact that SCHNUTTGER-WEBS has now become the absolute spiritus rector of
all forms, objects and installations explains why (quite apart from the melody of irony)
he is identified with a creator who, if not already divine, certainly bears extraordinary
heroic traits. Of course, in art history there are numerous examples of artists using
allegorical form to engage in graphically theoretical reflection on the role of art and
the artist. Indeed, the fact that most of the events connected with SCHNUTTGER-WEBS
clearly display the features of performance is an aspect which links the three artists TILLMANN, GRUBER and VEDDER - more with the utopian dreams of the artists of the
modern period than with those who have responded to the failure of these plans by
adopting a sarcastic or even cynical stance towards the mechanisms of the art business
who then fall victim to a dandified love of catastrophe.
In this context one might recall the fictitious Miss General Idea, which the three artists of the Canadian group GENERAL IDEA created as long ago as 1971 and integrated into their fictitious world of art. They still regard this figure as their muse. It is this personified creativity for which the equally fictitious The 1984 Miss General Idea Pavillion was developed and built before it burnt down shortly before completion in 1982 - everything happening purely within the reality of the media of course. Miss General Idea and KLAUS PETER SCHNÜTTGER-WEBS have some important characteristics in common: both show clearly that their creators still believe in the mysterious power of art as a force capable of expressing the inexpressible without clothing it in words.
On the other hand, both serve as lofty values to confront the trade with its own bigotry; a trade which perverts these values in the banal sphere of the art market, turning them into the pawns of profit maximisation.
There is also an affinity with the Indian woman KIGA, a personification of painting invented by GERARD GASIOROWSKI in the 1970s.At first glance one cannot see a direct parallel between the two: indeed, the identification of the artist, GASIOROWSKI, with his artificial figure is of incomparably greater intensity (the artist sometimes saw himself as KIGA) and completely devoid of irony. However, both are connected by a similar attitude towards the role of art as an all-embracing, i.e. fundamental, cultural praxis. Whereas GASIOROWSKI still personifies this within painting itself, the parents of KLAUS PETER SCHNÜTTGERWEBS are convinced of the undifferentiatedness of the cultural forms
of expression. Chance, as a quasi-obiective creative force, appears alongside the typical aesthetic taste of the average citizen and the highly specialised and highly sensitive
instrument of the artist. Together they present the picture of aesthetic reality whether in the material or the medial world. The artists bear responsibility for both worlds and for all the possibilities for the production of the aesthetic. To this extent, the person of KLAUS PETER SCHNÜTTGER-WEBS is, in the best sense of the word, an incarnation of the modern artist.
translation STEVE COX