- South East England
Münster, a city of 300,00 people, 58,000 students at 8 universities, is cosmopolitan, relaxed and youthful. It has a long historical past and it’s importance as a creative centre is reflected in ongoing economic growth, high quality of life, above average income and low unemployment. It is solid, comfortable and picture postcard attractive. Culture is well served by over 40 theatres, numerous cinemas, 27 museums and of course the Skulptur Projekte.
Every ten years, Munster presents a new range of artists for the Skulptur Projekte, initiated by Klaus Bussmann and Kasper König in 1977. The aim being to create a discourse between public space, the urban environment and art. Local disapproval was high at its inception, as the curators boldly presented works by renowned sculptors in Münster’s conservative public spaces. But, like art in public spaces elsewhere, the view of art as cultural asset and unique selling point has warmed the hearts of local financiers and the public alike.
The unifying theme of the Skulptur Projekte is site-specificity and a more recent commitment is to the promotion and use of public spaces as places of difference, of human-oriented spaces offering thoughtful alternatives to the commodification, ongoing capitalist expansion, and uniformity of the city. Time is a key feature of the project, both as a framework for the research and production of site specific work, and in terms of organisation’s commitment to retaining a percentage of works on a longterm basis.
Outside the station is a kiosk where visitors can buy a map of the city marked with all 37 of this year’s artists’ work, off-site and satellite projects plus the retained artwork from the previous four projects. There is loads to see and it is worth spending time picking out a route and what you want to see and checking that it’s there (the older stuff tends to come and go) We wasted time looking for Martha Rosler Unsettling the Fragments -being restored, Richard Artschwager’s Ohne Titel – on loan to Marl. We walked around most of the city (though you can easily rent a bike) often following the beautiful and cooling tree-shaded promenade that circumnavigates the city centre.
We visited new commsissions and old starting with Les masques célèstes by Hervé Youmbi, which hang 10m up in the trees of the Überwasserfriedhof cemetery offering an ominous and bizarre juxtaposition to the dusty, disintegrating nineteenth century gravestones and tomb sculptures below. This series of dense red, white, yellow and red masks form hybrid totems that combine animistic objects from the Cameroon with pop-culture motifs. Ghostface makes several appearances alongside other bulbous, starey-eyed heads which are interspersed with lizards, snakes and patterns. Close by and standing out as not-just-another-memorial and fixed high on the trunk of a poplar tree, is a carved sandstone plaque, which turns out to be Ian Hamilton Finlay’s A Remembrance of Annette 1987, granting this probably forgotten poet, writer and composer a moment of immortality.
Huang Yong Ping’s 100 Arme der Guanyin 1997 is made of a hundred arms fixed to a metal frame, each arm holds a tool, implement or object, lifting them aloft into the cloudy sky, in imitation of the Guanyin goddess of mercy and compassion who had a 1000 arms and eyes.
Lara Favaretto’s Momentary Monument resembles a traditional looking granite sculpture, tall and pale with a worked surface. Rectangular and upright on the north eastern meadow, we found it surrounded by people peering into the generous money slot, trying to see how much had been collected, perhaps. Conceptually it has a social and political motive and once the project is over, the stone will be turned to rubble and the money collected donated to an organisation helping refugees facing deportation. It’s location is key here, facing a colonial monument commemorating the fallen troops of the train battalion.
Peleş Empire by Barbara Wolff and Katherina Stöver is a ghostly B &Q ziggurat with a tiled gable end and tiers of glitched marble printing, crouching in a carpark in the heart of the city. The structure refers to both the faux historical facades evident in the Münster’s city centre (replacing those destroyed in WW2) and the Neo-Renaissance Peleş Castle in Romania, a fraction of which is printed, grisaille style, on the tiled facade. The overall effect is an mash up of architectural styles and surfaces in warehouse materials.
In exploring the tranquil Shlossgarten we didn’t find Jenny Holzer’s Bänke 1987, but we did discover Dan Graham’s glass pavilion Oktogon für Münster 1987, it’s once highly reflective surfaces scratched and scarred by weathering and Herman De Vries’s sanctuarium 1997. A 2.5m high circular brick wall surrounds an oval area of ground with four oval eye-level openings enabling the viewer to observe the process of natural growth within. This wall, made from Münster bricks, is now adorned with entry-level graffiti and ,like the Graham piece, the accretions of time are not always sympathetic.
In the city centre is Angst [Fear] 1989 by Ludger Gerdes. Slow on the uptake, it took while to realise that Angst was an artwork temporarily relocated from Marl town hall to the front of the busy shopping centre, and not the alarming name of the cafe below. Simulating a simple shop sign, it is a casual perspex provocation, via a red golfer mid-swing, the word Angst in yellow italicised text and a blue church, to do something other than consume!
Over the road is the LVK Museum where a nice shiny articulated lorry is parked hard on the forecourt and just in front of a glinting knobbly bronze by Henry Moore. On the bed of the lorry is a big black box with cobalt blue straps, the lid is unfixed but leaning against the box. Benz Bonin Burr, it’s nicely alliterative title combines the artists surnames and the make of the lorry. This ensemble and in its positioning close to the Moore bronze, suggests that the sculpture has just been delivered or is about to be taken away.
In the foyer of LWL Musuem is Nora Schultz’s Pointing their fingers at an unidentified event out of the frame where skittish drone-footage of the gallery’s concrete boxy-void construction, is projected into the corners and edges of the gallery, lending the cool-euro-culture architecture a momentarily uncanny air. Not far is The Gregor Schneider piece, though it isn’t signposted in the LWL, and when found you have to go back outside and be prepared to wait a couple of hours to enter.
In the attached Westphalian State Museum of Art and Cultural History is Tender Tender by British artist Michael Dean. In the Victorian atrium the formal and pillared edges are masked off with polythene sheets obscuring the view of floor which is strewn with sheets torn from a poetry book, and unsteady concrete tubes that waver over slumped bag-shaped lumps of concrete which litter the floor. Rough fists and crossed fingers are repeated motifs that thrust out of uncertain structures and hazard tape wraps itself around everything. It feels very British, simultaneously romantic and temporary.
Rachael Whiteread’s Untitled (Books) 1997 can be seen (unexpectedly) above Dean’s piece. It’s not really on display as much as shoved in a space that is the right size and shape. No close encounter is possible, just a view from the other side of the atrium.
Thomas Schütte, a regular contributor (plinths of cherries, melon slices and a fountain) for 2017 presents Nuclear Temple, an impassive and impenetrable oxidised steel bunker that resembles an unseeing byzantine dome.
Close by and less mute is Hito Steyerl’s HellYeahWeFuckDie, forging links between algorithms, animals and a technology. Sited in a modern glossy office, it is suitably sculpturally refined in a clean, screen-based way. Enlarged and illuminated large text sits on the floor whilst a framework of aluminium poles hold screens that feature humans subjecting machines, robots to various kinds of physical testing. On screen a forlorn virtual dinosaur made of blue blocks endlessly walks across a grid as its real blocky remains lay dismantled on the floor.
Justin Matherly’s Nietzsche’s Rock sits on the eastern promenade. As expected it’s like a little bit of Swiss mountain on the grass, looking a bit lost. Evidence of its construction is very evident, so time is spent pondering the construction process and allusions to Neitzsches’ idea of the “eternal return of the ever same” go unexamined.
Square Depression 2007 by Bruce Nauman’s from unrealised proposal in 1977, is an inverted pyramid sinking quietly into the lawn in front of the Natural Science Centre. It is enlivened by visitors, yet its scale seems to shift depending on whether you interact or observe. Walking into it’s concrete depths, like Alice you expand and the sides seem to shrink, on the outside viewing others running, and they do tend to run down the seams, the concrete pit expands and swallows them up.
Claes Oldenburg’s Giant Poole Balls 1977 on the Aasee Lake terrace, when seen in the broader context of the park and the lake, they seem to have retained a formal presence, despite the close siting of orange rubbish bins.
On the other side of town in a former Asian supermarket is Mika Rottenberg’s Cosmic Generator. Tinsel is piled up on the floor, yellow rubber rings lean against the walls and the partly empty shelves allude to low-wage economies producing throw away goods. Her film, in a too hot to hang around crowded back room, presents an allegory of the living and working conditions of many in the global marketplace. Reference is also made to rumours of a tunnel between Mexico and USA where people in suits crawl through a concrete pipe.
Nigerian artist Emeka Ogboh presents Passage through Moondog /Quiet Storm in the Hamburger tunnel. The poems of Moondog, (a blind musician who for decades hung around 54th Street and Sixth Avenue in Manhattan in Viking regalia and was buried in Münster) emanate from speakers whilst a percussive track raps out a rhythm which blends seamlessly with the live sounds of the city. Quiet Storm is the beer he brewed from lime tree flowers and local honey that were fermented to the sounds of Lagos and is on sale at the kiosk.
Nairy Baghramian Privileged Points on consists of unnerving pieces of tube, each suggesting a strong form enclosed in a loose skin; they curve and pile up in both courtyards of the marvellously Baroque Erbdrostenhof, like aliens briefly held in place by metal clamps, just waiting to strike. Surprisingly, foot-sore visitors aren’t adverse to sitting on them.
Ayşe Erkmen’s On Water is a simple idea, minimally visible, yet hugely engaging for visitors. On the river bank men, women, children, discard shoes and socks to walk from one side of the harbour to the other. The submerged bridge links the regenerating-as-we-watch dock area on the one side and the newly built shiny bars, bistros, restaurants on the other. Minimal official intervention is provided by a limp rope to seal off the area when the invigilators have left. The metal grid that forms the underwater bridge is sharp on your feet, the water cold and green, small fish nibble at the margins. Can’t help wondering if anyone has fallen off the edge!
The interesting part of all this was the ongoing questioning of the distinction between art and everything else. Sometimes there is something in front of you that looks like something, maybe art, but it’s not on the map, and it’s not labelled and as artists we should know, but it’s ambiguous so it makes you wonder and ponder. There was also a remarkable and refreshing lack of marketing; there were a few postcards, a book, a few maps, leaflets and of course Ogboh’s beer. The SP scored high on meeting its aim of creating places of difference, spaces that were human-centred and counter-consummerist.