Peggy Buth, Asta Gröting, Sven Johne, Annette Kelm, Barbara Klemm, Reinhard Mucha,
Andreas Mühe, Henrike Naumann, Wilhelm Schürmann, Katharina Sieverding, Klaus Staeck

22 JAN.
30 APR. 2020

At a time when the fear of change seems to be tipping over into doubts about the value of freedom and the right-wing fringe in the country is polishing a misleading idea of a so-called German lead culture, it has become all the more important today to appeal to the freedom of art.

At present, the autonomy of art is increasingly being questioned. On the part of liberal milieus, it is examined for its political correctness and, instead of being judged according to artistic criteria, is increasingly being judged from an ethical and moral point of view, which often leads to vehement calls for censorship and taboos. On the other hand, right-wing and right-wing extremists are discovering art and culture as a area of struggle for their agitation and are demanding a set of unifying policies within cultural production.

There are different tendencies in current debates, which run the risk of putting art and its free spaces in the service of self-assurance or political appropriation. One of the most important prerequisites of artistic practice is that it does not orient its independent spaces of possibility according to expedient standards, but rather shapes itself according to its own artistic principles in order to unfold its political impact.

The current exhibition was developed against the background of both the threat to art and its free spaces, as well as in view of the growing shift to the right in Germany, which is attempting to bring questionable constructions of allegedly authentic national culture back into discussion.

The exhibition “Deutschland” shows cross-generational positions of German artists, some of whom directly or indirectly face the history and present of the Federal Republic, and whose works open up resistant and ambivalent spaces that make it clear that there can be no one-to-one definition of “German art” at all. The tables are turned here and the exhibition holds a mirror up to the right-wing debate about the German lead culture by showing hybrid and ambiguous works that do not form any security- or comfort-zones and question the status quo from their respective free artistic experience.

In her exhibition “Fuck your Fear”, the gallery was already concerned with advocating art as a place of provocation and liberation. With her exhibition “Deutschland”, she continues the dialogue about the freedom of art and also exposes illusions of cultural unification using the logic of art.

“(…) For culture is not a luxury we can afford or delete as we please, but the intellectual ground that ensures our inner survival. (Richard von Weizsäcker)

Text: Victoria Tarak, after talks with Daniela Steinfeld, Winter 2019


Peggy Buth, *1971, lives and works in Berlin

In her artistic work, Peggy Buth limits herself neither to a specific medium, nor to a narrow understanding of art. Rather, she examines the representational systems of art, literature, politics, history and the sciences in relation to what gets repressed, as well as what unintentionally comes to light in them. She works with photography and video; uses tar, shellac or carpets for her pictures; works with found materials, language and sound; produces objects, sculptures and installations.

Her work “Alfred, Alfried & Andre” is part of the group of works “Politics of Selection – Vom Nutzen der Angst” (2014 – ongoing) in which Buth deals with the social conditions of the city Essen, relating to the activities of the company Friedrich Krupp AG (today ThyssenKrupp AG). On display are original cast iron plaques of the family (Friedrich and son Alfried Krupp), which were created in the early 1960s to mark the 150th anniversary of the Krupp company. With the added “Andre” in the title and the sculptural placement of the plaques on the gallery floor, Buth refers to the US sculptor Carl Andre and his “floor sculptures”, which he also referred to as “zones” or “areas”. She thus combines two different narratives about artistic and capitalist appropriations of space in a humorous way.

The two works “Forest in Late Autumn after Caspar David Friedrich” and “Untitled (found footage monument)” are part of Buth’s multimedia work cycle “Desire in Representation”, whose starting point was the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren (near Brussels), opened in 1907. It combines photographic documentation of the museum representation of Central Africa and its colonization with a narrative, consisting of quotations from travel reports, archive images, and historical documents from the Belgian and German colonial periods. She thematises the colonizer’s desire, which becomes apparent in their self-portrayal and their ideas projected onto the ‘other’. The two works in the exhibition form a contrasting pair – while Buth’s photograph of a monument questions forms of production of meaning and historicity, the landscape image made of tar initiates a process of decomposition.


Asta Gröting, *1961, lives and works in Berlin

For over 30 years the artist, living in Berlin, has been working on making unseen things perceptible. She undermines the characteristic style of monumental sculpture and directs our attention to the non-existent as well as to physical and emotional gaps between people and things. The sculptural work “Naturkundemuseum” belongs to the extensive series of works called “Berlin Fassaden”. The starting point for these works are facades that still bear traces of the Second World War in the form of bullet holes. Asta Gröting sculpturally captures the damaged walls by making silicone molds of them. These function as long-time exposures that show the history from the instance of the shooting until now. Dust, dirt and also graffiti are transferred to the substrate and make the at times monumental negative prints look almost painted. The bullet holes emerge from the heavy silicone skin like scars from history. The silicone reconstructs injuries as architectural traces and translates them into abstract images. These works create an awareness that we live in the ruins of history. Bullet holes function as carriers of memory and as a link to an individual and collective history whose holes can never be fixed.


Sven Johne, *1976, lives and works in Berlin

In his work Sven Johne looks at the dark sides of society with black humour and empathy. Alternating between fiction, narrative and documentation, the East German artist approaches themes of our time: the question of self-optimization, the specific fear of exclusion and failure, the search for individual fulfillment and the promise of a better, fairer world.

The silkscreens of his work “Demmin”, with around 900 pins stuck into old site plans, recall what is probably the largest mass suicide known to date in German history after the Second World War. When the Red Army marched into Demmin in Mecklenburg at the end of April 1945, about 1000 people died in the rivers Peene, Trebel and Tollense: a fact that was kept secret for a long time in the GDR. Nowadays, the right-wing extremists instrumentalise this East German trauma, by organising a so-called “funeral march” every year to transfigure the incident.

“I am the Power (Dresden Walk)” shows a nightly walk through a pedestrian zone in Dresden. The speaker in the off of the video forms a polyphonic collage of different motivational and life coaches. The beliefs recited in the first-person trigger reflections on one’s own sources of motivation and teachings in a bizarre way: To what extent is our own identity and life planning shaped by the neoliberal age? And: How free are we in our decision for our existence?


Annette Kelm, *1961, lives and works in Berlin

Annette Kelm’s photographs show seemingly simple but simultaneously unruly motifs that draw on genres such as still life, object or studio photography, or classic architecture photography, without completely fulfilling their conventions. Kelm does not simply take photographs: she isolates individual motifs, reduces them to their formal and symbolic qualities and arranges them in pictures from which the narrative and often also the spatial context have been eliminated. The deceptively amused Mercedes stars whirling through the air in the work “Stuttgart 4 / Stars with Ladder” tell of the status symbol of the German automobile industry and the land of economic boom of the post-war years. In the face of current driving bans, the diesel scandal and the unmistakable effects of climate change, however, the landmark, the cornerstone of German prosperity that was believed irrefutable at the time, the former promise of new beginnings and self-realization, is crumbling and is now accompanied by uncertainty about patriarchal privileges.


Barbara Klemm, *1939, lives and works in Frankfurt am Main

Barbara Klemm is one of the great photographers of the post-war period: she photographed political upheavals, historical snapshots of famous statesmen and travel documentaries from all over the world. In addition, she is one of the most prominent chroniclers of Germany’s recent past. With her black-and-white pictures, which she took for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung from 1970 to 2005, she created iconic images of both the Federal Republic and the GDR. She made images for collective memory, some of which – through artist portraits, travel reports and museum pictures – go far beyond the political and are always of social relevance.


Reinhard Mucha, *1950, lives and works in Düsseldorf

The work of Reinhard Mucha, born in Düsseldorf, became internationally known from the 1980s onwards through numerous, much-acclaimed exhibitions. Among other things, the artist installed the German pavilion at the 44th Venice Biennale in 1990 and took part in the documenta in Kassel in 1992 and 1997. One of his major works, the “Deutschlandgerät”, is on permanent display in the Kunstsammlung NRW/K21. Today he belongs to the most important artists of his generation. His work includes extensive gouache and collage series, as well as meticulously constructed sculptures and installations. The works – often made of found furniture charged with history through its previous use, of industrial materials or archives – at times appear like vitrines or showcases, and at others like stage sets or baroque. Mucha’s works resist quick access; supposed influences of Minimal Art can be seen, which is broken again in the next instance by regular objecthood, for example by installing old radio sets or by reminding us of the Berlin Airlift memorial in a photo collage.


Andreas Mühe, *1979, lives and works in Berlin

Andreas Mühe became internationally known for his engagement with German past and identity. Among other things, the East German artist is interested in the visual forming of power and its possible fractures. For his group of works “Obersalzberg”, Mühe travelled to Adolf Hitler’s former holiday home to deal with the historically charged landscape and its representation. This group of works deals with the aesthetics of megalomania, which was characteristic of all dictatorships of the past century, but which particularly brought the Berchtesgadener Land forever in connection with National Socialism. By staging a man’s body in military uniform, peeing in the middle of a massive mountain landscape, he overwrites nature, once used for propaganda purposes, with his own interpretation of Germany’s political past and unmasks the stage-frenzy of those years as an endless shifting of scenery in front of an enormous mountain range, the backdrop to which the protagonists of National Socialism performed their own theatre.


Henrike Naumann, *1984, lives and works in Berlin

In her installative works Henrike Naumann poses questions about radicalization processes of the right-wing in Germany and translates these into scenographically designed spaces, while investigating the phenomenon of how the radicalization of certain parts of the population is reflected in domestic interiors. The installation “Das Reich” was originally shown by Henrike Naumann at a place steeped in history: the banquet hall of the Kronprinzenpalais Unter den Linden, where the Unification Treaty between the FRG and the GDR was signed in 1990. The signing of that treaty gave the supporters of the so-called Reich Citizens’ Movement reason to doubt the existence of the Federal Republic of Germany – a peace treaty should have been negotiated, as laid down in the constitution of 1949.

For them the German Reich continues to exist. Their world view is based on this perceived injustice against the ‘German people’, they ask the United Nations for support against breach of international law and see themselves as a threatened indigenous people in an occupied country. They are hoarding weapons and ammunition for day X, when the final battle will come and the German Reich will rise again.

Henrike Naumann builds a dystopian place between the provisional seat of the German Reich’s government and a national cult site in the style of Stonehenge. The viewer physically enters a world-view in which nationalist conspiracy theories are combined with personal fate and the ruptures of German history.


Wilhelm Schürmann, *1946, lives and works in Herzogenrath and Berlin

The artist, collector and curator of contemporary art Wilhelm Schürmann is one of the great pioneers of photographic art in Germany. With subtle humour and objectivity, he has captured the scars, fractures and contradictions of post-war German urban landscapes – mainly in the Ruhr area – in his pictures. His black and white photographs show residential buildings in the borderlands of Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. They are, in the true sense of the word, character buildings: Wilhelm Schürmann’s photography of a house always tells a story about the people inside. And that without the appearance of people: A slanted windowsill, an unorthodox front garden, a peculiar house gable testify to his presence. “Self-made architecture” is what Wilhelm Schürmann calls these scurrilities made by human hand. It is often only details that turn uniform buildings into individual buildings, giving them their very own physiognomy, so that – as Schürmann puts it – “things are given a face”.


Katharina Sieverding, *1944, lives and works in Düsseldorf

Katharina Sieverding is one of the internationally renowned artists who early on renewed the artistic potential of photography with unusual pictorial findings and an innovative media art practice. Sieverding’s “Deutschland wird deutscher” came into being as the reunification of Germany and the racist attacks on the Central Reception Office for Asylum Applications, as well as a hostel for former Vietnamese contract workers in Rostock-Lichtenhagen, were taking place in 1992. With regard to the imminent re-establishment of the European Union by the Maastricht Treaty, “Die Zeit” noted at the time that German interest in a cross-border community had steadily declined. “Poor Germany” is how Roger de Weck begins his article, its striking headline: Deutschland wird deutscher (Germany becomes more German) reworked by Sieverding in an instant in her photographic work and turned into a synonym for questions of German identity: What does Germany do and what should Germany be? Should one be afraid of Germany? What are the nation’s moral concepts? And where is the new German Republic heading?


Klaus Staeck, *1938, lives and works in Heidelberg and Berlin

Klaus Staeck is regarded as the most important political graphic and poster artist in Germany, who since the end of the sixties has repeatedly and provocatively denounced the abuses in politics and society with his art. His verbal and visual language is catchy, clear and complex at the same time. He belongs to the generation of German intellectuals whose conscious life coincides with the history of the Federal Republic. He has not only accompanied this history artistically and commented upon it politically, but has also become a part in its creation. The pictorial inventions and associated satirical slogans have lost none of their topicality over the years. They emphatically show that many of the political, social and cultural problems remained unsolved, although they have been on the political agenda for decades. Quite a few of them have now become threateningly worse: climate change, affordable rents, xenophobia, propensity to violence and education, to name the most important issues.