According to Gerhard Finckh, director of the Museum Morsbroich in Leverkusen, political approaches by artists today no longer have an impact on society. Instead, they are immediately absorbed by the art market and by private collections. This was different in the 1960s and 1970s, the time of Fluxus and Happenings in Germany. Back then, it was still possible to move the public with politically inspired art. After visiting the Hamburg collector Harald Falckenberg, Finckh decided to present the four positions that form the basis of Falckenberg's collection - Erró, Fahlström, Köpcke and Lebel - together in one exhibition. What the four have in common is their reference back to and response to art history, paired with references to the life situation of the postwar period.
Titled "Art and Politics," the show begins on the first floor with works by Jean-Jacques Lebel, born in 1936. Jean-Jacques was the son of Robert Lebel, who not least wrote his biography of Marcel Duchamp in 1959. Lebel's work therefore draws on Duchamp's wordplay, as well as the structures of the Surrealists. In the first room, the landscape collage print "Dollar Collage" from 1985 hangs close to Lebel's own ironizing designs of banknotes, such as the "Le Dollar pour le Vietnam," summarized on one sheet. A brass-colored ceramic bust of Lenin is crowned by a hot dog - a play on form and word that also manifests itself in the title "Pur porc, Lenine". The object collage "Portrait de Nietzsche" unites a French-language edition of "Beyond Good and Evil" by Nietzsche, the despiser of women - fixed with a rusty nail through Nietzsche's cover photo - not least with pin-up girls.
In the second room, drawings made of organic structures reminiscent of the Surrealists can be seen. Lebel executed them as a homage to the intoxicant mescaline and its intoxicating effect. The collage "André Breton et Guillaume Apollinaire (rêve du 30 juin 1956)" is dedicated to Breton and Apollinaire: the newspaper photo of a wolf combined with the words "La vie est courte" meets graphic elements. In the third room, next to a happening fragment of the homage to de Sade's "120 Days of Sodom" in the form of purple-tinted fingerprints on orange graph paper, the plan for the course of the happening can be seen: "In short, I had in mind a meditation on these 120 days, with one minute representing one day," says Lebel. Then Francis Picabia and Arthur Craven, as miniature sculptures in a model of a boxing ring on pink felt, will compete.
After being arrested during his "120 minutes dédiées au divin Marquis," Lebel commented, "When a minister of any government is caught with his pants down, they call it a happening." Because of this increasing meaninglessness of the term happening, which was initially meant to describe an irritating, alienating event, he decided not to hold any more events of this kind. For in contrast to the post-pubescent ironic actions of a Jonathan Meese or Paul McCarthy, the performances of Fluxus happened out of experienced social situations and wanted to take positions on social developments on the leaden time after the end of World War II, current wars, such as in Vietnam or Algeria, the assassination of Kennedy and Martin Luther King, the women's movement or the Cold War.
In 1974, for example, Erró, whom Lebel met in 1955 and who is presented on the second floor, reacted to the formation of political blocs as a result of the Cold War with collage-like paintings: pin-up girls meet political figures, art-historical quotations such as the nudes of Cranach and Modigliani line a Lenin flag, Jackson Pollock appears as a dinosaur painted in the manner of Bacon while making his drippings. Erró was also influenced by Surrealism, appreciating the painting of Roberto Matta and citing the propaganda values of the commodity world in his paintings: "I see myself as a kind of chronicler, collecting every image in the world, and it's my job to make a synthesis of it." Erró continued this synthesis in the film "Grimaces," which premiered in 1967. For it, he asked artists who were friends of his to grimace and give their names. Such diverse personalities as Youngerman, Stella, Spoerri, Wesselmann, Copley, Man Ray, Warhol, Pistoletto, Fahlström and many more are united in this socially unconventional gesture that frightens the citizen.
Born in 1928, Eufonie Fahlström and Erró were linked by a friendship since 1960. His works are on view in the left wing of the first floor, such as his 1976 "Elements from Masses," in which the silhouette of a gorilla, a cartoon figure ready to fire, and geometric shapes on a black metal background are fixed by magnets. In the "Model for Meatball Curtain" from 1970, these cut-out, silkscreened metal plates are erected by magnets and arranged in all-view. "ESSO" and "LSD" face each other in the next room as plastic signs from 1967.
Then the small, blue-colored heads of the "Exercise (Nixon)" from 1971 line up humorously distorted like comics across a paper. The color silkscreens of the Column series are organic patterns filled with texts of political content, such as "Saigon troops - 41,000 killed - 4,000 missing - 44,000 wounded". Structurally not so far from Pollock's Allover, however, Fahlström is concerned with bringing life into art, which distinguishes him decisively from the approach of abstract expressionism. His collages combine art and life, such as the color silkscreen "Sixteen Elements from Chile 1," on which colorful comic fragments are distributed as a loose organic structure over a sienna-colored ground.
The collage, or rather the collage-like structure of the images, can also be found in the work of the last of the four political artists, Arthur Köpcke, who was also born in 1928: the "Reading-Work-Pieces" consist of a series of image quotations that are provided with reading aids of these signs or instructions for action. Thus the "Reading-Work-Piece (Piece No. 116: f. E.: on a venetian blind...)" from 1965 asks the viewer, among other things, to smoke 20 cigarettes at once and to read 20 books at the same time. At the same time, one is supposed to be friendly or not. The work "How to paint a door", on the other hand, seems to be clearly a European variant of Pop Art. The scroll painting "Notes" is a playful way of dealing with time: a sound is to be continued and repeated ad infinitum.
The exhibition "Art and Politics - Erró, Fahlström, Köpcke, Lebel" can be seen until April 30. Open Daily except Mondays from 11 am to 5 pm, Tuesdays additionally open until 9 pm. Admission is 3 euros, reduced 2 euros. The exhibition catalog costs 20 euros. Subsequently, the show will be presented in the Museum of Fine Arts in Leipzig, as well as in Graz.
Contact: Museum Morsbroich, Gustav-Heinemann-Straße 80, D-51377 Leverkusen
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