March 18, 2017

Transparency in the Art World

“In the summer of 2015, Adrian Piper wrote me an email. She offered to sell her work The Probable Trust Registry... As to the price tag, Piper wrote that the piece would cost a mere fraction of one of Jeff Koon’s Balloon Dogs.” So writes director of the Nationalgalerie Udo Kittelmann in the booklet for Adrian Piper’s ongoing exhibition at the Hamburger Bahnhof. Reading the first sentence gave me a chill. Why are we suddenly allowed to know what lands in the email box of the director? Why this sudden transparency? And why let us know that Adrian Piper, who's been living in Berlin for a long time, offered her work herself, although Kittelmann, as he claims, has been a long-time admirer, but hadn’t come up with the idea to invite her before? In the very white male collection of the Staatliche Museen we are let known that Piper, a black female artist, had to offer her work, and for a price a fraction of her male colleagues. Harmless story, you say? Let me repeat Iza Genzken words in an interview for the Tagespiegel, when they tell her she's doing well on the art market: "“Sells well? Take Jeff Koons, he’s of my generation, much worse than I am, but so much more expensive. That's injustice.”

March 11, 2017

ğ – the soft g: an exhibition with a gesture

Exhibition view. Photo: Sven Gutjahr

ğ – the soft g is the title of a new exhibition at the Schwules Museum in Berlin, curated by Emre Busse and Aykan Safoğlu. It’s a beautiful title that intrigues, even before knowing what it means. The soft g is used in the Turkish alphabet since 1928 as a hybrid letter adapted from Ottoman language. It doesn’t have much meaning, at least not in the “a to z” kind of sense. “The only purpose of this unprecedented hybrid form," so the curators, "is to lengthen the preceding vowel.” For some reason, it always makes me happy when the Latin alphabet gets subverted. Take Andy Warhol’s From A to B and Back Again or check out the Brief Rebellion in the Alphabet by Chuma Nwokolo. I get annoyed by exhibitions like, for instance, the one at Hamburger Bahnhof, which goes through the collection following the Latin alphabet. Why using exactly that alphabet as underlying structure and why, when we don’t even bother to read dictionaries from beginning till end, would we want to see it? Just to say, I couldn’t be more excited to see an exhibition that introduces the soft g to Germany. 

What happens, the curators thought, if ğ leaves Turkey to migrate to Germany? For them, “ğ is an oriental sound-letter that migrated to a western body of sorts.” What comes about is an exhibition not merely based on a beautiful letter and a beautiful thought, but also one that constitutes a firm gesture that has its weight in current politics and society. It is rare that one encounters an exhibition that makes a gesture. Most exhibitions are eager to go hard to sound “radical,” and would never get the idea that something like a soft letter could be subversive. Yet for Emre Busse and Aykan Safoğlu, ğ illustrates a queer migrant state of mind and their exhibition tracks the transcultural exchange of LGBTIQ* people between Berlin and Istanbul.

Ayşe Erkman, Conversations, 1997. Photo: Sven Gutjahr

I might have been under the influence of the title because my favorites in the exhibition are the works that also play with language. One is by Ayşe Erkmen - a video based on her installation Am Haus, which is displayed on a facade in Oranienstrasse, Kreuzberg, since 1994. It shows the “miş” suffix, specific to Turkish language, used to indicate an Indefinite Past Tense or "heard tense" to transfer information that you have not actually seen and witnessed yourself. As such it introduces various nuances of doubt, uncertainty or hearsay. In times of absolutes of “Just Do It!”, aren't we in need of a “miş” sort of mindset? 

Ming Wong, Soft g, 2017. Photo: Sven Gutjahr

The second work is by Ming Wong, also based on an earlier piece of him, impersonating the Turkish transsexual singer Bülent Ersoy - Bülent being a name that can be both male and female. We hear Wong taking singing lessons, making an effort for the right pronunciation and the right tone. The  tone has to be dramatic, so the music teacher stresses, with a lot of pain in the voice. Wong goes for it, reaching out to the original. An exact imitation would be boring because it’s in the little gap that poetry, and with poetry love comes about. 

March 6, 2017

There's No Underwear in Space

Wearing decent brands in the 1980s/1990s had its meaning. “These indicated that you would probably go to college,” poet Eileen Myles writes in Chelsea Girls, “drive a sports car, have a career and go to Europe at one point.” She adds: “There was so much hope in clothes."

In her autobiographical book Wishful Drinking, published in 2008, Carrie Fisher talks about the shooting of Star Wars and the signature white outfit of Princess Leia:
George [Lucas] comes up to me the first day of filming and he takes one look at the dress and says, "You can't wear a bra under that dress."
So, I say, "Okay, I'll bite. Why?"
And he says, "Because. . . there's no underwear in space."

“Why is it,” artist Wolfgang Müller ponders over coffee, “that what is down below, like our feet, is mostly considered to be less important than that which is up high, like our head?”

“Jugendstil meets Punk” was the title of Wolfgang Müller’s talk at the Bröhan Museum in May 2013. Surrounded by stylish tea cups with floral decorations, Müller talked about 1980s punk stilettos of animal bones and a bra made out of wigs found at the Berlin flea market. Jugendstil is now considered to be beautiful but of course, originally, Jugendstil was a “youth style,” which, just like punk, was considered to be rebellious, obscene and decadent, for instance by using sex to provoke, and this is how Jugendstil and Punk meet.

In 1983, Karl Lagerfeld dressed singer and supermodel Grace Jones for the Grammy Awards, where she was nominated for her One Man Show. Lagerfeld designed for her a “winner’s outfit”, with a gigantic gladiatorial bowl-shaped hat that matched with a square shoulder wire dress. 

“In fashion the future lasts three months, three months, three months,” so Karl Lagerfeld.

A Winner Outfit

Three Ways to R.I.P. for Artists

It didn't really work out that way, but Andy Warhol wanted "Figment" to be written on his grave tomb. A figment is "a thing that someone believes to be real but that exists only in their imagination." Being a figment is of course an excellent way to keep on living also after death. 

Marcel Duchamp was buried in 1968 at a cemetery in Rouen, France. He got his way and on his tomb he makes his last pun: "D'ailleurs, c'est toujours les autres qui meurent." ["Besides, it's always the others who die."] Mmm, you might wonder, who's the joke on? 

When Joseph Beuys died in 1986, his ashes were scattered at sea on a boat called Sueño. Captain Nagel wrote down the coordinations: “54° 07,5’N 08° 22,0’E”.