Friday, January 25, 2008

Leipzig, ca 2004-2005

There is a term physicists use to describe the reworking of an old theory: the perturbative approach. This was the approach that I had in mind when approaching the city of Leipzig. We came by car from Berlin, a mere 2 hours drive, not knowing what one would find, as the autobahn signs told us, in the city of Bach; something baroque, more than likely damaged and beige, lots of architectural potholes, an uneasy wave of really old and kind of new.

With Zentrum signs in sight, we parked, picnicked in the rain, then asked some other travellers if they might happen to know the way to the famed Leipzig we had come in search of. It seemed as if they might be retro-art savvy, might know where the latest in art factory was to be found, for we Berliners had heard that the art in Leipzig was very retro.

We were on a blind odyssey whose destination was a former mill which some 10 years ago had been converted into atelier spaces and only recently some 5 commercial galleries had set up shop after the way had been paved by an art foundation based in Munich. Our journey took us to the outposts of the ‘real’ Leipzig, of one concrete block of living quarters, or quarters of living, after the next. Round and round we drove from ring to periphery. Weaving in and out of large patches of green parks, with many stops along the way to ask directions, it seemed that Leipzig was a city of Goths, not a gothic city, mind you, and only after the third group of Goths that we stopped did we realise that something strange had this way come. These darkly intellectual pale-faced Goths hadn’t a clue where this shrine of art might be. Though we were both pilgrims to the city, we had different temples in mind. Theirs was a festival of music and graveyard poetry and ours the latest ‘restoration’ art house, not a school (PS1), not a margarine factory (KW), but a cotton mill. We were, in short, in search of those mouldy spaces that Berlin was famous for, and Paris (Palais de Tokyo) and London (former mail sorting ruins) were becoming famous for.

A virtual address, at last, marked the target; painted on a wall, ‘www.spinnerei.de’ announced that we could begin to perturb those carved-in-stone theories made in Berlin, the ones which liked to dismiss Leipzig as merely cheap atelier space for those famed German painters paring their paint-encrusted fingernails. Rumour was amongst the conceptual punks of Berlin that many smart collections of art were being dumbed down by the blind advent known as Leipziger Malerei, that respected Ad Reinhardts across the world were being (dis)placed next to these seemingly thoughtless new kids from the Eastern Bloc.

What we found was exactly the opposite of what we thought we’d find. In the pouring rain, running between one gallery and the next, barring one, no paintings-for-paintings-sake were to be found. Instead, wry commentary on the new German painting phenomenon seemed to be the theme of the artist-run commercial gallery (a ‘produzenten galerie’) called B2. An industrial grey E-class Mercedes (a.k.a. the Baby Benz) was parked and filled to the gills with Kippenberger-like canvases. The artist, Oliver Kosset, later explained to me the meaning of the big plastic banner hanging over the car bearing a Kippenberger saying, ‘Put your eye in your mouth’, in reverse. Kosset said that he liked ‘goofing around the periphery of postwar painting, making bleak references to the recent painting boom’. The car was sadly his own as the installation has been sold to the far-off reaches of Mr Kim’s collection in South Korea at the Arario Gallery, a vortex of contemporary art.

Across the hall, gallerist Andre Kermer is a man who makes a point of not exhibiting painting. Instead, quiet albeit politically charged photographs by Andreas Wünschirs (b. 1967 in East Berlin) were on view, seemingly innocuous beach views depicting the space of master-race health, a körperkultur resort designed in the Third Reich.

Dogenhaus Galerie had a group show up made more of words and sculpture than painting and though the ASPN gallery, which shares the space, featured good abstract paintings by Matthias Reinmuth, they were a far cry from the renown style of Neo Rauch and Rosa Loy. The very-white cubesque new space of Eigen + Art, (whose v.i.p. room bore the transparency of a rich democracy) featured a Baader-Meinhof-Beuys citation installation which time and mind hasn’t yet allowed me to puzzle out what artist Birgit Brenner intended.

Alas, I did find those famed Leipziger paintings, but they lacked the shimmer of other shooting stars such as Tilo Baumgärtel and Matthias Weischer. The Galerie Kleindienst had been morphed into a salon of revisited ‘New Objectivity’, very Rudolf Schlichter, in fact, via the paintings of Christoph Ruckhäberle. The characters in his paintings seem to be as uninterested in each other as I am in them. Unfair to say really, since I perturbedly ran in and ran out, but the gallerist was still courteous enough to point me in the direction of what I had been looking for….

The generator of all the noise, the Federkiel Foundation, the place whose friendly founder Karsten Schmitz I had met because of his generous support of Carsten Nicolai. It was his space that had interested me the most. On view was a show called ‘The Passion of Collecting’ featuring both his own and the Reinking collection, demonstrating the kind of passion which is a kind passion, a division of joy rather than the joy of division. Those intellectual Goths would have been pleased had their pilgrimage made such a detour for the sights rather than the sounds.

Alas, no studio visits, nor time to settle the chicken and the egg question: who came first, Neo Rauch or his partner Rosa Loy? The Krasner-Pollock pyschogeography would never be truly mapped by my perturbative approach, no, because the sentiment of Leipzig is not one of competition, but of collaboration.

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