The title of this Living Archive is taken from a painting by the German artist Jörg Immendorff. In this work we see a young activist (a self-portrait of the artist) abruptly opening the door of the studio of a modernist painter, who is sitting in front of a blank canvas, while in the background a demonstration passes by.
The painting raises various questions about the artist’s stance. Is he an activist who operates within society, or has he withdrawn into the protected environment of the museum world?
The title serves as a metaphor for critical perception – for artists and museums.
Wo stehst Du mit deiner Kunst, Kollege? highlights historic moments showing whether artists and museum directors demanded or rejected the “right of self-determination in their own field” or the “right to participate in the self-determination of other fields”.
Thus the museum is seen here as a podium for pushing back the boundaries, in which artists and museum take a progressive stand – hand in hand – yet also represent diametrically opposed views.
What course of action does a museum director take in order to have a municipal council change its mind? How does an artist question the direction taken of a director or museum? What happens when a director sees the museum as a podium for social discourse and invites a protest group?
The seven rooms of the Living Archive show confrontations which have taken place at the Van Abbemuseum and which deal with different forms of position-taking each time.
Wo stehst Du mit deiner Kunst, Kollege? takes as starting point the questioning that has evolved around an art work and the views on museum involvement in the definition, distribution and recognition of art. Are attempts to criticise museums purely the concern of progressive artists? Or should artists be indebted to museums for making it possible for them to do this in the first place?
1. An invited action group : Futurologists 2000 and Requiem for a Defence Budget
Director Jean Leering gave contemporary meaning to a Georg Grosz exhibition entitled The Face of the Ruling Class (1970) by combining it with a presentation by Futurologists 2000. This was the name used for the occasion by a radical left-wing action group (the Nijmegen offshoot of the national De Kabouters (The Gnomes) movement), which also operated under the names of Omroep (2000) and Commune 2000.
Requiem for a Defence Budget was an installation comprising four coffins each containing a bundle of forged 2000 guilder banknotes, having a total worth of four billion guilders, or the equivalent of the Dutch defence budget. The government of the day supported America in the Vietnam War at the time and opposed the Second Chamber’s appeals to urge America to end the bombing in North Vietnam. Forged banknotes had often been used before as ‘social dynamite’ by the Orange Free State (the political mouthpiece of De Kabouters) during playful happenings in Amsterdam, in order to express their scorn for money, commerce and capitalism. These activists were arrested on various occasions for disseminating printed matter that bore a striking resemblance to 1,000 guilder banknotes.
On 12 May 1970, only a few days after the exhibition opened, the notes were seized by the Eindhoven police.
This social and political engagement along with Grosz’s work was placed in an historical context, and gained additional overtones due to the presence of the action group challenging the museum as being an ostensibly value-free institution. The judicial powers also had authority apparently within protected museum boundaries.
2. The art world defends its territory : Richard Serra and Tilted Arc
In May 1986 there was a discussion in Eindhoven about the city commissioning Richard Serra to make a sculpture for the corner of the Stadsschouwburg and Elzentlaan. As a follow-up to this, an exhibition was planned in the museum. However, the commission was never realised. But the exhibition did go ahead and at the opening in September 1988 Serra showed ten specially made new sculptures.
At the same time as the exhibition a publication appeared entitled Tilted Arc, comprising an assemblage of declarations of support for Serra with regard to saving his similar-named sculpture at the Federal Plaza in New York. Artists, curators, art critics and museum directors rallied around him, including Claes Oldenburg and Donald Judd, critics Rosalind Krauss and Benjamin H. Buchloh as well as the then curator of the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, Coosje van Bruggen.
In 1979 Serra had been approached to make an art work for the Federal Plaza, financed by the ‘one percent rule’ for government buildings. Serra received $ 175, 000, but this was entirely spent on producing the work. When finished Tilted Arc was 36 metres long and 3.5 metres high: it weighed 73 tons. In 1984 local government agreed to have the art work removed due to local residents’ objections. Serra began a lawsuit. The ensuing battle lasted eight years and cost 30 million dollars. The artist was unsuccessful and in 1989Tilted Arc was finally removed.
With the book director Rudi Fuchs triggered debate about art in public spaces as well as a debate about the value-free aspect of art and the freedom of an artist to stand up for his views.
3. Between two camps : Hans Haacke and his letter to the director
On 27 July 1980 the German-American artist Hans Haacke wrote a letter to director Rudi Fuchs expressing his disappointment and lack of understanding concerning Fuchs’ affinity for work by the German artists Georg Baselitz, Markus Lüpertz and Anselm Kiefer. Haacke thought it inappropriate to use highly emotionally charged themes from the Teutonic mythological world and Germany’s cultural history without adding a critical note. The direct trigger for this letter was an article Fuchs had written for Der Spiegel in which he sings the praises of Baselitz and Kiefer’s contributions to the Venice Biennale that same year. Years later the politically engaged Haake would also be invited to the German pavilion and have to come to terms with its emotionally charged history.
In Kiefer, Baselitz and other Neo-Expressionists, like Markus Lüpertz, Fuchs saw a generation of artists breaking with the modernist avant-garde movement. In 1979 the museum devoted a major exhibition to Kiefer’s work in which Fuchs presented his paintings as a new form of history painting. Due to its mythological and historic subject matter, the exhibition included a reading table on which Fuchs had assembled background information about German mythology, without making any specific reference to the country’s fascist past.
In the reproach he made to Fuchs in a letter Haake was not alone. Art critic Benjamin H. Buchloh in particular was highly critical of German Neo-Expressionists. He questioned whether these painters were dismantling the ideological consequences of an authoritarian world view or in fact reflecting it.
Hans Haacke’s letter enables us to explore afresh the political and social economic context of the reception of German art, quite separate from its formal and aesthetic elements.
4. Unrest on stage : Jörg Immendorff and the Pinselwiderstand
Director Rudi Fuchs raised a dilemma with the exhibition Pinselwiderstand (1981). On the one hand there was formal modernist research that supposedly led to pure painting, on the other, the more subversive artists operated, who reacted against stylistic dogmas and worked with clear, political messages. As part of this controversy was Pinselwiderstand, a solo exhibition of Jörg Immendorff’s work with over seventy drawings, paintings and water colours by the German artist.
There was an accompanying book to the exhibition giving an overview of Fluxus-inspired, LIDL happenings between 1966-1970 in which Immendorff was the driving force. LIDL consisted of a group of Joseph Beuys’ students from Düsseldorf’s Academy of Art. Most LIDL events attempted to draw art and life closer together. The book included LIDL’s performance Liebeserklärungen from 1969, which was staged at Eindhoven’s Stadsschouwburg (Concerthall) but was unceremoniously interrupted by security.
In his text in an accompanying folder to Pinselwiderstand, Fuchs stressed that with the emergence of modern art, painting was used as visual propaganda for political, religious, social and cultural ideas. Through modernism the emphasis now lay on artistic problems, thereby neutralising the political standpoint in the work.
Fuchs’ analysis in the folder led to comment from the art world. The discussion centred on the question whether Immendorff had succeeded in balancing his political standpoint with a new aesthetic.
5. Landlord : A proposal to buy by Michael Asher
In the nineteen seventies developments occurred in which the museum as an institute became a subject of debate. This happened, among other reasons, because artists made the relationship between an art work and its surroundings as well as between an art work and the viewer a subject of their work. It was also because they were becoming increasingly critical of museological institutes. An example of this is a proposal to buy by the American conceptual artist Michael Asher.
Michael Asher’s proposal to director Rudi Fuchs was no less radical than his exhibition in 1979 when he had all the sheets of glass removed from the museum ceiling and emptied all its galleries. The proposal to buy involved Asher, as a kind of landlord, renting two small galleries in the Kropholler building (his name would be put up somewhere) for the sum of $ 100 per month. Asher would then hire the rooms to the museum for $ 200 and for a period of thirty months. The rental contract could be extended as well as the repurchasing of the right to hire. Through this renting and hiring system the ‘neutral’ museum space would then be incorporated into the economic system.
Asher’s plan was discussed by the Supervision and Advisory Committee, and while the purchase was apparently approved initially (the Committee authorised Fuchs to buy Landlord for 15,000 guilders) this was nevertheless abandoned for “technical reasons” in March 1981. By introducing an economic value system Asher was attempting to undermine a museum’s supposedly ‘neutral’ context. This proposal to buy is also one of the most succinct examples of institutional criticism in Eindhoven.
6. Face to face with modern art : Edy de Wilde and French Religious Art
In the nineteen fifties, under the influence of the French Dominicans, increasing numbers of artists were commissioned to make ecclesiastical art works for churches, monasteries and open spaces in France. By approaching contemporary artists these religious figures were attempting to breath new life into what they saw as a deterioration in religious art.
In this context the exhibition French Religious Art held in the Netherlands in 1951 would turn out to be of major significance due to the choice of artists and subject matter as well as the unprecedented public outcry it created. The fact that non-Catholic and even Jewish and Communist artists had received ecclesiastical commissions in France and were included in the exhibition was controversial to an entrenched sectarian Holland and the Catholic South.
“How can artists like Chagall, Lipschitz and Zadkine feel Christian?” the Dutch art collector P.A. Regnault asked museum director Edy de Wilde.
The national weekly De Tijd (The Time) even organised a symposium at the Katholiek Leven patronage building where 600 attendees debated the controversy that had arisen.
The view that modern art could function as a form of expression for an ideology was ultimately used as an argument for defining its meaning and value. This view was partly used to justify the putting together of a collection of modern art in Eindhoven. For years afterwards, Catholic Guild magazines continued to debate the groundbreaking exhibition of 1951. Conservative circles even spoke of it as “the first organised attack on the bulwark of ecclesiastical art in the Netherlands”.