Familiar Terrain
Exhibition view "Familiar Terrain"
Current Art in/about Germany
Thu, May 22, 2008 – Sun, October 12, 2008

Why enter into a confrontation with Germany from a cultural perspective in the year 2008? In addition to the fact that in recent years it finally seems possible to once again pose the question of what comprises a nation, there are also other reasons that make a present involvement with our country necessary: whether the debates about German domestic politics and a newly self-confident international politics that revolve around concepts and themes including leitkultur, integration, terrorism, federalism reform, migration law, and deportation, Germany's growing role in the UN, the parliamentarian confrontation with the deployment of the federal army in Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan, through to the treatment of Germany's exiled citizens, memorials and sites such as the Berlin Holocaust monument, the Berlin Stadtschloss, and Rosa-Luxemburg square; whether the new, strange patriotism, triggered mainly by the euphoria of the 2006 soccer world championships; or a hidden, conformist nationalism that has become socially integrated and, in part, rid itself of its symbols. Whether problems in dealing with exhibitions that work through German history, for example, the »Wehrmachtsausstellung« (1995–1999/2001–2004), the »RAF exhibition« (2005), or more recently, the »Zug der Erinnerung« (2008), which took up the theme of European deportations; the immense success of German art—primarily painting—abroad; or the dismantling of state cultural support, that is, the dismantling of federal cultural support structures in favor of a centrally oriented master plan.

All of these debates and events constantly compel us to reflect back on our own origins. What else could explain the numerous publications by Germans and non-Germans on the history, characteristics, and situation of the German nation in recent years? This new way of seeing oneself seems to be a new self evidence, which was not always the case. Let's return to 1984: “»Kein Ort. Nirgends (No Place on Earth)« is a story by Christa Wolf that shows us [Karoline von] Günderrode and Heinrich von Kleist as seekers filled with superhuman desire. The book is set in the early nineteenth century, yet it likewise describes an entirely topical situation. Christa Wolf writes with an awareness that people are lost in a labyrinth without a center, that they are not at home anywhere, and the dream of utopia is no longer possible. There is only an A-topia: »Kein Ort. Nirgends (No Place on Earth)«.”[1] This assessment was prompted by the exhibition »Von hier aus – Zwei Monate neue deutsche Kunst in Düsseldorf« (1984); an exhibition that influenced an entire generation. On 14,000 square meters, an imaginary center was laid out, as the name of the exhibition alluded to (Von hier aus - from here, outward), the marketing of a city with Joseph Beuys's flair, juxtaposing the art and conference center Cologne. The exhibition was, however, a labyrinth laid out in the zeitgeist of the postmodern era, bluntly emphasizing the lack of a center.

Today, at the outset of the twenty-first century, a reunited Germany reveals a different constellation: a center seems to exist in German art life, the old new capital Berlin. But how relevant is this »Berlin«, actually, or is it all about something more as Ingo Niermann intimates in his book »Umbauland. Zehn deutsche Visionen« [2]. He provocatively proposes a radical reform of Germany with ten »simple« schemes, from a new grammar through to nuclear arms.

No Place on Earth. The terrain that we are looking for is, in truth, a non-site, inevitably not bound to sites. Instead, we are more interested in pictures of Germany, stereotypes, atmospheres, moods, as well as the ways they are treated. The idea for this exhibition was born of the atmosphere described at the outset, the fact that until now almost no art exhibition has posed a confrontation with Germany, and the current success of German art, a label that marks a domestic and foreign exhibition tradition that is, ultimately, fiction. In spite of the old Mülheimer freedom, the Neuen Wilden, Neuen Deutschen Welle, new German film, and literature, the Bechers in Düsseldorf, and the new Leipziger Schule; despite the massive pull of Berlin, we know quite well that national codification has little to do with the reality of artistic praxis. Nonetheless, a country's specific issues in the search for history, genealogies, and trends, present a constant in art history and in the art world; and an overview exhibition is their most common format. By deploying culture-political rhetoric—often supported by the art market—attempts are made to derive national representation via a statement of origins. This is especially visible in the prominent English case of Young British Art, where a movement was successfully constructed and marketed. Similar approaches and successes ranging from »Art from Russia« (Soc-Art, 1980s) to »Art from China« (End of the 1990s) clarify that we are dealing with a constantly recurring phenomenon.

Beginning with »Von hier aus – Zwei Monate neue deutsche Kunst in Düsseldorf« through to »Made in Germany« in 2007 in Hannover (re-named »Made in Berlin« by the press), numerous other presentations, documented in the exhibition, have dealt with the question of Germany as a place of origin and production site. Nonetheless, in exhibition practice, a confrontation involving the meaning of one's own country has often been seen as awkward and problematic due to German history. But precisely this analysis and occupation with an apparently familiar as well as foreign terrain, »Germany« is interesting and crucial in a situation of matter-of-course trans-national communication and the trend towards dissolution of the state, threatening nation-state decision-making power in Europe. On the one hand, we observe that national differences seem to be leveling off, and on the other, local scenes and peculiarities are ascribed new meanings.

Against this backdrop, the project »Vertrautes Terrain« emerges as a sophisticated confrontation with works by international artists reflecting in extremely different ways on Germany as a space of history, art, and the social. Germany has become a huge projection surface for matters of content and form, symptoms and virulence in art against the background of its present socio-political and socio-cultural existence. Issues of history, memory, cultural situatedness, identity, biographical references, structures, symbols, formal references, clichés, and representational politics form the basis of the project: What is it about Germany that interests artists and designers from various nationalities? Does an »Identität im Zweifel (Identity in doubt)« (Hans Belting) give rise to a thematic brilliance or quality, howsoever expressed? Can success be derived from this in the end?

»Vertrautes Terrain – Contemporary Art in/about Germany« intends to be a process and current snapshot with ca. one hundred German and international artists and approximately 300 participants from various visual and cultural fields. Despite this great number of participants, the exhibition is not conceived as a show, per se, but instead, attempts to do justice to the complexity of the theme from subjective perspectives located at different positions in cultural fields. At the center is the search for a foreign and familiar picture of Germany in art and its peripheral areas. The aim is to confront stereotypes and also, discover one's own individual picture of Germany.

The approach to contemporary art in and about Germany occurs in three domains, whose functions will be explained in the following: namely, in the core exhibition »Vertrautes Terrain«, the Resonanzraum on the ground floor, and the collection exhibition Collectors' Choice on the second floor of the ZKM | Museum of Contemporary Art.

The core exhibition on the ground floor can be divided into three areas in terms of content. First is an encounter with the historical dimensions of German history, primarily with references to World War II, the German Autumn, a divided country, and Potsdamer Platz, through to the Berlin banking scandal, the company history of Siemens, and the role of memorials and the print media. Second, works will be presented within a formal frame of reference, anchored on styles, such as Romanticism and Expressionism, and people like Friedrich Nietzsche, Rainer Maria Rilke, Gerhard Richter, Joseph Beuys, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, and Hannah Arendt. Third, focus is on individual descriptions of Germany's social and medial fields of conflict: topics such as migration, work, economy, symbols, and specific sites.

In order to show possible parallel developments and references to other cultural fields and areas of work, including literature, music, theater, dance, design, fashion, and film rather than limit the questions to the fine arts, at the heart of the exhibition is a Resonanzraum (Resonance space) conceived together with the artist Heiner Blum. The spatial realization of the metaphor »resonance space« is a temporary exhibition area that is simultaneously a venue and transdisciplinary work and research site. With its program of events and a four-week change of scenery, this space should develop its own dynamics, expand the horizons of the exhibition, and extend an invitation to open our view of art in and about Germany. We hereby intend to make a laboratory situation that is available to us and also to visitors, which contributes in a fundamental way to creating shared and entirely changing ideas about the significance of the concept »Germany« in the cultural field.

The exhibition has, additionally, been expanded to a second floor. »Collectors' Choice« was created in close cooperation with three of the collections that cooperate with the ZKM | Museum of Contemporary Art: The Boros, Grässlin, and Landesbank Baden-Württemberg collections. All three collections are characterized by extremely different approaches and concepts; nonetheless, the focus and interest of all can be located in the German art scene since the 1980s. The special situation in Karlsruhe of a collector museum enables the ideal supplement to the concept described above: the collectors make possible their own, just as clearly focused view of German themes and German art.

The entire project, with roughly 300 participants, invites you to discover the terrain that we've designed as a foreign and also familiar one. Through numerous events, we would like to kick off a continuing dialogue that goes beyond the exhibition. We would like to hereby extend a heartfelt thanks to all of the project's artists, lenders, participants, and cooperation partners, who have supported, accompanied, criticized, and corrected us in the past months in this challenging endeavor. Our thanks go first and foremost to the amazing team of permanent and freelance staff at ZKM, without whom a project of these dimensions could not have been realized. All of their names can be found listed in the imprint. And last but not least, we would like to thank the Kulturstiftung des Bundes (The German Federal Cultural Foundation), which provided the financial support for our ambitious plans.

We are looking forward to four exciting months with the »vertrauten« familiar terrain.

Gregor Jansen & Thomas Thiel

[1] Paul Groot, Kein Ort. Nirgends. Die Ausstellung von hier aus, in Wolkenkratzer Art Journal, no. 5, 1984, p. 100. The novel Kein Ort. Nirgends by Christa Wolf (English—No Place on Earth, 1982) was published in 1979 by both Luchterhand Verlag Darmstadt in West Germany and Berlin's Aufbau-Verlag in East Germany.
[2] Ingo Niermann, Umbauland. Zehn deutsche Visionen, Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt/Main, 2006.

Exhibitions team

Martin Häberle (technical project management)
Marianne Meister (registrar)
Matthias Ossmann (technical project management)

Organization / Institution
ZKM | Museum für Neue Kunst

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Landesbank Baden-Württemberg ; EnBW ; Ministerium für Wissenschaft, Forschung und Kunst ; Stadt Karlsruhe ; Kulturstiftung des Bundes ; élo ; sennheiser ; Neopor, by BASF ; IsoBouw ; IVH

Accompanying program