What does the new year have to offer? From Niki de Saint Phalle and "Plastic World" to Lyonel Feininger and John Akomfrah – this is what awaits you at the SCHIRN in 2023!
NIKI SAINT PHALLE
Niki Saint Phalle (1930–2002) is one of the most famous women artists of her generation and is deemed a main representative of European Pop Art and a cofounder of the Happening. The SCHIRN is illuminating the history and wide-ranging oeuvre of this visionary Franco-American artist in a comprehensive exhibition which offers an overview of all phases of her oeuvre featuring some 100 works. In the five decades of her creative work, de Saint Phalle developed an unmistakable language of form and a multifaceted oeuvre. The Nanas, her colorful large-format sculptures of women, laid the foundations for her international success and are regarded to this day as her trademark.
However, Saint Phalle was an autodidact whose artistic spectrum also extended far beyond these pieces. She focused on different techniques, topics, and working methods and created ambivalent and subversive works full of joy and brutality, humor and waywardness. For her, art was more than just a means of expression: for biographical reasons she saw it as a necessity, and it also served to question social conventions. She criticized institutions and role models and took an artistic approach to dealing with social and political topics like stigmatization through AIDS, the right to abortion, gun control laws, and climate change. Early in her career, Saint Phalle abandoned painting and voiced in her creative work a plea for women and the feminine. Her early paintings were followed by assemblages, and by the 1960s she was creating her legendary Shooting Pictures or Tirs in spectacular performances, in which she involved the audience. Her drawings, writings, and large-scale sculptures, as well as plays, films, and installations in public space, bear witness to the transformative effect of her art, which reached its climax in her architectural life work, the Tarot Garden in Tuscany.
MONSTER CHETWYND. A CAT IS NOT A DOG
The art of Monster Chetwynd (b. 1973) interacts directly with the public. The British artist achieved fame with her exuberant and humorous performances employing handmade costumes, props, and stage sets. Her works are often absurd and full of the joys of life, and refer to popular culture or iconic works from history. With her installation in the publicly accessible Rotunda of the Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, the artist reacts directly and playfully to the architecture of the location and has visitors enter the roofed-in space through the open mouths of her monstrous Heads. Here Chetwynd is referring at the same time to a motif from the Christian pictorial tradition: the “Hellmouth” or Gateway to Hell. As a passageway or entrance it was also modified, for example, in the Sacro Bosco near Bomarzo, an Italian sculpture garden from the sixteenth century, as well as in the artist Niki de Saint Phalle’s Tarot Garden in Tuscany. In Chetwynd’s work, too, walking along the passageway opens up an alternative space to the real outside world. Sustainability and participation are essential for Chetwynd’s creative activities; at the SCHIRN the artist makes existing sculptures tangible in a new, location-specific form.
ELIZABETH PRICE. SOUND OF THE BREAK
Elizabeth Price (b. 1966) makes the transformation of digital works visible. The artist creates moving images, composing visuals, text, and sound to form spatial installations that restage cultural and sociopolitical events and focus attention on largely unnoticed stories. The SCHIRN is presenting a major solo exhibition of this winner of the Turner Prize, including both new works and others that are being shown for the first time in Germany. Each of her video works is the result of meticulous research and a wide-ranging examination of archives and collections of material. Over the course of her digital appropriation, Price develops new narratives from art objects and documents of historical events. A recurring topic is the changing world of work as a result of digitalization, the migration of manual work to emerging countries that pay low wages, and the increase in information work, office activities, and administration. The SCHIRN is showing two extensive installations, each with two corresponding videos, as well as four video lectures created during the coronavirus lockdown which provide insight into the artist’s working process. Price’s videos defamiliarize the past until it is no longer recognizable, replacing it with new, seductive, and anarchic energy.
Plastic is everywhere. It permeates the present age—it is inexpensive, available virtually worldwide, and omnipresent in our daily lives. Because of the vast design possibilities, plastics soon found their way into art and quickly became one of the principal materials. In the 1950s, synthetic substances were both a symptom and a symbol of mass culture—the “Plastic Age” was born. In the brief history of this material culture, which continues to dominate to this day, the successful and versatile substance developed from being the epitome of progress, modernity, utopian spirit, and democratization of consumerism into a threat to the environment.
The SCHIRN is dedicating a major thematic exhibition to the fascinating history of plastics in fine art. “Plastic World” presents objects, assemblages, installations, films, and documentations and opens up a broad panorama of the artistic use and evaluation of plastic which reflects the societal context concerned. The spectrum extends from the euphoria of pop culture in the 1960s to the futuristic influence of the space age, and from the trash works of Nouveau Réalisme to the ecocritical positions of recent times; it includes architectural utopias and environments as well as experiments with material properties. On view are over 100 works from some 50 international artists, including Monira Al Qadiri, Archigram, Arman, César, Christo, Haus-Rucker-Co, Eva Hesse, Hans Hollein, Craig Kauffman, Kiki Kogelnik, Gino Marotta, James Rosenquist, Pascale Marthine Tayou, and Pınar Yoldaş.
Martha Rosler (b. 1943) has influenced numerous contemporary artists with the radicalism of her artistic position. The SCHIRN is dedicating a focused solo exhibition to the American conceptual artist and pioneer of critical feminism. Rosler’s work is always political and examines questions of power and violence, the ideals of beauty and their demolition, and the purported contrasts between war and consumption. For her sociocritical collages and videos, Rosler uses found pictorial material that has already been published. The artist delights in working with photos from public sources like magazines and newspapers, which she processes and arranges in new contexts in order to visualize inequality and protest. Following on from Rosler’s iconic series House Beautiful: Bringing the War Home (ca. 1967–72), at the heart of the SCHIRN exhibition lies the confrontation with warlike disputes as conveyed in the media, together with the associated dissonance between the private and the political.
Who builds what, where, and for whom? Influenced by architectural history, Maruša Sagadin (b. 1978) examines the social aspects upon which a building or place is based. Her artistic work operates at the interface between private and public spaces and combines elements from architecture, sculpture, and painting. Sagadin employs humor and exaggeration in both her language of form and use of color to reveal mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion and to break with established codes of art observation. In a playful and subversive manner, her works refer to elements of pop and subculture and applied art. In the interaction between gender, language, and sculpture, they subvert existing norms and thematize sculpture as a form of visualization. On the occasion of Slovenia’s presentation as guest of honor at the Frankfurt Book Fair 2023, the artist is realizing new works in the Rotunda of the SCHIRN, which respond to the specific characteristics of this semipublic space.
LYONEL FEININGER. RETROSPECTIVE
The German-American artist Lyonel Feininger (1871–1956) is a classic name in modern art. The SCHIRN is dedicating the first major retrospective in Germany in over twenty-five years to this important painter and graphic artist, portraying a comprehensive and surprising overview of his creative work. Feininger is famous for his paintings of buildings, crystalline architectures in unmistakable monumentality, and harmonious colors. However, today’s approach often overlooks the originality and wealth of artistic facets in his oeuvre, which reflects many aspects of modernism.
The SCHIRN presents main works which are seldom on view and also little-known series like the artist’s recently rediscovered photographs. At an early stage, Feininger developed a highly individual illustrative style as a graphic artist and caricaturist. In addition to central works from his early figurative phase, including political caricatures, humorous-grotesque townscapes, and carnivalesque figures, the exhibition also illustrates his role as one of the first Bauhaus instructors and as a master of graphic techniques such as the drawing and the woodcut. A particular focus lies on Feininger’s pivotal works from the 1930s and his exile in America. The exhibition illuminates important themes and lines of development with some 120 paintings, drawings, caricatures, watercolors, woodcuts, photographs, and objects that make Feininger’s work distinctive and unique.
John Akomfrah (b. 1957) creates thoughtful video works of haunting audiovisual intensity. He tells of radical changes and crises of the present and past on characteristic large-format screens. The SCHIRN is presenting for the first time a comprehensive overview of the artist’s impressive work, which to date is still relatively unknown in Germany, through a selection of his important video installations from recent years. The cofounder of the influential London-based Black Audio Film Collective (est. 1982) interweaves his own film sequences with archive material to create multilayered, at times associative collages, frequently in the form of simultaneous narrative structures. Akomfrah’s oeuvre critically examines colonial pasts, global migration, and the climate crisis. The starting point of the Schirn’s extensive presentation is a new immersive multiscreen installation, which traces a thematic arc exploring the first settler contacts on the shores of North America’s eastern coasts, the conquistadors in Central and South America, and the arrival of Europeans in the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, and China.
For over 10 years, the film and video art series DOUBLE FEATURE has formed a regular part of the program of the SCHIRN. Once a month, artists present their own production followed by a film of their choice. In an interview, the authors of the film discuss their works as well as current trends in film and video art. DOUBLE FEATURE was founded by the Schirn curators Katharina Dohm and Matthias Ulrich and has since offered a consistent platform to various tendencies and forms of film and video art production. Over 100 artists have already presented their works at the SCHIRN.