Contributed by Loren Britton / When artist Melanie Vogel opened Warte für Kunst (Waiting for Art) in 2010 in Kassel, Germany, Vogel wanted to challenge the notion of what “good art” was. Located in a shabby red-walled tattoo studio that had been given a fresh coat of white paint, Warte für Kunst was a platform where Vogel envisioned an exchange between art and artists would take place. It was a waiting room, and they waited to see what would happen in the in-between. I discovered the Warte für Kunst in August, 2017, when they were well into their summer project “We + The Others,” which was the inaugural project after the gallery had moved into in a new space.
“We” comprised four artists: Romina Abate, Anja Köhne, Melanie Vogel, and Johannes Peter; the 16 artists who made up “The Others” included Frederike Vidal & Judith Groth, Moritz Unger, Artur Niestroj, Lars Rosenbohm, Tobias Böhm, Thomas Reymann, Bernhard Prinz, Romina Abate, Anja Köhne, Hanna Ben-Haim Yulzari, Brendon Ehinger, Lisa Wood, Michel Gockel, Linda Jasmin Mayer & Sebastian Kulbaka.
The exhibition explored the questions the questions: What does it mean to make an exhibition? What does it mean to break it? Can an artist make something new with things that are already there?
The rules of this 16-week project were as follows:
1) Each week one of the artists in “We & The Others” was to be invited to have a solo exhibition – with the caveat that the artist must engage with the detritus and artwork left from the previous exhibition.
2) Over the duration of this series of exhibitions, the gallery was to grow increasingly more crowded as objects accumulated from each exhibition.
3) Nothing was allowed to leave the gallery.
As the guardian of the Warte, Vogel oversaw the process discreetly, touching and moving small bits of the work around, adding some objects of her own, and watching how the process manifested an exhibition.
“It didn’t work like we thought it would,” Vogel told me. “People didn’t initially touch or engage the others’ artwork.” It was as if it was a series of solo exhibitions with something else happening on the side. “We had to really nudge and give permission to the Others not to be shy.” Vogel noticed that there were a lot of respectful actions, but that artists seemed fearful of destroying.
Authorship, ownership, and collectivity questions arose. How brave do you have to be to cut into someone else’s work? What does it mean to work with another artist’s objects? What is yours and what is not? How does ownership make meaning for the artist who is invited to destroy? What IS property? What does it mean to ‘have’ something?
The exhibition provoked thoughts about ownership, conjuring Robert Rauschenberg’s 1953 action, Erased de Kooning, and the Greifers of Bandung, a novella written by 14 students at the Dutch Art Institute. Both are instances of uncollaborative collaboration, and in each, the idea of authorship troubles in intriguing ways. With Erased de Kooning, Rauschenberg famously eliminated one of his forefather’s works by erasing, with various kinds of erasers, a densely drawn work comprising crayon, ink, charcoal and pencil, over the course of two months. In this case, Rauschenberg’s erasure of the other was the express goal of this work; through erasure the ownership of this drawing shifted from one man to the other. Greifers of Bandung is a “romantic fantasy” in which the story shifted between “characters and voices, perspectives, and plotlines” as each artist took a turn writing. Struggling to find a narrative arc in the structure of the book becomes a substitute for an illegible textual story. Similarly, “We & The Others” privileges collaboration over aesthetic unity by exploring the space between the artists rather than focusing on the artwork produced.
By the conclusion of the exhibition, the project produced more questions than answers. I wondered if the political climate as it relates to boundaries might be the reason why many of the artists treaded so lightly. Can we think of authorship as a way to dissolve boundaries of practice and praxis and effectively imagine a transformative future in the arts that has to do with undoing hierarchy and fruitfully engaging with the Other? Perhaps, as Vogel asks with Warte für Kunst, the space of crossover can be found in the waiting room.
“We & The Others,” Warte für Kunst, Kassel, Germany. Summer 2017. With Romina Abate, Anja Köhne, Melanie Vogel, Johannes Peter, Frederike Vidal & Judith Groth, Moritz Unger, Artur Niestroj, Lars Rosenbohm, Tobias Böhm, Thomas Reymann, Bernhard Prinz, Romina Abate, Anja Köhne, Hanna Ben-Haim Yulzari, Brendon Ehinger, Lisa Wood, Michel Gockel, Linda Jasmin Mayer & Sebastian Kulbaka.
About the author: A recent grad of Yale’s MFA program, Loren Britton is a co-founder of the curatorial projects Improvised Showboat (with Zachary Keeting), lcqueryprojects (with Christie DeNizio), and Queering Space. Britton has a solo exhibition, “Second Date,” on view at Field Projects in Chelsea through December 16, 2017.