“How much space should a work of art have … to breathe.”
– Brian O’Doherty, Inside the White Cube (1999)
“All Things Kirchner. The Museum as Wunderkammer” aims to provide a visually sophisticated staged panorama of the world’s most comprehensive and unique Kirchner collection. In mounting the exhibition recourse is made to the principle of salon-style hanging which makes maximum use of the wall surface and systematically arranges works from small to large.
There is no such thing as neutral hanging. The history of the arrangement of pictures in exhibition spaces is a checkered one. It documents the shifts in the understanding of art and the image as well as in the political and economic motives of collectors, art dealers and curators. The display concept of the stark white wall first emerged in the 1920s and subsequently prevailed as the characteristic appearance of most museums. In the 1940s and 1950s almost every museum had turned into a “white cube.” In the white cube art appears as a purely self-reflexive system irrespective of place and time and unconnected to a political or social reality beyond itself. From the 1960s on, the ambivalent potential of the white museum space to auratically charge and fetishise any object like a luxury product itself became a subject of art and of a critique of the institution of the museum.
The presentation at the Kirchner Museum Davos sees itself as a critical reflexion on the conventions of perceiving art. The show does not limit itself to the classic art forms of painting, graphic art, drawing, photography and sculpture, but also presents a selection of Kirchner relics from the museum’s collection. These include, for instance, Kirchner’s wood blocks, Kirchner’s diary, Kirchner’s bow, Kirchner’s postcards, Kirchner’s fingerprint, Kirchner’s ashtray, Kirchner’s signatures, Kirchner’s absinth bottle, Kirchner’s morphine ampules, Kirchner’s pistol, Kirchner’s medical record, Kirchner’s bills, Kirchner’s tax statements, as well as Rudolf Gaberel’s last photo of the artist lying in state and much else that has rarely or never before seen the light of the exhibition spaces.
The exhibition considers the value of the original and shows items that Kirchner has touched and created. It covers the whole range from contact relics to last things such as the pistol with which Kirchner shot himself, and it examines the aura of artefacts, found objects and documents connected to the artist. The exhibition also investigates “Who was Louis de Marsalle?” as it inquires about Kirchner’s alter ego which, after all, kept his contemporaries intrigued for thirteen years and did very original marketing work for Kirchner.
The eighteenth century invented the Originalgenie, the unique, unattainable and quite often very unhappy true genius, a “higher being” capable of making the world and existence appear special to us. The word “Originalgenie” may have rightly passed out of use, yet what remains is the outstanding artistic personality whose originality needs to be understood. With this in mind, the myths surrounding the artistic personality of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner are subjected to scrutiny.
The Hamburg-based artist Rupprecht Matthies is creating a text-based artwork consisting of letters and texts written by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. His word-art can take the form of lettering made of Plexiglas cut-outs on the wall, of a free-floating mobile in space or of a steel sculpture unfurling on the floor.
Rupprecht Matthies (b. 1957) first studied sociology at Hamburg University and then art at the University of Fine Arts in Hamburg. He is recipient of the Saxon Art Award for Tolerance and Democracy. Matthies began his artistic career as a painter. In 1996 he created his first word sculptures and word mobiles. His works are internationally sought after and have been shown at venues such as the Denver Art Museum, the Museum Moderner Kunst Kärnten in Klagenfurt, Austria, and the Hamburger Kunsthalle.
Rupprecht Matthies is greatly interested in people, communication and social interaction. The trained sociologist sees himself as an artistic service provider who is commissioned to visualize and give expression to social and communicative processes. Matthies’s approach is constructive; his aim is to make a positive and emancipatory impact with his artistic work, to improve and construct.
Matthies’s text-based works bring together language and type face as well as painting, drawing and sculpture. Yet the thing is that Matthies frequently leaves it to the others to create the words, while he focuses entirely on their sculptural design and choreography. This is also true for his exchange of words with Kirchner whose texts, letters and postcards provide the source material from which Matthies develops his exhibition: special words, particular phrases, dedications, remarks about fellow artists and thoughts about his own life are lifted from the correspondence of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and translated into wall pieces and sculptures. In this way Matthies conducts a search for traces in the work, the life and the soul of the historical artist, reflecting the ideas and messages of his predecessor in his own work.
Matthies is a master of participatory art projects: the classic role play of work, artist and viewer is thoroughly jumbled in his projects, as the artistic manifestations are invariably a collaborative affair of mutual influence and communication. Matthies is a cheerful enlightener who seems to be working on a visual universal dictionary and who believes in the healing power of words. His dancing letters unleash imaginings and aspirations and reflect brief moments of an awareness of life and the zeitgeist. Art and life are inseparably interwoven in his work and this is just one of the things he has in common with Ernst Ludwig Kirchner.