Blow Up! The growth of things – works explained

Like a rhizome, a widely branching root system, the exhibi­tion Blow Up! is permeated by the most diverse themes of our time, which, in the broadest sense, deal with the growth of things. In a variety of ways, the new works in the collec­tion negotiate, explore, critique, carica­ture, and satirize tradi­tional notions of growth. The focus is on the temporal and spatial dimen­sions of growth. However, with an impres­sive addition of more than eighty recent donations, the exhibi­tion also focuses on the growth of the museum’s collec­tion itself.

In the exhibi­tion, two different concepts of growth repeatedly intersect: organic and cultural growth. Symbolic of these two tenden­cies is Phyllida Barlow’s Blob at the beginning of the exhibi­tion, a “single-celled organism” that inflates into space and stands for the organic and evolu­tio­nary aspects of growth. In contrast, the video Remem­be­ring Paral­in­guay by Gary Hill refers to a cultural evolution of humankind. The video first returns percep­tion to a zero point in the darkness before a woman strides out of nowhere toward the visitors. Her power­fully shouted sounds suggest a pre-lingu­istic or even future form of communication.

The unfolding of different forms of space and its explo­ra­tion are the focus of the photo­gra­phic series that follow: Also in darkness, Daniel Boudinet stages different spatial situa­tions within his Parisian apartment at night. His images are the result of a technical play with light and shadow, as well as with trans­pa­ren­cies, which is why he is consi­dered one of the early pioneers of artistic color photo­graphy. The specific blue-green light immerses the furnis­hings and the rooms with their openings in a myste­rious and at times eerie atmosphere.

The contras­ting play of (archi­tec­tural) distance and (intimate) proximity, privacy and public space is also continued by Alain Fleischer with his photo­mon­tages. He attempts to reverse the voyeu­ristic activity of photo­graphy and turn it into an exhibi­tio­nistic activity by projec­ting porno­gra­phic images onto the surroun­ding façades.

Adam Putnam explores the different qualities and percep­tions of (inter)spaces. Influ­enced by the eighte­enth-century archi­tec­tural fantasies of Giovanni Battista Piranesi, he is especially interested in the psycho­lo­gical qualities and percep­tions, as well as in spatial geometry and perspec­tive illusion. On the one hand, he relates indivi­dual isolated archi­tec­tural fragments and objects within his abstract photo­graphy to the abstract surroun­ding space. On the other hand, he forces his own body into direct physical inter­ac­tion with the space in between by pressing himself into books­helves and cupboards.

Based on his interest in the intan­gible, as well as in subcon­scious connec­tions, with Zweisam­keitsi­ma­gi­nie­rung (Imagi­na­tion of Together­ness), Jürgen Klauke also negotiates the relati­onship between the subject and the material world. In his stagings of psycho­lo­gi­cally highly charged situa­tions, the human being becomes a mere prop. While in the first tableau vivant, the artist exposes himself to the leaden gravi­ta­tional field, in the two following images, his presence is lost in a phantom-like state. The tables, balloons, bowls, and pillows form their own metaphy­sical reality and thereby push the existen­tial question regarding the location of the subject to the fore.

Many of Stefan Thiel’s paper cut-outs are based on photo­graphs he took in the urban context of Berlin. What interests him about the cut-out or silhou­ette, with its long cultural history, is the possi­bi­lity of formal reduction of space and object. At the same time, the medium estab­lishes a distance to what is depicted. As in the cut-out, various themes overlap in his works. The idea of sensua­lity and desire is one of his basic motifs. Despite his explo­ra­tion of sexuality, eroticism, and fetish, especially within queer commu­nities, his works occasio­nally obscure more than they actually reveal. This is also true of the photo­gra­phic series Silhou­etten, which depict people from his environ­ment with black stockings pulled over their heads.

Conce­aling, even covering up or repres­sing, is part of US American (colonial) history and has played a key role in this up to the present day. A black-painted but badly battered plaster bust of a white man with a necktie has landed on the floor, standing in front of a large ensemble of paint buckets piled into leaning columns. The African American artist Rodney McMillian has linked the nameless bust as a found object to an allusion to the US American prefe­rence for the neoclas­sical archi­tec­tural element of the column.

In contrast, the archetype of US American archi­tec­ture, the white man’s log cabin, is the focus of Olga Koumoun­douros’s sculpture Sagamore: The Good Life. “Sagamore” was the name given to the leaders of extended families of the Indige­nous North American Abenaki. The log cabin archi­tec­ture here has a closed form: Without windows or doors and with sides of equal size, it appears hermetic and forbidding as a poignant version of a self-suffi­cient dwelling. In this context, the title of Johannes Wohns­eifer’s wall work, which refers to the United States, serves as a biting commen­tary by questio­ning the legacy of Western colonia­lism: not a flag not even a map. It contrasts with Goran Tomcic’s inter­pre­ta­tion of the American flag, which he designed as a hologram collage.

With her series LA Gun Club, Olga Koumoun­douros takes aim at the gun enthu­siasm deeply rooted in American society: At three shooting ranges in Los Angeles, she used almost all commer­cially available firearms to shoot at pieces of Kevlar, a material that is consi­dered bullet­proof, and marked the bullet holes with the names of the gun models. It becomes apparent that this material is not at all as invul­nerable as one has always claimed it to be. Due to the incre­a­sing number of killing sprees in the US-American civil society, this work has an explosive topicality.

Olga Koumoun­douros’s Economic Recovery is a vehicle charac­te­rized by two brand-new SUV tires and a sports jersey stretched over a light metal frame. These elements of the osten­ta­tious way of life are countered by the fabric element at the rear end, reminis­cent of empty scrotums, on which the stoppers of a walking aid are also mounted.

Some thirty 30 years earlier, Fred Lonidier photo­gra­phed the arrests of twenty-nine demons­tra­tors in San Diego. They had been peace­fully demons­tra­ting against the Vietnam War and were then arrested and submitted to “criminal identi­fi­ca­tion” before being loaded onto a police bus. Most of them were students. Lonidier, himself a student, stood right next to or behind the police photo­gra­pher. Many of the photo­graphs are charac­te­rized by a mood among the arrestees, as well as among some of the police officers, that is reminis­cent of a grotesque Happening. Between the years 1961 and 1975, some 58,000 US-American soldiers and well over 1.2 million Vietna­mese people died in the Vietnam War.

The activist artist Tejal Shah has taken found, hand-colored, and digitally retouched photo­graphs from the flood of media images to give an idea of civilian casual­ties from the last sixty years. Among them is a Buddhist monk who burned himself to death as the most radical form of political protest against China’s brutal oppres­sion of Tibet. Within the series, the artist shows in parti­cular the lifeless bodies of boat refugees, thereby revealing the failure of border crossings as a result of flight and migration. The floating staging lends expres­sion to the state of unbeco­ming.

In the late 1990s, the feminist artist Wynne Greenwood founded the multi­media band Tracy + The Plastics as its only real member, embodying all the other fictional members herself. Working between different disci­plines and in the tension between prescribed actions and free impro­vi­sa­tion continues in the instal­la­tion Peas (2007). Here, the artist enters into a direct dialogue with something physi­cally absent. In this case, her anxiety-driven belly and her self-contrived worries engage in an argument. Greenwood repeatedly employs the medium of drawing in a targeted manner to visualize invisible forces, such as her own fears. As is clear from the super­fi­cial and rheto­rical dialogue with an accusa­tory undertone, the drawn “pea faces” are carica­tures of bourgeois viewpoints. The childlike repre­sen­ta­tions contrast with the “adult” issues of power and repre­sen­ta­tion, which are discussed here on a second level.

The painter Mariela Scafati conti­nu­ally expands the bounda­ries of her disci­pline by assemb­ling canvases into moving bodies. The spatial relati­ons­hips, as well as the demar­ca­tion of the canvases from one another—for example, in the form of the indivi­dual color shades and intensities—reflect the idea of social struc­tures in an abstract way. The artist orches­trates her canvases via ropes, percei­ving them as exten­sions of her own body. The rope technique itself is borrowed from the art of shibari, a Japanese bondage tradition, the erotic potential of which is used to find aesthetic body poses in space.

On the way to the next room, one passes the early video work Rock City Road, created in Woodstock, New York by the video pioneer Gary Hill. The work contains multiple layers of images of walking on various surfaces, including a sidewalk and a snow-covered terrain. The images were captured and edited using video recorders. The editing processes—fast forward, rewind, pause, and “scratching” through and between images—remain present, as do the sounds they produce. These noises function as a metapho­rical link between the materia­lity of the world and the electronic media.

With his impres­sive pneumatic ensemble Fleurs du Mal (The Flowers of Evil, 1969)—among the first of his so-called “Infla­t­a­bles”—Otto Piene reveals most clearly the reciprocal relati­onship between growth and decay. The title is borrowed from Charles Baudelaire’s eponymous book of poetry, written in the mid-nineteenth century. The play with natural forces and elements also continues in Piene’s ceramic works, which he himself described as his “heavy paintings.” For Piene, all elements—light, air, water, and fire—intertwine in this medium. He is parti­cu­larly interested in the play of light, which results from the refrac­tion of light on the broken surface of the reliefs, as well as from the appli­ca­tion of the glazes.

Piene’s wall works in clay enter into a dialogue with the “whipped” ceramic pictures by K. O. Götz. What both artists have in common is that they only found their way to working with clay at an advanced age and realized their wall reliefs in the same workshop in Cologne. The painter—teacher of Gerhard Richter, Sigmar Polke, and Franz Erhard Walther, among others—of the Art Informel that developed in Europe from the 1940s onwards, and who is best known for his use of squeegees, describes the result as “an explo­ra­tion of the material, in the way I can drive it forward.” The intrac­ta­bi­lity of the tough material prompted him to shape the mass at times using his entire body. For Götz, the sponta­neous and gestural aspect of Art Informel lay in the furious beating around himself.

In both photo­graphy and film, blow-up is also unders­tood as the technical possi­bi­lity of enlar­ge­ment. Jochen Lempert, a biologist by training, is also a master of playing with size. His analog black-and-white photo­graphs stand out sensually due to their coarseness and thus develop a proximity to the medium of drawing. From the field of natural science, he transfers the method of classi­fi­ca­tion to his own artistic practice. By pursuing aesthetic criteria in collec­ting, archiving, evalua­ting, and compiling his motifs, however, he under­mines thinking in terms of strict classi­fi­ca­tions. The animals portrayed frontally are either living or already extinct species, as well as effigies of them. Charac­te­ristic of the works is that, despite the documen­tary approach, the animals display humanized features.

The black-and-white film I’m sorry but I don’t want to be an Emperor by Jordan Wolfson features a man without a head who commu­ni­cates emotio­nally in sign language. The title refers to Charlie Chaplin’s speech at the end of the satirical film The Great Dictator (1940). Wolfson trans­lated this speech into the soundless gestures of sign language, accom­pa­nied by the rattling of a 16mm projector. In doing so, he allows Chaplin to return to his original channel of commu­ni­ca­tion: silent film. By placing the figure in front of a sterile white background, Wolfson drew inspi­ra­tion from the Danish artist Jørgen Leth’s short film The Perfect Human (1967), which deals with the impos­si­bi­lity of human perfec­tion. By bringing these two extremes together, Wolfson positions Chaplin’s idealism alongside a nihilistic view. At the same time, with this juxta­po­si­tion, he reflects on the futility of human action and despair, as well as on values and ideals in times of political oppression.

Ten years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, René Lück’s wall relief BRD addresses the division of Germany and, with this, the compe­ti­tion between two political systems. The term AC/DC (alter­na­ting current / direct current) had been taken up by the famous Austra­lian rock group in 1973 and appro­priated as its name. “René Lück is an archaeo­lo­gist of collec­tive memory. With his instal­la­tions, he uncovers hidden images and symbols concealed in the deeper layers of our social memory and brings them to the center of our attention. Lück turns primarily to objects and repre­sen­ta­tions that are consi­dered symbols of political self-deter­mi­na­tion and have thus become icons of collec­tive memory.” (Michael Dethl­effsen) The theme of collec­tive memory is also taken up by Goran Tomcic with his Baby Blue Flag, comme­mo­ra­ting the people who contracted HIV and fell ill due to AIDS in the United States in the 1980s.

Also touching on the theme of histo­rical develo­p­ments is the title of the large-format painting What looks good today may not look good tomorrow by Michel Majerus. Here, the work serves to comme­mo­rate the artist who died in a plane crash on November 6, 2002 [see wall text].

What is central to all these works is, more than anything else, the search for orien­ta­tion, a need that is perceived with incre­a­sing intensity in the age of globa­liz­a­tion. Mapping the unmapp­able is what Nathan Carter attempts to do with his wall reliefs in a deliber­ately naïve aesthetic, in order to point to invisible commu­ni­ca­tion systems and mobility struc­tures in the urban context. As an artist, he uses his reliefs to question the drawing of terri­to­rial boundaries.

At the beginning of the exhibi­tion, one can experi­ence how movement, action, and the search for meaning­ful­ness develop out of the black depth of space—virtually from nothing. This search for meaning­ful­ness is taken up by the exhibits in numerous ways and comes to a head towards the end of the exhibi­tion: Johannes Wohns­eifer lets us step in front of a white picture covered with a real camou­flage net and thus hidden from our gaze, the picture thus rigorously denied to our vision.

Also at the end of the exhibi­tion, a “material bubble” by Phyllida Barlow hangs from the ceiling, similar to the one at the beginning of the exhibi­tion, but now much larger and more threa­tening and mutated into a kind of multi­focal surveil­lance camera: Under it, one finally leaves the exhibi­tion with the feeling of being oneself observed or even monitored.

All new acqui­si­tions are thanks to generous collec­tors and artists, to whom we would like to express our sincere gratitude for the works of art they have donated and for their extra­or­di­nary commitment.

Phyllida Barlow, Untitled (Blob, yellow), 2010
Jürgen Klauke, Zweisam­keitsi­ma­gi­nie­rung (detail), 1996
Rodney McMillian, Untitled (Unknown), 2006, Säulen, Büste (Leinwand,
Acryl­farbe, leere Farbdosen, gefundene Gipsbüste), Gesamtmaß
variabel, © Rodney McMillian, courtesy der Künstler und Vielmetter
Los Angeles, Foto: Gene Ogami, Schenkung aus Privatsammlung
Goran Tomcic, Flag, 2008 and Olga Koumoun­douros, Sagamore: The Good Life, 2005
Fred Lonidier, aus der Serie: 29 Arrests: Headquar­ters of the 11th Naval District, May 4, 1972,
San Diego (Detail), 1972, 29 Schwarz­weiß­fo­to­gra­fien und ein Deckblatt, Ed. 2/3, je 12,8 x 20,3 cm,
Kunst­mu­seum Wolfsburg, Schenkung Privat­samm­lung, Berlin, © Fred Lonidier
Wynne Greenwood, Peas, 2007
Mariela Scafati, Se aleja y se acerca (It moves away, and it gets closer), 2021
Otto Piene, Fleurs du Mal, 1969
René Lück, BRD, 1999 and AC/DC, 1999
Michel Majerus, What looks good today may not look good tomorrow, 1999,
Acryl auf Leinwand, © Michel Majerus, Foto: Marek Kruszewski
Phyllida Barlow, Untitled (Security Camera), 2010, Styropor, Papier, Stoff, Farbe, Sprüh­farbe,
Holz ca. 180 x 180 x 180 cm, Kunst­mu­seum Wolfsburg Schenkung aus Privat­samm­lung,
© Phyllida Barlow, Foto: Marek Kruszewski