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I arrived in Paris yesterday, after an eight-hour train ride from Munich that started pleasantly cool and ended swelteringly hot. I had the 6-person compartment to myself until Nancy, when it suddenly filled up with French people (and an American yuppie couple who complained about the heat in ill-disguised sotto voce all the way to Paris). I was struck by how empty and manicured the European landscape is outside the cities; the billboards, trailers, yard-junk, and garbage that line every American roadside and railbed are simply not to be seen. What's wrong with these people?
Dave and Trish's apartment is beautiful, and I'm finally sitting down to jot down some notes on my Munich trip.
The Lenbachhaus is a sprawling 19th Century mansion that houses changing contemporary art exhibits as well as a permanent collection. Its highlights are the Blaue Reiter galleries, featuring scores of pre-abstraction Kandinskys (his best work, IMHO), and a great selection of early Richters. A temporary exhibit of Noriyuki Haraguchi's all-black paintings, sculptures, and installations was bad beyond belief, ripping off much better ideas by Panamarenko, Gunter Umberg, and Charles Ray. At the Odeonsplatz, I ogled the Felderrnhalle portico and wandered around inside the Theatinerkirch, an ornament-crazed baroque church. After bratwurst and ice cream at the Viktualienmarkt (a large open air eating place filled with a beer-drinking lunch crowd), I strolled past the Neues Rathaus (an over-the-top, Neo-Gothic commercial building) and ducked inside the Residenz (Palace) to view the "Untertwegs" ("Moving On") exhibit, featuring Stefan Eberstadt's work. Later, Stefan, Courtenay, and I had dinner at the city's bucolic beer garden.
After entering the Haus Der Kunst, a many-columned, faux-Athenian building constructed during the Third Reich (where the "Degenerate Art" exhibit was held), I decided I didn't need to see the retrospective of stripe painter Sean Scully--living proof that a thousand collectors CAN be wrong. At the edge of the English Garden, I watched surfers in wetsuits "shooting the curl"-- a four-foot-high standing wave resulting from the steady influx of canal-water into the Garden. Next, I headed to the Bavarian National Museum, where I viewed elaborate rococo cabinets, suits of filigreed armor, and an intricate model of Munich in the late 1800s, with all buildings and monuments painstakingly carved in wood and arrayed on a vast circular tabletop. In the evening I tagged along with Courtenay and Stefan to several gallery openings. At a satellite space run by the Munich Academy in a downtown subway tunnel, two artists had built a "bachelor pad" complete with particleboard conversation pit, wall paintings of ducks, and portable bar stocked with a brand of German whiskey popular in the 70s. At a very raw, temporary space called Sub 11 we saw three excellent videos. In "Boys Don't Cry," an all-girl rock-and-roll trio enthusiastically bangs out the Cure song for an audience consisting of two or three spastically dancing guys; incongruously, the overdubbed music sounds more like the metronomic synthpop of Trio's "Da Da Da" than the hardcore punk the girls seem to be pantomiming. The camera zooms and pans in a delightfully inept imitation of MTV circa 1981, and in case you missed the connection, the network's logo floats jerkily in the screen's upper right corner. In Wolfgang Stehle's "Beautyservice," a hairdresser-type uses an industrial grinder to remove four unsightly moles from the face of an attractive young woman: the lo-fi special effects keep this from being gory, but a whiff of sadomasochism is definitely in the air. In Stehle's "Kokon," the artist (wrapped in a sleeping bag) mimes a caterpillar that raids the icebox, disappears into a cocoon of cardboard boxes, and then transforms into a butterfly. Unfortunately for the newly-hatched creature, the transition takes place indoors, so for the last three minutes the viewer watches uncomfortably as the artist, looking more like a mental patient than an insect, bangs futilely against the window glass, trying to reach the light. After the openings, we ate at a traditional Bavarian restaurant, where I had the Dick Cheney Special: schweinbraten (an enormous slab of gravy-soaked pork), semmeknodel (a bread dumpling, also gravy-soaked), and beer.
In the afternoon we drove an hour south into the Bavarian Alps to visit Ettal, another fabulously ornate baroque church, and Linderhof, where the mad King Ludwig II built his castle-away-from-home. After looking at the castle (actually a large house, liberally borrowing elements from Versailles) we toured the architectural follies such as the Moroccan room, hunting lodge, and Wagnerian "grotto." In the evening, I visited the studio of Heribert Heindl, a painter who teaches at the Munich Academy, working under Gunter Forg. Heindl turns slick-surfaced, commercially printed sheets of paper (typically sections of unused billboards) into "found monochromes." Matching the background color closely but not exactly, he paints out whatever letters or images appear on the billboard, allowing the eradicated information to determine the size and duration of the strokes, which remain slightly visible on the surface as painterly "gestures." The paper is then attached directly to the wall. Below are two abutting pieces: Toyota and C.I.C., both from 1998.
Visited FOE 156 Gallery, which was in the process of being radically redesigned by Australian artist Stephen Bram. Using standard drywall and tape-and-bed construction, Bram is turning the gallery into a white cube, Caligari-style. Except for the ceiling and floor, which remain level, all the gallery walls are canted at odd, steep angles; in a couple of rooms, the walls funnel the visitor into angular, claustrophobic dead ends. FOE 156 is planning to show the gallery empty, but I'd love to see paintings hanging in there, in a perfectly level, chest-high line. I also visited the studios of Christoph Unger, Stefan Fritsch, and Stefan Eberstadt, and saw Eberstadt's public commission piece, located near a WWII-era concrete bunker. Both this piece and his piece in the "Unterwegs" show employ a kind of veiled construction, in which screws or holes on the outside of a minimal, rectilinear structure give clues to an invisible, inner structure, which the viewer works out deductively (but only up to a point). Addendum--in Paris, a piece of Stephen Maas's suggested a kind of bizarro-Eberstadt: a sandwich of foamcore slabs bolted onto a wooden armature, with the arrangement of screws also hinting at an (arbitrary) underlying structure. It would be great to see Eberstadt's "Unterwegs" piece and the Maas piece side-by-side: form and anti-form, each with a hidden dimension.