German Pavilion at the Biennale di Venezia

Acting on behalf of the Federal Foreign Office, ifa – Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen has played a decisive role in positioning the German Pavilion at the Biennale Arte in Venice since 1971. Since 2009, ifa has also acted as the pavilion's commissioner, assuming overall responsibility for the major project.

The contribution of the German Pavilion has already been awarded the Golden Lion seven times, among these four times as the best national contribution: In 1984 Lothar Baumgarten (Commissioner Johannes Cladders), in 1986 Sigmar Polke (Commissioner Dierk Stemmler), in 1990 Bernd and Hilla Becher, in 1993 Hans Haacke / Nam June Paik (Commissioner Klaus Bußmann; best national contribution). In 2001 Gregor Schneider (Commissioner Udo Kittelmann; best national contribution), in 2011 Christoph Schlingensief (curator Susanne Gaensheimer; best national contribution) and in 2017 Anne Imhof (curator Susanne Pfeffer; best national contribution).

ifa and the German Pavilion

Over the past fifty years, the visual arts department has worked with each respective artistic team to coordinate and realize altogether twenty-three German contributions to the Biennale.

ifa bundles the extensive knowledge about the German Pavilion. This is where the experience, expertise and stories acquired in 50 years of coordinating the German contribution to the Venice Biennale are collected and preserved. As a repository of knowledge, ifa is thus the central point of contact for artists, curators, scholars, and journalists concerned with the history of the German Pavilion. Through its practice-oriented research on biennial topics, the publication of important reference publications, and its networking activities, ifa also provides valuable impulses to the biennial discourse.

                                                                           Dr. Ellen Strittmatter, Commissioner of the German Pavilion and Head of the Visual Arts Department

Events, Exhibitions and Publications

Digital Formats

More digital formats

With the series Artwork of the Month and the ifa Agora, the central platform for the network, collection and archive, ifa has been expanding the analog and digital view of its art holdings. In the Biennale's anniversary year, ifa showed many works by artists who have exhibited in the German Pavilion and are represented in the art collection, including works by Katharina Fritsch (January 2021), Thomas Ruff (February 2021), Katharina Sieverding (March 2021), Joseph Beuys, Isa Genzken, Hans Haacke, and Gerhard Richter.


More information on the history of the Biennale before ifa took over the coordination of the German Pavilion in 1971 is available in the ifa publication 'The German Contributions 1995-2007'. It provides scientific background information and an illustrated index to all German contributions up to 2007.


'Built on Water. The German Pavilion at La Biennale di Venezia'

Sequel of the first ifa publication: 'Auf Wasser gebaut. Der Deutsche Pavillon auf der Biennale Venedig 2009–2022' [Built on Water. The German Pavilion at La Biennale di Venezia 2009–2022] gives a voice to participating artists and curators, writers, art scholars and journalists. They examine the many facets of the Biennale Arte, including performance and participation, visitors, entrances and access to the German Pavilion, Venice and the Mediterranean, Venice as a place where East meets West, the Masked Ball and more.

Published by Schirmer/Mosel (ISBN 978-3-8296-0953-1). Edited by ifa – Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen. With contributions by Anne Carson, Susanne Gaensheimer, Liam Gillick, Katerina Gregos, Ann Mbuti, Susanne Pfeffer and others.

Orders via art(at)

A book cover with the title "Built on Water. The German Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. 2022, 2019, 2017, 2015, 2013, 2011, 2009" is displayed. In the left lower corner it reads the name of the publisher Schirmer and Mosel, in the right corner the name of the editor ifa – Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen. On the upper half the German title of the book says "Auf Wasser gebaut. Der Deutsche Pavilion auf der Biennale Venedig. 2022, 2019, 2017, 2015, 2013, 2011, 2009. © ifa
Book cover of the second ifa publication in the context of the German Pavilion at the Biennale di Venezia © ifa

Research report: Biennials as seismograph

To what extent are biennials forward-looking formats in the international art discourse? The study of the ifa research program takes an exemplary look at the biennials founded in the so-called Global South in recent years, with a focus on the African continent, in order to identify current tendencies as well as potentials for foreign cultural policy and international collaborations.

The study is available online in the ifa Edition 'Culture and Foreign Policy'

The German Contributions 1971-2022

In the anniversary year 2021, every second Thursday we travelled a little further back in history and presented an artistic contribution from the German Pavilion, which was coordinated by ifa. On our Instagram channel @ifa.visualarts, artists, curators and many other people involved in individual editions provideed also 'behind the scenes' insights and shared their experiences at the Venice Biennale.

2022: Maria Eichhorn – "Relocating a Structure" curated by Yilmaz Dziewior


In her project "Relocating a Structure. German Pavilion 2022, 59th International Art Exhibition - La Biennale di Venezia", Maria Eichhorn tackles the eventful history of the German Pavilion since the beginnings of the Biennale and the powerful resistance art demonstrates when it situates social conditions. At the outset of the project, Eichhorn developed the idea of relocating the German Pavilion for the duration of the Biennale and then faithfully reassembling it on its original site. With this as her starting point, the artist had foundations excavated and layers of plaster removed to reveal the joins between the different sections of the pavilion­­ – which consists essentially of two buildings, the Bavarian Pavilion built in 1909 and the extension built by the Nazis in 1938. The hidden original building could thus be revealed. Wall inscriptions in English, German, and Italian, painted directly onto the wall with white paint and a brush, complement the exposed areas.

The other components of Eichhorn's project include a comprehensive publication and city tours to historical places of resistance and remembrance in Venice. The publication brings together essays and studies on the history of the Biennale and the German Pavilion, as well as on broader aspects embracing art history, philosophy, urban sociology, and politics. In addition, a brochure has been published as a companion to the guided tours of places that commemorate the anti-fascist resistance and the deportation and murder of the Jewish population during the German occupation from 1943 to 1945. For these tours, the artist has cooperated with the Istituto veneziano per la storia della Resistenza e della società contemporanea (Iveser).

The title of Maria Eichhorn's project, "Relocating a Structure", can be interpreted in a figurative sense. "Relocating a structure" to a new context may refer not only to the architecture and history of the pavilion, but also to fundamental issues of human existence and ethical responsibility.

2019: Natascha Süder Happelmann – 'Ankersentrum (Surviving in the Ruinous Ruin)' curated by Franciska Zólyom


How can community beyond totalitarian unity and uniformity be thought of? The curator Franciska Zólyom takes up a position for the reflection on such questions that activates aesthetic research in concrete social contexts, yet not only analyses or comments on social, ecological or political conditions, but also seeks to shape these. She has selected the artist Natascha Sadr Haghighian, who plays with and questions identities, and for the purposes of the German contribution calls herself Natascha Süder Happelmann. Natascha Süder Happelmann unfolds the poetic, imaginary and critical potential of art and encounters attempts to interpret it hastily with an amiable multiformity. Her work is articulated in text, image, space and sound. Her voice is full of advocacy when she raises an objection. In her art, she creates a strong presence in order to take a back seat in acting and speaking with others as an amplifier. She works chiefly with installations and performatively. She addresses the collective and transdisciplinary aspect of artistic work through collective processes. For example, six musicians of different musical traditions and styles created contributions on the whistle for the sound installation ‘tribute to whistle’. The rhythms and sounds can be heard in constantly shifting, ever-changing overlapping constellations. Three videos by Natascha Süder Happelmann mark the stages on the way to a transit camp. They bear witness to places such as transit camps in Bavaria and link them with tomato plantations in Apulia and the rescue ship Iuventa, which is stuck in the customs port of Trapani. Website 2019

2017: Anne Imhof – 'FAUST' curated by Susanne Pfeffer


Gazes cross, but no communication ensues. They perceive others, but there is no recognition, no acknowledgment. Post-gender, individualized, peculiar and yet stereotypical: such are the human figures in Anne Imhof’s paintings and scenarios. Noises, sounds, and compositions lend a rhythm to the spaces and bodies, synchronizing them in a dilated time loosely structured by narratives. The spaces limned by bodies and sounds and the architectural space overlap, interpenetrating until a brief instant of congruence is reached, only to break apart moments later. Imhof envisions the pavilion as a body whose contours can be displaced. The action is contingent; everything might be different at any moment. The purport of the movements is at odds with their form, revealing their rehearsed character. They fluctuate between the viscous mundanity of everyday life and mysterious rituals, between schematic, remote-controlled procedures and individual malfunctions, between uniformity and punk. Aligned with the group, an aimless individuality persists. They may sing together, but their song is of the I. The bodies in Anne Imhof’s pieces are subjects locked in an everlasting struggle against their objectification – ruled by capital, they yet defy their unremitting optimization. Strained to the point of bursting or gone limp, these regimented and fragile bodies appear as a material molded by pervasive yet invisible structures of power. At the same time, media representation is innate to these bio-techno bodies: they seem forever on the verge of transformation into pictures ready for consumption; they aspire to become images, digital commodities. Anne Imhof confronts the brutality of our time with a hard realism. Her scenarios visualize the constitution of the body in the demarcation of material and discursive, of technological, socioeconomic, and pharmaceutical boundaries. Imhof thus reveals the space between body and reality, the space where our personality comes into being. Website 2017

2015: Olaf Nicolai, Hito Steyerl, Tobias Zielony and the artist duo Jasmina Metwaly & Philip Rizk – 'Fabrik' curated by Florian Ebner


Works of art by Olaf Nicolai, Hito Steyerl, Tobias Zielony and the artist duo Jasmina Metwaly & Philip Rizk transformed the German Pavilion 2015 into a factory (german: Fabrik) of reproducing  images, whose objective is not merely to represent reality, but to change it. The notion of the factory provides a link between the four artistic positions, all of which reflect on the concepts of economy and work in their own way. They reveal the flaws in our interconnected and globalised world and, with completely different approaches, turn their attention to the circulation of images, goods and human beings. At the same time, all of them hold on to the “human medium” as a real agent and protagonist of change.

The factory had various production sites at its disposal: Workshop – Olaf Nicolai’s installation and performance “GIRO”, Print Unit – Tobias Zielony’s work “The Citizen”, Motion Capture Studio – Hito Steyerl’s video installation “The Factory of the Sun” and Rooftop 1&2 – , Jasmina Metwaly’s and Philip Rizk’s sculptural intervention “Draw It Like This” is the name of the and the film and sound installation “Out on the Street – Variationen”. Website 2015

2013: Ai Weiwei, Romuald Karmakar, Santu Mofokeng & Dayanita Singh curated by Susanne Gaensheimer

2011: Christoph Schlingensief curated by Susanne Gaensheimer


“A kind of schizophrenia has always been typical of my work and my life. If I limited myself to one thing only I would simply get bored, my mind would be starved of inspiration. Between music and image, people and language, the healthy and the infirm, the funny and the sad I always need to be given the chance to state the opposite too. To my mind, everything in the world is ambiguous.” (Christoph Schlingensief, May 2010)
After his death in August 2010, curator Susanne Gaensheimer and Aine Laberenz – Schlingensief’s wife and for many years, his closest collaborator – decided to not exhibit Schlingensief’s sketches and proposals for the German Pavilion, but rather, to show existing works. The selected works offer insights into central aspects of his multifaceted oeuvre.

In the main hall of the German Pavilion the stage of the Fluxus oratorio A Church of Fear vs. the Alien Within, which Schlingensief conceived for the 2008 Ruhrtriennale were presented. In A Church of Fear vs. the Alien Within, Schlingensief uses his own personal experiences to contend openly with the universal and existential themes of life, suffering, and death. The play’s stage, which consisted of many film and video projections and a multitude of sculptural, spatial and pictorial elements, offered viewers, more than any other of his stage-sets, an all-encompassing total installation. One of the pavilion’s two side wings featured a movie theatre where a program of six selected films from different moments in Schlingensief’s career were played on a large screen: Menu Total (1985-6); Egomania (1986); the Germany trilogy of 100 Jahre Adolf Hitler (1988), Das deutsche Kettensägenmassaker (The German Chainsaw Massacre, 1990), and Terror 2000 (1991-2) and United Trash (1995-6). The pavilion’s left side wing was dedicated to Schlingensief’s Operndorf Afrika, his opera village in Africa. Alongside photographs and documentation of the already realized parts of the African project – and in conjunction with selected scenes from Via Intolleranza II, Schlingensief’s last play in which he collaborated with actors from Burkina Faso – this portion of the pavilion featured a large-scale panoramic projection of footage of the natural scenery surrounding the construction site of the opera village. Website 2011


2009: Liam Gillick – 'How Are You Going to Behave? A Kitchen Cat Speaks' curated by Nicolaus Schafhausen


A coup! At the 53rd Venice Biennale the German Pavilion was devoted to a single, non-German artist not working in Germany. In 2009, curator Nicolaus Schafhausen liberated the Biennale from the rigid concept of the national pavilion. His argument: “I think it’s time to also allow thinking about German topics from a non-German perspective.” There is no doubt that the specific architecture and history of the national pavilion pose a special challenge, especially in times of a globalized art business. Liam Gillick’s work abandons the neutral space and exposes itself to the gap between modernism and modernist self-consciousness. The artist creates hypothetical models of society, even social utopias. “His action as an art producer [...] allows him to ask questions without being forced into a definitive solution.” (Schafhausen).

“Has no one ever thought about removing the house and building a new one?” (Gillick)

In the exhibition, the architecture is shown completely inside and out, the walls are white, no part of the building is cordoned off. A model of Arnold Bode’s  1957 Bauhaus-style renovation plans is presented in part of the empty hall. “The house is a place of memory, it shows its history.” Gillick, however, breaks the cool monumentality of the exhibition hall with the functional and standardized fixtures of a modernist kitchen à la Frankfurt. Thise kitchen is in tension with the logic of the building; in a way, its functionality obstructs the ideology of the pavilion. But it is also a place that can hardly be surpassed in its intimacy. Gillick himself spent months working on the concept of the exhibition in a kitchen, disturbed only by his cat. And in Venice, too, the kitchen is inhabited by an electronically controlled cat figure, which voices misrepresentations, misunderstandings and desires around Gillick’s own questions: “Who is talking? With whom? With what authority?”. It seems that the cat too is asking questions that do not necessarily have a definitive answer.  Website 2009



2007: Isa Genzken – 'Oil' curated by Nicolaus Schafhausen


“I like the title because that’s what the whole world is about. Whether it’s war or not, that’s what it’s about. About energy and about oil.” (Isa Genzken)

Taking the perspective of  the historical building of the German Pavilion as a starting point, curator Nicolaus Schafhausen asks fundamental questions about the relationship between space, location and observation, insight and view. He selected an artistic position that has freed itself from strategic thinking and incorporates the viewer’s reference to reality in its art. Isa Genzken “is one of the most uncompromising artists of today. She pinpoints current times like practically no other contemporary artist” (Schafhausen). This multi-genre artist subjects the ideals of modernism and their pop-cultural recoding to a metamorphosis in which splendour and misery, euphoria and disillusion are all closely intertwined. Genzken’s works always reflect unpleasant contradictions and contrasts in connection with social, economic, political and current situations in order to create clarity.

“Art and architecture should avoid fascistic tendencies. They should meet and walk together exuberantly and kindly, light-heartedly and intelligently.”  (Genzken)

During the exhibition the Pavilion building was completely scaffolded and covered with an orange protective sheet. Was this a false announcement of reconstruction or a cancellation of the monumental pretension of the building? While the entrance with a multitude of mirrors created multiple perspectives that brought the distance to the self and to the other closer in or further away, the large exhibition hall was equipped with a myriad of objets trouvés that could not be perceived in their entirety during one single tour: masquerades, skulls, stuffed animals, dolls, music stands, water pipes, astronaut figures dangling from the ceiling. The suitcases in particular showed that the viewers were participants in the mass tourism of the Venetian art world.

“I am not interested in ready-mades. The meaning lies in the combination of things. In a time like today, the time of neglect, it is important to use cheap materials” (Genzken).

In this context, the exhibition title ‘Oil’ stands programmatically as a metaphor for all of Genzken’s works in Venice. Website 2007


2005: Thomas Scheibitz & Tino Sehgal curated by Julian Heynen


“What fascinates me [...] so much is their approach to fundamental questions of art under the conditions of contemporary culture.” For the German Pavilion at the 51st Venice Biennale, curator Julian Heynen invited two young artists who were each challenging contemporary visual art production in their own independent ways, and creating new ideas. Heynen himself was keen to “take this system of demands and conventions off the grid for once” and escape German art representation.

With his works in sculpture and painting, two art genres that were increasingly losing their presence at the Biennale, Thomas Scheibitz represented a formal decomposition of the sensuality of the material world as “fragments of contemporary reality” (Heynen). Tino Sehgal, on the other hand, completely removed the material from his art and designed a counter to the materialistic economy of art production: “I merely change the constitution of what is being exchanged” (Sehgal). Instructions for action created by the artist were carried out by so-called interpreters.

The pavilion building was divided between the two artists. Both artists used one side wing as well as a part of the main hall for the exhibition of their works. Thomas Scheibitz’s monumental sculpture made of wooden panels, The Table, the Ocean and the Example (alluding to a work by René Magritte), filled the apse, and paintings such as Family by the Sea and Model were on show in the adjacent room. They all made use of familiar ciphers, but at the same time, through abstraction and variation, they eluded clear interpretations, creating a cool closeness. The works were supposedly supervised by staff. In Tino Sehgal’s work This Is So Contemporary, the museum attendants danced around the visitors explaining the works as if they were human wall labels. In the next room, the performers of the work This Is Exchange attempted to engage the visitors in a conversation about the market economy, who in turn were able to have half of their entrance fee refunded at the entrance to the Giardini by means of a password.

2003: Candida Höfer & Martin Kippenberger curated by Julian Heynen


A short period of time for the production of such an important exhibition: curator Julian Heynen only had a good six months from the time of his appointment to the opening of the 50th Venice Biennale. His selection was also unusual in that he chose a series of works by the photographer Candida Höfer, some of which had already been exhibited previously, and a new work by the painter and multi-genre artist Martin Kippenberger, who had died back in 1997. Heynen explicitly stated that he had “not chosen the artists, but the works”. For him, the two, as members of the first postmodern generation of artists, and despite the difference in their works, were united by the “question of the place of the elements involved in the art event”. For Heynen, the much-worked Venice pavilion became a simple exhibition hall where the experience of the place in relation to beholders own ideas of themselves were now central: “where does a materially tangible work of art belong once we have a fully developed Duchampian system”?
The work ‘Ventilation Shaft’, selected by Heynen and realised by Kippenberger’s regular architect Lukas Baumewerd, was part of the series ‘METRO-Net World Connection’. This was a fictional worldwide network of underground railway stations with real entrances and ventilation shafts in Leipzig, Canada and Greece, which could now purportedly also be heard in Venice through a seven-metre shaft beneath the Giardini. Originally planned for Tokyo, ‘Ventilation Shaft’ could now be experienced in the main hall of the German Pavilion, which thus radiated its monumental emptiness. The 28 works by Candida Höfer were on show in the two side wings. Here too: apparent but concentrated emptiness. The spatial photographs of (semi-)public yet deserted places such as theatres, railway stations and restaurants created a peculiar combination of intimacy and distance, and above all they penetrated our cultural and historical Western perception of the world.
Both artistic positions impressively testified to the fundamental shifts in the relationship between identity and place at the turn of the 20th to the 21st century.

2001: Gregor Schneider – 'Totes Haus u r' curated by Udo Kittelmann


Hallway and porch, bedroom, kitchen, storeroom, loo, the last hole, the smallest wank, pouf, the big wank, the end, studio, coffee room, in the core, love arbour.

Gregor Schneider’s artistic contribution to the German Pavilion at the 49th Venice Art Biennale presented what seemed to be an irritating juxtaposition of everyday and strangely intimate spatial situations. Curator Udo Kittelmann chose an artist who works “on the image of extreme living spaces”, “on the conflict of the eternal opposites of being.” Schneider, who was 31 at the time, had already been working for over a decade and a half on ‘Haus u r’, the modification of his parents’ house on the outskirts of Rheydt in the Rhineland. It is in this house that the artist (lives and) works, and here he produces the furnishings for his works, which await a fragmentary or complete transplantation or duplication of ‘Haus u r’ into ‘Totes Haus u r’ (‘Dead House u r’) at another location, so that in Schneider’s sense the house has been “killed off”. But it is by no means just a matter of cloned architecture; rather, the work explores the effects of the condition of its spaces, thus putting the beholders and the space into an introspective and emotional relationship.

In Venice, visitors entered the Pavilion’s monumental building through a staid-looking front door. Only 15 people could explore the work at one time, so long queues formed in front of it. Behind the entrance, it was not the great halls that awaited, but narrow corridors, steep staircases, interlocking rooms, standardised passageways. The West German post-war period in its purest form. You could leave the ‘Haus’ and not have noticed anything out of the ordinary. And it was precisely this so ordinary experience that constituted the living space of (self-)reflection created by Schneider, for those spatial stratifications were to be perceived “emotionally rather than rationally”. According to Kittelmann, this was a “complex spatial system of different atmospheres”. Schneider himself spoke of “invisible energetic sculptures” that functioned like a “second skin”, always changing, because the condition of the spaces was continually in the process of being updated.

The house as a built soul, as the work ‘Totes Haus u r’ was often interpreted, came very close to Schneider’s dream of transplanting the entire ‘Haus u r’. The work also convinced the Biennale jury and won the Golden Lion for the best national contribution.

1999: Rosemarie Trockel curated by Gudrun Inboden


For the 48th edition of the Venice Biennale, curator Gudrun Inboden entrusted the German Pavilion to Rosemarie Trockel, a remarkably versatile artist. Gudrun Inboden justified her decision to choose the work of a single artist for the entire pavilion spaces by saying that the pavilion “would only suffice as a whole to give the mobility of her pictures the necessary scope.” Rosemarie Trockel was the first female solo artist shown at the German Pavilion. This selection was no coincidence, as Trockel’s work had been concerned for decades with the subversion of encrusted gender hierarchies, role models and the art world. Trockel’s feminist push in art and at the same time her playful use of humour and irony as well as her sense of aesthetics all continue to make her one of the most influential contemporary German artists.

The exhibition consisted of three video works, each shown in one room. The one-hour work “Eye” in the middle hall showed in seven consecutive sequences one left eye each, supposedly looking at the viewers. These were exclusively women’s eyes: the observing “male gaze” was countered by a female gaze, an inescapably “other seeing”.  This film was intended as a prologue leading into the two side spaces. On one side a view into the past, in the film “Children’s Playground”, which engendered memories of free spaces and of the everyday nature of  restlessness. On the other side “Sleepingpill” showed a utopian bedroom space in an undefinable future, with artificial materials and sleeping facilities, as well as occasional noises of slumbering that formed the contrast inviting to eternal rest.

Alternating between a childlike past and a (forever) sleeping future, however, the eye of the present disturbed this supposed logic of development and “block[ed] any emerging process of totalisation” (Inboden).

1997: Katharina Sieverding & Gerhard Merz curated by Gudrun Inboden


The curator of the German Pavilion, Gudrun Inboden, is said to have remarked that the Venice Biennale is “not a field for experimentation,” but a place for “more mature positions.” In the contributions of the artists she selected, she evoked the perceived as a “pure state,” in the “wondering questioning” of being. Photographer Katharina Sieverding and painter and model artist Gerhard Merz were invited to occupy the space and created works that “show what they show – no more” (Inboden). In the truest sense, they were intended to disillusion the viewers, i.e. to dispense with optical trickery.

The central part of the pavilion showed “Venezia” by Gerhard Merz. It was a building within a building. An angular, exceedingly white room with a ceiling height of nine metres was erected as an independent structure within the large hall of the pavilion. Narrow passages led into the side wings, the strict geometry further emphasising the abstraction of this architectural spatial art. Stripped of the actual form of the hall, “Venezia” also blocked out any light from outside, but 700 fluorescent tubes created a glaringly cold atmosphere, which contrasted starkly with the warm Adriatic sun of Venice.

Katharina Sieverding exhibited her large-format photographs in the two side wings of the pavilion. She presented a series entitled “Steigbilder” which focused on processes of transformation in photography and computer technology. Steigbilder (riser images) are used in scientific analysis to bring sediments to the surface. In her three- and four-part works, Sieverding created multiple layers of themes from the mass media and other allusions to such an extent that any aesthetic and associative truth was left entirely to the interpretation of the viewer.

Both artists questioned the construction of realities through form, layering and aesthetics. Interpretation is ultimately meaningless as long as “art ’is’” (Inboden).

1995: Katharina Fritsch & Martin Honert & Thomas Ruff curated by Jean-Christoph Ammann


For the 100th anniversary of the Biennale di Venezia, the curator of the German Pavilion Jean-Christoph Ammann exhibited three artistic positions. For Ammann, the “challenge to the artist was to see themselves as a resonating body.” He conceived “the meaning, purpose and function of the exhibition” as having “a mobilising power.” For Ammann, Katharina Fritsch, Martin Honert and Thomas Ruff were all artistically related in that “they share a conceptual way of thinking with emotional content”; from the outside, they were also described as a postmodern trio.
“Museum” by Fritsch, who had built a model of a dream/nightmare-like ideal museum on a scale of 1:10 in the central hall of the pavilion, can probably be considered the central work. Raised to a height of 1.60m and surrounded by a dark forest of artificial trees, the octagonal model was, however, only visible from the gallery walkway, from which Fritsch herself attested to feelings of vertigo. Honert’s walk-in installation was just as detached, but only in the title “A Model Scenario of the Flying Classroom.” By way of reference to the children’s novel by Erich Kästner, the audience marvelled at supposedly three-dimensional photographs, although these must have been childhood memories that had become real. The polystyrene figures depicting characters from the novel, however, lost their supposed familiarity when one changed perspective and realised that they were flat as cardboard. Ruff also played with familiar visual habits,as in the series “3D” and in “Other Portraits” he used photographic material from the 1980s, among other things, to superimpose the faces depicted and thus reveal a transparent but no less alienating perception of photographic manipulation processes.

1993: Hans Haacke & Nam June Paik curated by Klaus Bußmann


The 45th Biennale di Venezia was the first edition planned and created after the fall of the Berlin Wall and thus during a period of global political transformation. Accordingly, impending changes were a large component of the curatorial and artistic positions. The curatorial team of the German Pavilion under the direction of Klaus Bußmann worked with two artists who questioned the principle of national pavilions and symbolically represented the overall concept of the Biennale through their cosmopolitan nomadism, according to the jury’s justification for awarding the Golden Lion for the best national pavilion to Hans Haacke and Nam June Paik. The two artists were regarded as “image destroyers [...] of two antipodal energie” (Die ZEIT, 18.6.1993) from which the pavilion gained its intensity.
In the contribution by the conceptual artist Hans Haacke, the destruction was all too obvious. The work ‘Bodenlos’ was a direct intervention in the pavilion architecture: Haacke had the floor slabs of the main hall destroyed. A wobbly and roaring field of debris gave a view of the apse, which had the lettering GERMANIA on the wall. This was an allusion to the emblazoned lettering on the portico and the lettering on the outer walls, which was later supplemented with a discreet ‘Federal Republic of Germany’. The entrance to the hall was blocked by a red wall with a photograph of Hitler at the time of his visit to the German Pavilion in 1934. The portico, in turn, was decorated with an oversized 1 DM coin instead of the Reich eagle as before. Haacke’s works were on the whole an unmistakable dismantling of a re-emerging old national narrative at the beginning of the all-German Federal Republic.
Video artist Nam June Paik wanted to break the boundaries of visual and media perception with his fireworks of moving images, or self-described “electronic superhighway” and “data highway”. The monitor walls and video sculptures in the two side wings let the visitors zap back and forth endlessly and repeatedly. With his monumental outdoor figures, Paik wanted to conquer the outside world with art technology: ‘Marco Polo’, ‘Catherine the Great’, and even ‘Genghis Khan’ (amongst others) were resurrected from electronic waste and formed the hardware for an optical overstimulation, a media wear-out.
With their contributions, Haacke and Paik had their fingers on the pulse of the times, which were all about reformulations of identities and a society increasingly shaped by information and consumption.

1990: Bernd & Hilla Becher & Reinhard Mucha curated by Klaus Bußmann


The question of formal idiom and purposefulness, especially in the industrial age, was posed by the contributions to the German Pavilion at the 44th Venice Biennale. The commissioner Klaus Bußmann selected positions that, with precision, made the “great tradition of the New Objectivity of the 1920s fruitful for our present”, and which also showed the almost absurd order of those very years of German change. The works of the artist couple Hilla and Bernd Becher and the model-builder artist Reinhard Mucha were shown in the rooms of what was then the last West German pavilion of the Federal Republic.
In Reinhard Mucha’s ‘Deutschlandgerät’ a room was built within a room, giving the pavilion's central hall an interlocked and constricted appearance. The stone floor slabs continued on the walls of the room, glass display cases enacted wooden planks from Mucha’s Düsseldorf studio in the interior. The entirety of the apse wall was furnished with 40 framed wooden and brass stools. The title of the work, based on the ‘Deutschland’ factory that had previously very successfully produced a ‘compressed-air hydraulic rerailer’ during the period of the German Empire in Mucha’s own studio rooms, however, also opened up an ambiguous play of ideas. With typical meticulousness, Mucha had created a network of references and clues between personal and historical motifs.
The 340 photographs by the artist couple Becher on display showed three decades of their work, which was, however, clearly described by Bußmann as ‘work in progress’. At that point in their career, people were already talking about the ‘Becher School’ and the two artists stood more than nearly any others for the establishment of photography as an artistic genre. In their seemingly fashion-resistant work of industrial archeology, the Bechers also demonstrated in Venice a neutral, function-bound aesthetics of industrial buildings, in this case ‘water towers’. As early as 1969, they coined the expression ‘anonymous sculpture’, which was based on the formal continuity in their photographic practice. At the 1990 Biennale, they received the Golden Lion for Sculpture.

1988: Felix Droese curated by Dierk Stemmler


For the German contribution to the Venice Art Biennale in 1988, the commissioner Dierk Stemmler invited the artist, Felix Droese. For Droese, the exhibition in Venice represented an opportunity to bundle his work of the preceding years in a creative and political way. As a former student of Joseph Beuys, political action had always been part and parcel of his artistic intervention.

Droese unceremoniously renamed the German Pavilion ‘Haus der Waffenlosigkeit’ (House of Weaponlessness), which was now emblazoned on an iron sign as a heading above the inscription Bundesrepublik Deutschland (Federal Republic of Germany) on the outside wall. Certainly a gesture intended to evade any national and historical appropriation, but also to evoke countervailing forces: “Strength is not only for those who have weapons, but also for those who can imagine something”. Droese used this thought to let his monumental paper cuts (mostly untitled) appear in a kind of metaphysical space. The shadowy, fairy-tale-like silhouettes complemented by an expansive sculpture made of sawn-off slices of the trunk of a 200-year-old oak tree doubly represented the enigmatic yet clear themes of the exhibition.

Death and redemption, represented among other things by animal skeletons and gates set into the architecture, were intended to engender a form of autonomy in relation to historical fate through the means of art: “You can’t walk away from history once you’re born" was the thesis thus far. Droese created strong references to the world shaped by Christianity, taking a playful approach to Christian images and ideas. But contrary to the controversies surrounding religion (“war is inherent to Christian philosophy”), Droese saw charity and suffering as a responsibility of art – in order to link up with the spirit of his teacher Joseph Beuys and utilize social sculpture to resolve the “great human question of communal living”.

1986: Sigmar Polke curated by Dierk Stemmler


Curator Dierk Stemmler scored a major success with the German contribution to the 42nd Venice Art Biennale, as his selection of the artist Sigmar Polke earned the latter the Golden Lion award for best artist. Stemmler described Polke as an “explorer, inventor, discoverer, kindred spirit” who overlooks nothing and “goes to himself through the very other.” The theme of the Biennale, “Art and Science,” was implemented very precisely in the German Pavilion, which was transformed into the “Athanor” alchemy workshop.

Polke, who was already a highly regarded and productive artist, took on his self-proclaimed “special task” and challenged border zones both inside and outside. For example, the work “Der Polizist und das Schwein” (The Policeman and the Pig) satirically addressed the binary for or against state authority already in the pavilion's outdoor area. Inside the pavilion, the dissolution became even more obvious: humans and nature, chance and control, faith and reason. A multitude of works of various forms was scattered throughout the building, while any form of explanatory order was difficult to ascertain, most likely intentionally.

Both metaphorically, as with materials such as quartz (light, birth), meteorite (extra-terrestrial, death) or cinnabar (philosopher’s stone, life), and also technically, Polke wanted to stimulate the imagination. Iodine grains attached to paintings reacted to the incident light, hydro-paintings reacted to the existing humidity, and thermo-paintings changed their shape through the body temperature of the visitors present. Sigmar Polke’s ambiguous and imaginative artistic language deprived the German Pavilion of ideological appropriation and abandoned clear didactics in favour of imaginative ambiguity and irony.

1984: Lothar Baumgarten & A.R. Penck curated by Johannes Cladders


In 1982, the East German Democratic Republic (GDR) took part in the Venice Biennale for the first time, and the West German Federal Republic promptly reacted in the following edition by adding the wording “Bundesrepublik Deutschland” (and the equivalent in Italian) to the “German” Pavilion. The artistic positions of Lothar Baumgarten and A.R. Penck selected by curator Johannes Cladders selected also reflected this game of local titling, be it German or Venetian.

Thus Penck, who himself had only been living in West Germany for four years, fed the German-German controversy by exhibiting works that had been created during his own GDR days. The two series of paintings “Mike Hammer” (also a former pseudonym of Penck’s) and “Standart” (a portmanteau of standardised linguistic and pictorial signs and “Art”) were intended to question the self-evident nature of Western concepts of art. Penck’s trademark pictogram representations were neutral ciphers that he saw as a playground of sign systems: “The picture asks the beholder.”

Lothar Baumgarten “exhibited” his work on the floor of the pavilion, placing inlays throughout the building depicting animals abstracted to geometric shapes. In “Venetian red”, Latin American river names were also arranged at right angles on the floor system, broken only by the dominant black “America” lettering near the apse. After all, the name of the continent comes from one of its supposed discoverers, Amerigo Vespucci, who in turn named a place there “Little Venice”, today’s Venezuela. Baumgarten thus created a double reflection of projected cultural transfers. Baumgarten had himself spent some time living with the Yanomami people in Venezuela, and his contribution was accompanied by an explanatory publication, a doubly effective festschrift to the cultures of oral history.

1982: Hanne Darboven & Gotthard Graubner & Wolfgang Laib curated by Johannes Cladders


Curator Johannes Cladders invited three artists to exhibit in the 40th Venice Biennale’s German Pavilion under the theme "Art as Art - The Persistence of the Work". The question of artistic permanence was intended to link the highly disparate positions of Hanne Darboven, Gotthard Graubner and Wolfgang Laib and to relieve the room’s architecture of its historical charge.

The painter Gotthard Graubner took over the central hall, creating the 4x4 metre sculptural painting "Farbraumkörper" (Colour Space Body) in situ: hovering a few centimetres above the floor, the canvas was filled with synthetic cotton wool and saturated with red paint, giving the impression of an oversized pillow. Positioned to end at the space’s apse, the work's monumentality in both dimension and colour gave it the air of an altarpiece, a revelation, a mystical message that also allowed the room around it to be perceived in a fundamentally new way.

Wolfgang Laib questioned the possibilities of perception and the permanence of space and art in the building’s left wing. A white block of marble, its surface hollowed out and filled with milk, on the floor next to it a square consisting of piled-up dandelion blossoms. A shelf on the wall of the next room holds five preserving jars filled with a selection of pollen. The works "Milchstein" or "Blütenstaub" referred not only to the myths and symbols with which nature is charged, but also to the inner spatial order of the pavilion, which influenced the geometric decomposition of its components through the relationship between light and shadow.

Finally, in the building’s right-hand wing, Hanne Darboven furnished the walls with her work "Weltansichten 00-99" from top to bottom. 1,400 framed sheets of type represented the complete calendar of the 19th century: 100 years consisting of 53 weeks made up of 7 24-hour days each. The rationalised linearity of time was further materialised by the depiction of 100 copperplate engravings of famous landmarks that the Darboven company, run by the artist’s ancestors, had historically produced as advertising material.

1980: Georg Baselitz & Anselm Kiefer curated by Klaus Gallwitz


“Aperto Ottanta” (Open 80) – this is how the 39th Art Biennale opened the dawning decade of the 1980s. The curator Klaus Gallwitz had invited the avant-garde artists Anselm Kiefer, Georg Baselitz and Markus Lüpertz to provide the German contribution. The latter declined, but the other two created a political exhibition that had a lasting impact on art criticism. Were their works appropriating the fascist rhetoric of the National Socialist past or did they instead intend to make that past unforgettable in a brutal way, by negating a negation?

Anselm Kiefer showed monumental paintings in charcoal, oil and iron oxide on burlap and woodchip wallpaper in the two side wings. In particular, “Germany’s Intellectual Heroes” and “Parzival” gave the impression that one could enter into their life-size pictorial spaces, which were created from wooden beams and resembled something between a simple attic and a hall of fame, between a memorial room and a junk room. Joseph Beuys, Robert Musil, Richard Wagner were the heroic names that flanked the walls and also haunted this German Pavilion, a building constructed in the spirit of National Socialist architectural idioms.

With “Model for a Sculpture”, the painter Georg Baselitz not only surprised the public with a formal novelty, but also chose an image that even more heated up the emotions. The stern posture, hairstyle and moustache of the figure sitting in the apse suggested Hitler, and the gesture of the outstretched right arm reinforced this reading. Painted in black, red and gold, however, the work was also intended as a warning signal for emerging fascist revivals.

The art critic Bazon Brock wrote in recognition of the exhibition: “The affective consternation in front of these works [...] stems from the fact that these artists [...] consciously or unconsciously hit on precisely those matters that make the state of the nation far more visible than any corresponding governmental pronouncements.”

1978: Dieter Krieg & Ulrick Rückriem curated by Klaus Gallwitz


Land Art, which was much discussed at the time, was echoed in the 38th Venice Art Biennale, and so the title of this issue, “From Art to Nature, from Nature to Art,”, could be read as a reaction to this. The contributions in the German Pavilion were also to be seen in this context, as curator Klaus Gallwitz had invited two artists who  –metaphorically speaking – provided the building with a rock floor and wall vegetation. The conceptual, abstract works by painter Dieter Krieg and sculptor Ulrich Rückriem lent the exhibition a contemplative mood.

Although Dieter Krieg’s works in the two side wings were large format, they were, contrary to his usual productions, painted on light sheets of paper and attached directly to the wall. In free gestures, between abstraction and figuration, human bodies became clear, interwoven with splintered tree trunks and very much in agonising postures. Kriegs’s paintings were accompanied by a monotonous tape recording, which stoically read out the encyclopaedia entries of countless artists in a seemingly never-ending manner.

Ulrich Rückriem, on the other hand, positioned his sculpture “Zerteilen – Verteilen” in front of the apse of the main hall. The four unworked cuboids made of blue dolomite stone were arranged in such a way that visitors were invited to walk between them and look down on them from above. “Sculpture – human being – and then it goes very steeply upwards.” Rückriem described this as a kind of curve that disregarded the pathos of architectural height and brought the space back to human dimensions. Likewise, the form of the broken stone emphasised the original relationship between humans and materials.

1976: Joseph Beuys & Jochen Gerz & Reiner Ruthenbeck curated by Klaus Gallwitz


With the 37th edition, the Biennale experienced its “rebirth,” as it was often called. It had been politicised in the previous edition in 1974, in the form of an interdisciplinary festival that attempted to break up a reactionary-elitist structure by means of left-wing political interventions and to send a clear gesture of solidarity to Chile, which was suffering under the Pinochet dictatorship. The format was so special that it was not included in the Biennale chronicles and by 1976, the Biennale management had returned to the classic art exhibition, but with a few innovations. The juxtaposition of national pavilions was for the first time reconsidered under a unifying theme, and the artistic programme was expanded medially to include the neighbouring disciplines of architecture, design and photography. “Ambiente e Fisico,” environment and body, this was also implemented by the three artists invited to the German Pavilion by curator Klaus Gallwitz: Joseph Beuys, Jochen Gerz and Reiner Ruthenbeck.

The work “Straßenbahnhaltestelle” (Tram Stop) was the contribution of Beuys, who was already famous at the time. Placed in the central hall, it consisted of an erect cast of a cannon, crowned with a head that appeared to be suffering. Behind it was a borehole that reached down to the lagoon, while drilling debris lay next to it, revealing the history of the subsoil. In addition, railway tracks from Beuys’s hometown of Kleve were embedded in the floor. With his installation, Beuys created a work that was both historical-mythical and autobiographical, which sought to show the interweaving of different temporal and geographical levels of life and experience.

The work “Die Schwierigkeit des Zentauren beim vom Pferde steigen” (The Difficulty of the Centaur Getting off the Horse) by Jochen Gerz, which could be seen in the right side wing, also drew on mythology, but played all the more with irony and confusion. A nine-metre-high wooden construction represented the halves of a horse creature divided by a wall. Hollow and accessible from the inside, it could also be read as the Trojan Horse undercutting the Biennale concept. Below, on the other hand, there were desks with texts that the artist had written himself and in reverse; the visitors could only decipher them with the hand mirrors that were handed out there.

Reiner Ruthenbeck's work “Doorway” was probably the most precise take on the theme of the spatial environment. In the left side wing, he had black rubber ropes trace the architectural elements of the pavilion space, thus creating a previously unnoticed emphasis. By narrowing the taut lines in the doorway, a kind of visual funnel was created that traced the perspectives three-dimensionally and reversed the relationship between expansion and restriction.

1972: Gerhard Richter curated by Dieter Honisch

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