- Digital Formats
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).
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
In 2021, ifa will call attention to the fiftieth anniversary of these activities with events and exhibitions taking place worldwide and in its Stuttgart and Berlin galleries, accompanied by digital offers and a publication.
In the anniversary year, digital edutainment approaches will be increasingly pursued. Episode #24 of the existing podcast format ‘Die Kulturmittler’ was published under the title ‘Legendary and controversial: the German Pavilion in Venice.’. Kolja Reichert, freelance journalist and art critic, talks about the history and (foreign) political significance of the German Pavilion at the Venice Art Biennale and looks ahead. What can a post-national state representation in Venice look like? Do the national pavilions have a future? Available here (podcast in German language).
With the biennale stories the art department has developed a new digital format. Edition #1 Pebbles, Art and Commissioners is dedicated to Venice, a place of longing with the oldest art biennale in the world, the national pavilions in the Giardini, in particular the German Pavilion with its difficult history and architecture, and provides insights into ifa’s role as commissioner.
With the series Artwork of the Month, ifa has been expanding the analog and digital view of its art holdings for over a year. In the Biennale’s anniversary year, ifa is showing 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. A sequel as an anniversary publication is being planned.
Research publication: Biennials as Seismographs
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 the AKBP and for international collaborations.
ifa-Research-Award ‘Kultur- und Außenpolitik’ in German/English/French available here here from 6 May 2021.
The original websites of the German Pavilion´s editions from 2007 to 2019 have been restored by ifa: archive of the restored original websites . These contributions of the past years can now be experienced and researched anew. It is also an important source for scholars, journalists, curators, and artists interested in the history of the Biennale. Over the coming months, additional materials on the German Pavilion (1972-2005) will be successively put online.
2001 - 2019
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.
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.
“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.
“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
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
“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
Susanne Gaensheimer presented in critical examination of the meaning of traditional forms of “national representation” in national pavilions at La Biennale di Venezia, the format of the national pavilion as an open concept in which Germany is to be understood not as a hermetic entity but as an active participant in a complex, worldwide network. With Romuald Karmakar, Santu Mofokeng, Dayanita Singh and Ai Weiwei Susanne Gaensheimer invited four international renown artists from four different countries who all challenge the notion of the unambiguous biography and of the specific national or cultural identity. They also explore the dissolution of particular concepts of identity precipitated by modernization and the globalization of their respective realities.
Romuald Karmakar has been producing works that grapple with German history, German themes, and German identity for almost three decades. In his films he shows that political ideologizing is no longer contained within national boundaries. Dayanita Singh’s iconography is shaped by a way of life in which India’s social and familial traditions collide with the contingencies of modern life. The photographer’s travels all over the world and itinerant existence have influenced her life and work more profoundly than ties to her native Delhi ever did. Santu Mofokeng’s photographic series reveals how transnational developments, cultural traditions, and personal destinies can clash head on. His photographs show how the restrictive reality of life under apartheid also influenced the spiritual identity of black South Africans and how trauma and memory are now inscribed in the landscape itself. The loss of cultural identity caused by the Cultural Revolution and transformation of Chinese society brought about by breakneck modernization are central themes in the work of Ai Weiwei.
At the initiative of the French and German foreign offices and on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of the Elysée Treaty, the German Pavilion was to be housed in the French Pavilion, and vice versa. Website 2013
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
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
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