To challenge rather than to promote: that is the task for every true patron. He does not simply support that which would come about in any case; he offers possibilities for something to occur which would not occur without him.
The Hamburg collector Harald Falckenberg has established himself as this sort of patron. He said to me: “Brock, please put together something about sites of the contemporaneous which this side, that side or alongside of museums, art societies, galleries and public exhibition halls a collector might activate.”
Let’s get started: I seem to be qualified for such reflections since I’m old enough to have participated in several efforts of the sort. Perhaps I can therefore also judge what should have been and should be made of them.
In my contribution to “The Museum of the Future” I developed a museum typology above and beyond the “fronts” (see the relevant entries in Bazon Brock, Ästhetik als Vermittlung. Arbeitsbiographie eines Generalisten, ed. Karla Fohrbeck, Cologne. 1977). I distinguished between the museum as playground, as a site for reflection, for reception and for communication, in order finally to establish the suggestion of the museum as workplace and to recommend it as the concept for the new Von-der-Heydt Museum in Wuppertal. Naturally, nothing came of this.
Museum as workplace meant to enable visitors to gather experimental experiences in the history of art and culture in appropriate spaces, whether in a new or an old building, under the motto Rescuing History through Life. I suggested allowing small groups of art enthusiasts to live in the museum for a few weeks as a form of experimental art-absorption.
Everyone presumed at the time that the reception of art made sense only with respect to the economic, social, religious, political and legal prerequisites of the epochs and societies in which the works were created. Thus, museums should make their holdings available together with simulations of historic life-contexts no longer existent, so that one could feel one’s way, for example, into the age of the gallant epoch of the 18th century, including language, medicine, fashions and forms of interaction.
Museum as workplace should also mean bringing the observer, the listener and the spectator onto a professional level similar to that on which the artists themselves work, so that appropriate cooperation between viewers and artists in the achievement of the “creative act” described by Duchamp with such commitment in 1957 should be possible at all. For documenta 4 in 1968 I began my program, continued until today, for the professionalizing of viewers, participating citizens, consumers and self-responsible patients.
We had long since said farewell to the notion of an artists’ bohème; we no longer understood the creation of art as lusty self-realization accompanied by red wine and naked females, but as hard work pushed well beyond the point of destructive self-exploitation. In the museum as workplace one should learn that art reception is also hard work rather than an amusing, entertaining bonus for small-talk occasions. I scribbled my motto onto the blackboard in the Beuys class: “Even love is work – for art the fun stopped a long time ago.”
The most important training goal is to make participants in the course capable of taking themselves and their contemporary world as serious as works of art and other historical evidence. Therefore I suggested exhibiting these everyday worlds as authentically as possible in the museum. I had already practiced this, for example, when I brought the apartment of the editor of a film journal and its occupants onto the stage of action of the Hannover Town Hall. Or when I asked the citizens of Berlin to show their most cherished possession in the International Design Center. A street should also lead through the museum as workplace so that the forms of movement of the passersby became perceptible according to the criteria of theater reception, as I had practiced on Berlin’s Kurfürstendamm in that I positioned theater seats there whose “subscribers” learned to see everyday life on the street with the eyes of an authority on Shakespeare, Jarry or Beckett. I went with visitors through the City of the present as I might have gone with them as tourists through Pompeii. We learned to pompeianize our view of windows, restaurants, offices and exhibitions, thus to see them as if they were already historic, like all those objects which we encounter in classical museums.
Among curators, it is above all Harald Szeeman with documenta 5, for which I was permitted to draw up the concept (Bildwelten heute – ein neuer Bilderkrieg), as well as with the realization of his concept of individual mythologies in the exhibitions Die Junggesellenmaschine and Der Hang zum Gesamtkunstwerk, who made a decisive contribution to the alteration of exhibition practice and the self-image of museums. From theatrical practice there emerged influences on the conception of museums when Peter Stein staged his great classical, Shakespeare and Hölderlin projects in Berlin fairground pavilions, in the Olympic Stadium or in recultivated industrial ruins. The choice of such experiential locales for art exhibitions also inspired Kasper König: he presented Von hier aus in the pavilions of the Düsseldorf Fair, whereby the curators reflected on the legendary New York Armory Show exhibition of March, 1913, in which Marcel Duchamp for the first time presented to the public his typology of work and effect. Above all, König was consistent with his “Portikus” in Frankfurt – a barrack with columns, a shoebox with a facade in which historical iconography and contemporary containment fitted together into a holding pattern in a way that has thus far remained unique. But scarcely one of these practices was taken up for the conception of the numerous new museum buildings; the most elevated of feelings consisted in taking structural precautions for the installation of centers for visitor information and museum shops. In the case of the conversions of industrial ruins for new collections intended to play the role of “museums for the contemporary art” (from Winterthur via Bordeaux and all the way to Berlin), one indeed took into account the concept of multifunctional, open rooms, but their use was then largely accommodated to traditional museal forms. Naturally, there have been countless exemplary initiatives on the part of artists and gallerists to find spectacular event-orientated locales and to use these for new typologies of work and effect. But the fantastic presentations by Beuys, Broodthaers, Vostell, Kaprow, Schneemann or Rauschenberg at action-sites outside the museums exerted scarcely any effect on their exhibition practices.
And now Falckenberg:
Thus far his collection has run rampant and runs rampant as a sort of squatter’s action in a ruinous building on the fringe of the freight halls, cargo containers and parcel service of the Hamburg Airport. The pseudo-ruin had a history – and what a history! It was logical to have artists’ works take over the washrooms of the forced-labor convicts or the apartment for the foreman and janitor, the counters and the cellar archive, the rooms for production and for breaks, including the toilets, in order on the one hand to activate a charge of energy through the historical architectural contexts and on the other hand to offer visitors but, above all, the collector himself projection surfaces against which they can provide horizons for their phantasmagoric and obsessive views of the works. Nonetheless, the main impression of the sporadic visitor was not dominated by the reminder of Schwitter’s Merzbau or the rolling agitation-container of Mayakovski, Rodtschenko and El Lissitzky or of other Weltbild constructions that again seem relevant to the current situation. Falckenberg’s experimental institute more strongly evoked the impression of storerooms for urban nomads or reception camps for cultural emigrants and fugitive curators or of transit camps for artistic transport goods before their transfer to future locales of presentation.
And now the time has come:
The occupied house is emptied, the ruin ruined, the storage dissolved. Where can it go? In any case, not into a new museum building or a collector’s loft. It thus goes, in any case, this side, that side or alongside of known examples. Come into the open, friend!
What is there about this u-topos, this nowhere as everywhere, which could be set in motion? This is precisely what Falckenberg asks. What is needed, what is necessary, what mobilizied impetus and energy, to become active there? Certainly not a museum as temple for atheists, also not private quarters as a self-worshiping or self-substantiating venue for an art sect which again seeks to promote the authority of “true” art instead of pretentious, aurated, spiritually gleaming, banalquotidian, “disappointing” art. Not transfiguration instead of enlightenment, which one shuns because it can produce nothing but disillusion – namely, distance to deceiving illusion.
In the course of exploration of the nowhere-in-everywhere – that is, of the utopian locale of contemporary work in the field of art, one naturally recalls Andy Warhol’s establishment of the Factory as a unity of production and living spaces. This concept, however, presupposes social communities of the sort Warhol could attach to himself; and Warhol could only do that as artist. Falckenberg, however, is not an artist but a collector and, as such, cannot realize the opportunities for influence as Warhol did.
In view of Falckenberg’s central interest in Duchamp and thereby in the Armory Show, the concept of actualizing a functional type of social and architectural history stands reason: the armory. In armories a community deposited and stored everything necessary for self-defense and survival strategies in an emergency. In the contemporary megalopolis the state of emergency has long since become the normal state of affairs. For cultural institutions the state of emergency as the normal state means, in the case of radically reduced finances, no more than sustaining the maintenance of the operation through loans and borrowings from private collectors, ad hoc raiding parties (of the Schlingensief type), or roving curators (the intellectual migrant worker, of the Harald Szeemann type), through stop-gap measures provided by artists without much or expensive baggage and through other technical relief operations. Publishing houses as classical cultural agencies are replaced by publishing on demand without any support through editors or other instances of critical judgment. But where is this homemade sort of stuff received in the first place? Isolatedly in bars and cafés in which the publicists without a public read aloud to each other what no one otherwise takes notice of because all are so occupied with enduring their dislocation and disorientation as a “patchwork of the moment.”
An armory could offer the locale for equipping and arming oneself for these undeclared wars of our everyday life.
Falckenberg’s collection delivers the gear for the armory. The tools are offered by the curators and project-directors who are associated with the armory in the roles of quartermasters and instructors. The clientele consists above all of people seeking employment, who want to make themselves fit for the battle of survival (hello Wolfgang Neuss, you can show your remaining tooth again; Falckenberg lets you laugh, since in his armory, as you suggested, Flimm coaches the unemployed for Shakespearean roles instead of training supernumeraries for Wagner dummies). In such an armory there could be an optimal reconciliation of the most diverse functions of depot, permanent and temporary exhibition, reconstruction of the total holdings for comprehensive projects, work with the public, experimental institute for artists, theoretical laboratory, expeditions into surrounding areas. And Falckenberg drags in stuff to beat the band and thus the potential for action of our self-assertion in the cultural battles of the present.
Of course it is risky to revive historical terms, even with such clear-cut grounds. The characterization of Falckenberg’s future collection and its way of taking effect in terms of a communal armory might therefore not be accepted. In order to avoid this risk, it would perhaps be better to designate the historic armory from the start with the contemporary term as base camp – base camp for expeditions into the contemporaneous. This type of collection of facilities, tools and personnel is connected with an expectation by anyone who has followed the countless television documentations of adventuresome explorers of our world in the Himalaya, in deserts, in archaeological fields but also in the jungles of the big cities with their zoos of animals and people – and that is virtually everyone.
Base Camp Falckenberg would thus be associated with the idea that one finds everything there and has everything provided that one requires for the investigation of the contemporaneous and one’s own role in it. To this end there belongs, above all, the example, not the antecedent of those who have already successfully endured these expeditions and present here the result of their investigations. Jonathan Meese, John Bock and Georg Herold, with their expeditionary goods in the Base Camp Falckenberg, measured against the souvenirs and insights of Reinhold Messner or Hans Rüdiger Nehberg, would teach contemporaries to recognize the distance in that which is nearest, the foreign in one’s own, the beautiful in the ugly, the verity in the lie, the authenticity in the fake. Thereby, the base camp would simultaneously become the field from which expeditions, dream journeys and forays proceed.
So much for the start. Falckenberg gestures in the direction of Harburg – a gesture of intent that will have great consequences, if we follow it.