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January 2009: Political Minimal @ KunstWerke

January 2009: Political Minimal @ KunstWerke
Santiago Sierra, courtesy KunstWerke
Political/Minimal at KunstWerke, Berlin
November 30, 2008 – January 25, 2009
 
Classical Minimalism, as defined by its American practitioners in the 1960s, was forged as an extreme reaction to the formal excesses of Abstract Expressionism, which had dominated the country’s avant-garde in the decades previous. The original Minimalists – artists like Donald Judd, Dan Flavin, and Robert Ryman – lodged their rebellion against what had become the art status quo in strict formal terms. While such a gesture is most certainly political, it is not Political in the broader, societal sense that Political/Minimal, currently on view at KunstWerke, wishes to propose. The concept is problematic because the language is too loaded, the categories ill defined. What is curiously absent here is an acknowledgment of the next major historic development in American art – the rise of conceptualism in the 1970s – that occurred both simultaneously alongside and in the wake of Classical Minimalism. “Classical Conceptualism,” as we may call the 1970s heyday of Conceptual Art, is amenable to curator Klaus Biesenbach’s notion of political minimalism, which seems to form the conceptual core of Political/Minimal. Thankfully, the work included (mostly) transcends this limitation and suggests that the most important component of the exhibition title is the ‘/’, which allows for both an “either/or” and an “and both” interpretation. This, in spite of the fact that I didn’t emerge convinced that Political Minimalism is the latest generational gestation that the exhibition wishes to suggest.  

Still, the list of artists included in the medium-size show reads like a veritable “who’s who.” No one will be shocked by their confrontation with Damien Hirst and his large black circle, which, when examined up close, comes to be made out of dead flies. More curious is the decision to include Tino Seghal’s Instead of allowing some thing to rise up to your face dancing bruce and dan and other things, a solo dance piece, which is wonderfully expressive and evocative – neither minimal nor political in any way I can discern. Monica Bonvicini, Francis Alys, Klara Liden, and Santiago Sierra all look great here, while Terence Koh’s pink triangle is ponderously banal.  

Of course, considering this is an exhibition of minimal art – and one that hopes to posit a new(er) wave of minimalism – it might be more useful to examine what is absent from the exhibition. Bonvicini’s broken glass box reminded me of Cady Noland, whose adaptation of minimalist strategies is used towards an end that is much less subtle in its political implications than most of the artists included in the exhibition. And Biesenbach is apparently oblivious to the enrichment of the Minimalist tradition that has been playing out in Eastern Europe throughout the last four decades. I could name numerous artists from German neighbors Poland and the Czech Republic alone whose work would have fit the exhibition’s paradigm. A larger, more provocative exhibition might have taken to task the way that the included artists fit into the politics of the art world; Biesenbach’s apparent predilection for the star system precludes such rigorous self-criticality, which very much makes Political/Minimal more of a crowd-pleaser than the intellectual detonation device it yearns to be.

 

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Travis Jeppesen

Travis Jeppesen's novels include The Suiciders, Wolf at the Door, and Victims. He is the recipient of a 2013 Arts Writers grant from Creative Capital/the Warhol Foundation. In 2014, his object-oriented writing was featured in the 2014 Whitney Biennial and in a solo exhibition at Wilkinson Gallery in London. A collection of novellas, All Fall, is forthcoming from Publication Studio. 

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