Noah Becker in Conversation with Rein Wolfs artistic director of the Kunsthalle Fridericianum

Maurizio Cattelan, Untitled, 2002, Installation Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Courtesy: Marian Goodman Gallery


Rein Wolfs is artistic director of the Kunsthalle Fridericianum. What follows is an email interview between Mr. Wolfs and Whitehot Magazine publisher Noah Becker from June 2009.

Noah Becker: You are the new artistic director of the Kunsthalle Fridericianum. There must have been a tremendous amount of work associated with being the new director. What challenges did you face upon your arrival?

Rein Wolfs:
First of all it's important to know that the Fridericianum is the headquarters of Documenta every five years. So you also have to find for ways to re-profile the institution Kunsthalle Fridericianum afterwards. Furthermore, my predecessor René Block had directed the Kunsthalle during nine years and set up a very interesting program. What I thought was necessarily to cope with those two facts, was first of all to focus on solo-shows, because - although it sounds almost trivial - the building was determined so much (almost entirely) by group-shows (both in Block‘s program as well as in the history of Documenta). I really had to start with something which changed to Fridericianum completely and I was able to do that because I invited Christoph Büchel, who took possession of the whole building and the Friedrichsplatz in front of it. A lot of people came and a large part of them told us that they had never seen and experienced the Fridericianum like that. The show was all about Germany and basically denied the building as a museum building, but showed what would and could happen if it would not be in use as museum anymore. Büchel‘s show "Deutsche Grammatik" turned out to be the most radical way of changing the profile of the institution.

Marc Bijl, Modern Crisis, 2009, Kunsthalle Fridericianum
Courtesy: the artist, Photo: Nils Klinger

Pawel Althamer, Frühling, 2009, Installation Kunsthalle Fridericianum
Courtesy: the artist, Photo: Nils Klinger

Noah Becker:
From 2002 until 2007 you were director of exhibitions of the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam. Is there an aspect of your work there that you would like to highlight for our readers?

Rein Wolfs: In Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen I was responsible for all exhibitions. And as you might know, Boijmans is an almost 'encyclopaediac' art museum with collections and exhibitions ranging from the Middle Ages until today, this meant a constant changing of perspective. Next to this job, I was able to curate some 12 contemporary shows in the large exhibition spaces of the museum. As very important I consider the first retrospective of Rirkrit Tiravanija, which developed into a show without any actual artworks, but with guided tours through almost empty spaces - past works with a strong contextual impact were evoked by words only, so that Rirkrit‘s relational aesthetics could be reinterpreted as part of the conceptual project in contemporary art. Other shows that I consider important were a retrospective exhibition of Bas Jan Ader and a large show with Urs Fischer. Still installed in Boijmans is Maurizio Cattelan‘s piece, where a wax-figure with his looks peeps out of a hole in the floor of the 18th Century Masters circuit: a perfect example of playful institutional critique, changing the visitors‘ reception of the older paintings and bridging ages.

Noah Becker: How was your time in Venice this year?

Rein Wolfs:
It was pretty relaxing, as Daniel Birnbaum‘s show 'Fare Mondi' was very well curated in terms of rhythm, with an accent on gestures and without too many time-based works. Some strong pavilions like the Czech one (Roman Ondak) and the Mexican one (Teresa Margolles). The Danish-Nordic pavilion by Elmgreen and Dragset was extremely timely in our real estate crisis.


Rirkrit Tiravanija, A Retrospective (Tomorrow is another Fine Day), 2004, Installation Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Photo: Bob Goedewaagen

Noah Becker:
As a writer and publisher you established the magazine “material” in 1999. In your 1998 text from the Kunsthalle Fridericianum "First Column" entitled "Minorities, outsiders, troublemakers and other human beings" you state: "Art does not have to be friendly and shall not at all be comfortable. A Kunsthalle namely is still a place where fragile truths, delicate suggestions and energetically charged provocations meet and converge and where the unconventional finds shelter. It will be quite hard to find luck and happiness in such a space. More likely we will spot abysses and dark profundities in the Fridericianum – or other parallel worlds and not quite tangible domains." Do you have any additions to this quote based on your experience as director since authoring this text in April 2008?

(note: the texts are being authored in infrequent intervals on the Kunsthalle Fridericianum site.)
  Rein Wolfs: First af all: 'material' did not survive a long time. I founded it during my directorship of Migros Museum in Zurich. After I left Migros, only one more issue was published. the first column from our website: I think the quote covers pretty well what we are working on, although it does not always come out as dark, as the text might have predicted. Of course there was some provocation in the program, also quite some 'unconventional' and some shows had some very discomforting character for the visitors But on the other hand, a show like 'Frühling' by Pawel Althamer and 300 children from Kassel was a very 'positive' show, showing a belief into the creative qualities of youth. Basically, the program circles around the question of humanity today. How are we able to define humanity by showing strong artistic attitudes. I am still not that interested in the art object only, but very much in attitude. Rirkrit Tiravanija's 'LESS OIL MORE COURAGE', which was painted on the long wall of the rotunda of the Fridericianum during the last six months, was programmatic for this interest. Our program is really about artistic courage, as well as about human courage!

Noah Becker: What is Guest the of Kunsthalle Fridericianum "Spazier Gang" about? They have a really great looking logo and interesting font. They send me the press materials so I know the name from last year. What is their function as a guest of Kunsthalle Fridericianum?

Rein Wolfs: 'Spaziergang' is a presentation of the Kunsthochschule (art school) Kassel, which extends its annual 'Rundgang' to different sites around the city. The 'Rundgang' is the yearly presentation of all students of the art school. 'Spaziergang' means 'walk' and is actually meant to be experienced by walking through the city. The presentation at Fridericianum is the largest presentation. For us it‘s kind of an insert in our program, enabling us to take a closer look at the local art scene and the specific developments at the school. It‘s like a snapshot of development.

Noah Becker: Micol Assaël is working with Moscow scientists on work that involves steam and electrostatic charges. This work interacts directly with the viewer. The important Canadian artist Lucy Pullen is also currently working with Canadian scientists on a cloud chamber. What interests you about this involvement?

Rein Wolfs: I am very interested in the whole process of an artist searching for possibilities to develop an experiential work and doing this the hard way. I mean, working with an old Soviet lab in Moscow with engineers between 60 and 85 years old, is not the easiest way to produce an art piece. As installing an artwork as Fomuška‘ with all its peculiarities in a museum space is not easy. The piece is producing a lot of steam, is noisy and is scaring some visitors as not everybody feels comfortable to be part of a kind of electrostatic experiment. The piece is, especially also because it‘s not an easy piece, sensational: With a kind of nostalgic Soviet aesthetics and an almost animalistic threatening behaviour "Fomuška" has a strong physical impact on the visitors.

Christoph Büchel, Deutsche Grammatik, 2008 Installation view Kunsthalle Fridericianum,
Courtesy: Galerie Hauser & Wirth, Zurich, London, Photo: Nils Klinger


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Editor-in-Chief: Noah Becker

Noah Becker is founder and editor-in-chief of Whitehot Magazine of Contemporary Art, a visual artist, jazz musician and writer.



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