IN MEMORIAM AL HANSEN
(*5. October 1927 – †22. June 1995)
THE ART CITY OF COLOGNE AROUND 1980 & THE EARLY PERIOD AFTERWARDS
A rather personal recollection of the Fluxus & Happening artist AL (Alfred Earl) HANSEN –
HEY AL, WHAT´s GOING ON? –
Times like this or like this was our greeting ritual when we met, mostly by chance, at the right place at the right time – in retrospect – on the „main road(s) and byway(s)“¹ of the then booming Rhenish art metropolis Cologne, synonymous with the art scene of New York (early to late 80s), in the special venues of the art business – and beyond. From my point of view, Al(ien) Hansen was there all of a sudden, in 1983, in the tradition-steeped holy city that had already achieved art/market significance in the 60s/70s:
1st Cologne Art Market in the Gürzenich ’67 / Ingo Kümmel’s „Neumarkt der Künste“ ’68 / founding of the international art fair Art Cologne ’74.
My first encounter with the SPIRIT OF AL HANSEN, however, took place indirectly, in 1982, in Daniel Spoerri’s now famous seminar, the object and trap artist’s self-deprecatingly titled „Art History from the Sewing Box“, in direct utilisation of a critical comment by Marlis Grüterich, art historian at the Cologne Werkschulen and the Ubierring Art Academy.
Daniel Spoerri, co-founder of the artist group „Nouveau Réalisme“², multi-media sculptor of the first hour, but above all an experienced contemporary witness with knowledge of art and artists and thus predestined for authentic storytelling, gave a professional summary to the student audience. Among many other groundbreaking and legendary art events, he spoke about the New York artist Al Hansen, who in 1946, as an American occupation soldier stationed in Frankfurt, carried out what I consider to be the first „happening“ in an ingenious after-World War II action by dropping a piano from a bombed-out five-storey building in the middle of the night.
Back in New York and after various repeat performances, now named „Yoko-Ono-Piano-Drop“ after his girlfriend at the time, the artist Yoko Ono, this action is regarded as a conceptual forerunner of so-called „instrument destruction“, as with Nam June Paik and later, among others, with Jimi Hendrix. The early reference to the American Fluxus movement, the contacts to artists such as John Cage, George Brecht, Dick Higgins, Allan Kaprow, Andy Warhol’s Factory as well as subsequent mixed media environments let him be counted among the pioneers of „performance art“ and „happening“.
At the beginning of the 1960s he created his first HERSHEY’S picture objects, mostly Venus motifs in imitation of the prehistoric „Venus of Willendorf“, collaged from the packaging material of the US chocolate bar classic.
In 1984 Hansen’s brilliant appearance in Ingo Kümmel’s graffiti art temple „Stollwerck“, a former chocolate factory! – A place of culmination for young art in Cologne’s Südstadt. In his own reminiscence and recommendation to the Rhineland scene, he threw five pianos out of the fourth floor of the factory building – a radical aesthetic crash sound symphony of shattering high culture material in interplay with improvised free jazz-like, almost appeasing saxophone sounds by his art partner Lisa Cieslik.
Al Hansen’s ambition has always been to pass on his knowledge, his „spirit“ to others, in accordance with his earlier teaching activities at various schools, e.g. Rutgers University in New Jersey, the Eskimo Art School in Greenland or the Pratt Institute in New York. So it was logical in 1987, together with the self-taught artist Lisa Cieslik, to found an „ultimate“ training institution for performance art or „passionate free thinking“, as Al once called it, in Cologne, Mozartstraße 60, in perfection just on his 60th birthday.
Lisa Cieslik, who had gained her first experiences with the medium of experimental action art in the years before within the group „Minus Delta T“ around Mike Hentz and Karel Dudesek, now carried out actions and exhibition projects as a performance artist and self-proclaimed „consumer realist“ together with Al Hansen until his death in 1995. Spectacular was the performance of the duo Hansen/Cieslik in public space with the simulation of an assassination: „Who shot Andy Warhol?“ in front of the shop window of the Cologne „Edition und Galerie Hundertmark“ in 1986.
At the same time, from 1983 onwards, I realised my first performances, exhibitions and poster actions in the city centre of Cologne, in places NOT THOUGHT FOR ART, under the programmatic title: STADT-RAUM-BILD/ DEUTSCHLANDS LIEBLING IST MUEDE. These included mainly empty shop premises in „good locations“, but also a flourishing sex shop, a 4-storey staircase (l’esprit de l’escalier) including the private rooms of a resident of the house (+ Ingo Kümmel as speaker), the shop window of the Walther König bookshop or my studio at Ehrenstrasse 23, to which I invited 23 artists accordingly – (today one would use the term „curate“).
EHRENSTRASSE in Cologne, a red-light district until the 1970s, still in the subcultural underground swing when I moved in in ’84, currently one of the main shopping streets of the upper middle class, developed into the central starting point for my artistic activities, right in the middle of the „circulating cultural capital of this city, in the triangle between the bookshops Bittner, König and Café Broadway“, according to Helge Malchow in the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger – and not to forget, a few houses further on: my much appreciated neighbour, the photographer Benjamin Katz.
International artists met here. But also local representatives like Sigmar Polke (often in Café Fromme) or Martin Kippenberger (who called out to me: „Ehrenstrasse is now yours!“ when I ran into him there with my freshly printed EHRENSTRASSE catalogues³ under my arm, coming from König) and Albert Oehlen, A.R. Penck, Karl Marx (the eloquent analyst), Astrid Klein and now and then Leiko Ikemura, to name just a few.
Since at that time the city’s cultural office provided me with a vacant building with adjoining rooms in the direct vicinity of Ehrenstrasse rent-free, the re-functioning of this former brothel building was clear: additional working space, storage & showroom for exhibitions and performances at Kleine Brinkgasse No. 8.
In 1988, the idea of a combined exhibition at two different locations on the same opening date, the „ULTIMATE ACADEMY“ by Al Hansen & Lisa Cieslik and the „Bageritz-Buero fuer Oeffentlichsarbeit“ was realised under the (poster) title „PARALLEL“. The highlight of the action was the performance „To each his own flag“ by Lisa Cieslik as the „Queen of Russia“, announced in advance in a motorcade with fluttering exhibition objects and flyers. In the rooms, a wall-surrounding „Final Consumption“ installation in correspondence with the Venus collages by Al Hansen, the TV objects by Hans-Jörg Tauchert as well as the PRACTICAL SCULPTURES TO PUT AWAY from my own production, etc..
Apart from that, it was a boom time. The Swiss gallery Fabian Walter showed my photo/painting collages and the latest STOLEN OBJECTS in a solo exhibition entitled DIE POETISCHE LUECKE – KLEINE SELBSTZENSUR including a presence at the Art Basel ’91 fair. The grandiose opening evening remains unforgotten, for among the illustrious guests were, to my great delight, the artists Charlemagne Palestine, Hans-Hermann T and Al Hansen who, in a performance-like manner, presented me with a wonderful object they had stolen from me shortly before: A worn-out patina embellished enamel advertising sign with a built-in thermometer in 50s design. It depicted the so-called „Libella girl“ with ponytail and flowing petticoat clutching an oversized brown „grooved bottle“, subtitled with the slogan: „Libella … my great love!“
Afterwards, the artists signed the front three, and Al wrote on it: „This is a Stolen Object! Naughty Naughty Naughty!“⁴
The series of Stolen Objects, which I had already conceived and executed from 1973 onwards in a passion for collecting and art (a presentation in public was not yet to be thought of at that time!), with the subtitle THE SURRENDER OF THE ARTIST AT THE END OF THE 20th CENTURY, has in the meantime received some attention. Exhibitions and press releases on a scandalous level accumulated and from 1993 onwards I was in a postal and media-involved artist-clinch with Timm Ulrichs, who notoriously claimed his copyright on „stolen objects“ and had already accused Andy Warhol and some other artists of stealing his ideas („art“-Magazin, „Bestohlener Dieb“ v. Dr. Martin Tschechne, 2/93). So I wrote him back, under the heading „Letters to the Editor“ in Lindinger+Schmid’s „art“ magazine: „Wouldn’t it be in the spirit of the thing (conceptually) to steal the idea of Stolen Objects again? And as a consequence, aren’t my stolen objects even the only TRUE Stolen Objects? (…).“
I still don’t have a concrete answer, but our paths were to cross again – in a conciliatory way, 13 years later, on the occasion of our participation in the Group Show „Der gestohlene Blick“, a special show of the Art Loss Register at the Cologne Fine Art Fair, curated by Prof. Dr. Ulli Seegers.
Back in Ehrenstrasse, I met Al Hansen again and he whispered to me in his distinctive New York slang: „Your work is not about stealing – it’s about healing!“ That was what made our encounters so special – direct meetings in uncomplicated clarity, without frills on the real paths – real Real.
And in a roundabout way via Austria (Galerie Ferdinand Maier) another work by Al Hansen came into my possession: a very typical lush „Venus“, carefully equipped with all erotic details, finely „torn“ in contour and form by hand, half made of gold and silver chocolate paper, laminated on white and grey cardboard. When I look at this work, I remember Al sitting in Chin’s Restaurant, the trendy place at the time, in the quiet afternoon, the glazed wall facing the street with the entrance door in view, relaxed and concentrated at the table with the material spread out in front of him: cardboard supports, burnt matches and cigarette papers, stubbed-out cigarette ends with and without filters, various kinds of paper and foil, glue.
In „Monopol“, the contemporary „magazine for art and life“, there has been a serial contribution for some years now entitled „With whom do you sleep, …?“ What is meant, of course, is the artwork that hangs above the bed of the person in question. In my case it’s actually a small collection, but on the top right hangs the aforementioned Venus. And I keep thinking to myself, „Hey Al, what’s going on?“
© Ralph Bageritz aka The b-AGE-ritz / Berlin-Cologne / in February 2020
¹) „Hauptweg und Nebenwege“ is one of the most famous paintings by Paul Klee. It belongs to the group of his numerous layered and striped paintings and was painted in January 1929 after Klee’s second trip to Egypt. On loan from Werner Vowinckel it was first shown in Cologne’s Wallraf-Richartz-Museum and is now on display in the Museum Ludwig.
²) „The Nouveaux Réalistes group of artists has nothing to do with artistic realism in the traditional sense. In their works, the first of which were created in the 1950s, they are not concerned with a realistic depiction of reality, but with the material substance of the world, the things of everyday life, the „realities“, becoming the medium of their art. The new realism, that is the pure pigment in the „monochromes“ of Yves Klein, old car scraps in the „Compressions“ of César, the contents of rubbish cans in Arman’s „Poubelles“, the remains of food in the „Trap Pictures“ of Daniel Spoerri, the „poster tear-offs“ of the affichists Raymond Hains, François Dufrêne, Jacques Villeglé and Mimmo Rotella. …“, ( from „Nouveau Réalisme – Revolution of the Everyday“ by Michael Stoeber, KUNSTFORUM international, vol. 189, 2008)
³) Catalogue and artist book „The Communicative Needs of Mr. Ralph Benno Albert BAGERITZ – 11 Years Ehrenstraße & Surroundings“, (Incl. Special Guests / Colleagues in boutiques: Rudolf Bonvie, Jiri Georg Dokoupil, Leiko Ikemura, Joseph Kosuth), published by Kölnisches Stadt-Museum, Constantin Post 1995 (The audio CD „The Home Grown Show – Fundamental Noises of the Ehrenstraße“ was published as a multiple accompanying the exhibition action in an edition of 111 copies)
⁴) Illustration of the „gift“ Stolen Object in the above-mentioned catalogue/artist book, no. 135, page 303, 1995. 1991 integrated into the artist’s complete series (object in wooden box, acrylic paint on Plexiglas)
„THE STOLEN VIEW – ARTIST´z ADDRESS ART THEFT“
Special Show of the ART LOSS REGISTER at EXPONATEC / Art fair FINE-ART-COLOGNE / 14.-18.02.2006
Curator / conceptual text:
Art and art theft – a connection that seems like two sides of the same coin in times when the art market is booming and art crime is on the rise. In fact, the damage caused by increasingly brazen and often organised art thieves has meanwhile moved to the top of a sad „ranking“: art theft already ranks third in international crime after drug trafficking and arms smuggling. With over 50%, private collectors are the victims of art criminals, followed by museums, churches and other public institutions. It is rarely the artists themselves who would have to report a theft. And yet the phenomenon of art theft is a subject that artists in particular have been grappling with since the 20th century. Marcel Duchamp, for example, was inspired by the theft of the masterpiece from the Louvre in 1911 in his ironic depiction of the Mona Lisa with Moustache (1919). Concealment, appearance and unveiling are among the aesthetic phenomena that have always captivated artists. But while the presence and absence of works of art, their concealment and ceremonial unveiling are among the traditional ways of dealing with works of art in the context of religious rites or social conventions, art theft is particularly explosive because of the breaking of taboos or norms. It is not only the material value of which the robber avails himself by committing a crime, but always also an irreplaceable ideal value that falls victim to cultureless greed through an act of profane arbitrariness.
But what if the theft or loss of works of art becomes the subject of art? When culture and „culturelessness“ do not oppose each other in the medium of art, but – vice versa – coincide? How do artists deal with the subject of art theft?
The exhibition brings together contemporary positions in art that deal with art theft in completely different ways. The works presented not only show different perspectives on the unwelcome dark side of the art market, but also document unexpected backgrounds to art theft in the broader sense.
For example, Ralph Bageritz from Cologne uses images of stolen art as the starting point for his own photographic works. Using the 2-phase lenticular technique (lenticular on lambda C-print), he creates an „alternating image“ effect that actually causes the works depicted to appear and disappear again constantly with the movements of the viewer. In the sense of an aesthetic of absence, Bageritz thus brings to concrete view in his own work what has previously been withdrawn from perception through theft, robbery or misappropriation. His works become representatives of what has disappeared, substitutes for what is absent and, through their iridescent surfaces, take up the theme of withdrawal in two respects (material iconography and reception aesthetics).
Through the artistic reference to stolen art that has actually disappeared to this day, the foreign also becomes thematic in the artist’s own work. In the literal superimposition of various pictorial levels, different authorships mix to form a dynamic overall ensemble. The invisible becomes visible, the disparate is brought to simultaneity. In this way, the inversion of relationships brings about a coincidence of the different: if the existence of art was initially a condition for its theft, in Bageritz’s work the criminal act becomes a prerequisite for the artist’s own art production. Keyword-like notes on the place and time of the theft on the digital prints leave no doubt about the reality of the crime and at the same time about the virtuality of the images that appear. The levels of reality, authenticity, reproducibility, materiality and ideality of art become fluid and form a confusion between evocation and denied access. An almost provocative idea of the artistic „taking over“ of everyday things can be seen in the work of Timm Ulrichs. In the context of his „total art“, he stole oranges, a paperback book or a bottle of Odol from large retail chains, for example, in order to withdraw the object from consumption and later present his „booty“ – marked with the exact place and year of the theft – like an icon. The „Stolen Objects“ (1969/72) refer to the fast-moving world of everyday life and advertising – art theft as consumer criticism.
While in the case of both Bageritz and Ulrichs the „damaged“ department stores refrained from further prosecution in the sense of the „Gesamtkunstwerk“, Marina Abramović and Ulay were banned for life from all museums of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation for their action „There is a criminal touch in art“ in 1976. They had unceremoniously stolen Carl Spitzweg’s „Poor Poets“ from the Neue Nationalgalerie (and even announced this theft, which no one took seriously, beforehand) and hung it over the sofa of a Turkish family. In the meantime, both artists are represented in several Berlin museum collections. There is a photo documentation by Mike Steiner of the then media-effective action, which was last shown in 1999 in the Hamburger Bahnhof, also in Berlin. Art theft as social criticism.
An artist makes the work of a colleague disappear – a case that in the broadest sense goes back to Robert Rauschenberg, who in 1953 erased a work by de Kooning (incidentally with the latter’s consent) (Erased de Kooning Drawing) in order, according to his own statements, to free himself from the „over-father“. George Pusenkoff refers to Rauschenberg in his work „Twice Erased Drawing de Kooning“. For his part, Pusenkoff has processed a scan of Rauschenberg’s „Erased de Kooning Drawing“ with a digital „eraser“. With the help of a computer-controlled cutting machine, the partially erased new image was transferred to foil, the foil mounted on canvas and the free sections painted with brushes in black paint. The pixel-like resolution of the lines and the surrounding „task bars“ are references to the way the computer works. The original image is withdrawn from the viewer’s gaze.
A three-part work by Georg Herold from 1985 bears the title „Kunstraub“ (art theft). In each case, a large-format stretcher frame can be seen, which is covered or wrapped in black fabric to varying degrees of density or coverage. Should the artist himself have tampered with his „work“ as a thief, when less and less of the actual canvas is to be seen? Or should the sometimes mysterious, sometimes minimalist works be an artistic interpretation of art theft as a deprivation of the object of perception?
In their Werftgalerie in Vienna, Moussa Kone and Erwin Uhrmann have created an art project that is both „practical“ and artistically ambitious. The idea is to create a place, similar to the baby flap, where stolen works of art can be handed in anonymously and returned to their original owner. The „art flap“ is undoubtedly inspired by the theft of Cellini’s „Saliera“ from the Vienna Museum of Art History. By contrast, „only“ an artistic replica of the salt barrel has been handed over so far, like a lot of other objects, which, as in the case of an old, gilded wooden coat of arms, sometimes actually go back to a theft long ago.
Anonymus paints figures on cardboard boxes, which he cuts out, approximately in human size, and places in public space. The Austrian, who wishes to remain unnamed, mainly uses central venues of the international art trade for his art, which has in the meantime achieved collector value as – apparently ownerless – „stolen property“, for example most recently at the Venice Biennale or on the fairground in front of the ART Basel. His „cardboard cameras“ are only loosely attached to lampposts or park bollards, for example, and virtually invite visitors to take them with them. Art in public and as social space.
As early as the beginning of the 1970s, Sigmar Polke and Achim Duchow addressed art crime in their works. The catalogue edition „Franz Liszt likes to come to me to watch television“ is a documentation of the 1973 exhibition at the Westfälisches Kunstmuseum Münster and at the same time an artist’s book in its own right.
Replaced, destroyed or lost sculptures are the subject of Mohamed Abdulla’s work. His concern is the documentation and reconstruction of originally existing sculptures in public space. The installation presented here refers to his project „Latent Sculpture“, with which he was represented at the 2005 Sculpture Biennale in Münster. Using the working methods of a historian, he processed documents, newspaper articles and information of various kinds to research the lost sculptures. The aim of the research was to redesign eight sculptures, which were also exhibited in eight cities on the original foundations of the disappeared works and are replaced every year.
Anna Anders‘ work plays with the concepts of reality and illusion. The museum guards, who observe the public for surveillance purposes, themselves become the observed or the work of art. The museum guards appear as video sculptures. The concealment of the technical aspects by the black-painted base emphasises the physicality of the sculpture. Sentences like „Don’t touch anything, please“ or „You dropped something there“ suggest interaction. The result is uncertainty, irritation, seeing and being seen in public space.
Stolen glances in the literal sense of the word: Thomas Kutschker’s pictures are examples from a collection of 350 „passages“.
examples from a collection of 350 „passport pictures“. They are originally scraps from passport photographs that normally end up unnoticed in the wastepaper basket. The portraits that actually matter are cut out of these found objects in the standard passport photo size. Only the parts of the image outside this standard are now our image sources. With the help of these leftover remnants of clothing, hair and other details, however, it is possible to draw conclusions about the persons portrayed. A central theme of this series of pictures is the possible reconstruction of the invisible in the picture. The viewer is challenged to complete the picture through his or her subjective imagination.
A page of the newspaper „International Herald Tribune“ from 5/6 October 1996 was made to disappear by Volker Hildebrandt, except for the headline, by means of his typical dot overpainting. In this way, the artist takes possession of the original and imprints his own image on the mass medium, which is produced in large numbers. The specific content of the newspaper article becomes completely illegible, the medium of the newspaper becomes a mere material image carrier of artistic creation – „stolen art“. The artist of „Bildstörung“ has created a large-format work especially for this exhibition that takes the theft of an image as its theme. Based on a model by Eugéne Delacroix, the image in the image evaporates into the depths of (pictorial) infinity. The thematic robbery of art becomes the aesthetic „robbery“ of the image.
The photograph by Gibbs was taken in 1988 in the foyer of the World Trade Center. The artist placed the camera on a railing and photographed his reflection, which shows him together with his gallery owner and friend Erhard Klein. In the reflected image, a hint of the Twin Towers can be seen. With the destruction of the two skyscrapers, not only has a large trading place and living space disappeared, but also the reflection surface for the photographically fixed image.
© Ulli Seegers / 2006 / Art historian / Art Education & Art Management / 2021
METAPHYSICS OF THE VANISHING
A programmatic text
Hermann Ruhmer / the lost grandfather (*1904 in Leipzig) / will and longing (of finding again) / as a puzzling search image / as a journey into uncertainty / as a mystery of an inner-family legend / Hermann Ruhmer / the famous / chaotic choleric black market trader / the lost / never returned / the one who probably left for the West (the „golden“ one) / the fugitive ? / the loss on both sides / traumatic memories (of daughter and mother) / „The Glory!“ / World War I & World War II / over and experienced / just like the father: Benno Albert Bageritz (* 1908 in Berlin) / the much too early disappeared / the advertising expert / the artist of life / who left in the middle of the film / art is generally advertising and always only for oneself / which picture touches you the most ? / The bell pictures / „We are a sign and have almost lost our language in a foreign land“ (Hoelderlin/Mnemosyne) / Bang-gang poetry pathos / „The confusion of mass culture, which finds its expression in phenomena such as the abundance and fast-moving nature of the world of goods / the media’s flood of stimuli and images and finds its infrastructural nourishment in the urbanity of the modern metropolitan area“ / Question of historical identity / Search for home ? / pneumatics of the proper name / the place Bageritz (not far from Deutsch-Baselitz) – situated between Halle and Leipzig / anonymous oblivion / perpetrators and victims / give and take / how to abolish – what one sees / blind objects / overlapping overpaintings / the general shrinkage rate / stolen objects (the sincerity of the artist at the end of the 21st century) / Market-driven Utopian Consciousness / Risk Art as a Compensation Business / Bageritzised Vedute of a Media Landscape / Canaletto & Guardi / „The Odyssey of a Painting“ / „It is believed / that these works have disappeared into the vaults of wealthy art lovers / who commissioned the theft / in order to enjoy the motif alone for the rest of their lives …!“
© Ralph Bageritz a.k.a. The b-AGE-ritz / 2001
PROJECT: METAPHYSICS OF THE VANISHING
An exhibition cycle of two-phase photographic lenticular images
in collaboration with Art Loss Register / Germany / Poster/catalogue text
Art and art theft – a connection that seems like two sides of the same coin in times when the art market is booming and art crime is on the rise. In fact, the damage caused by increasingly brazen and often organised art thieves has meanwhile moved to the top of a sad „ranking“: art theft already ranks third in international crime after drug trafficking and arms smuggling. With over 50%, private collectors are the victims of art criminals, followed by museums, churches and other public institutions. It is rarely the artists themselves who would have to report a theft. And yet the phenomenon of art theft is a subject that artists in particular have been grappling with since the 20th century. Marcel Duchamp’s ironic depiction of the Mona Lisa with Moustache (1919) was inspired by the theft of the masterpiece from the Louvre that had taken place immediately before. Concealment, appearance and unveiling are among the aesthetic phenomena that have always captivated artists. But while the presence and absence of works of art, their concealment and ceremonial unveiling are among the traditional ways of dealing with works of art in the context of religious rites or social conventions, art theft is particularly explosive because of the breaking of taboos or norms. It is not only the material value of which the robber avails himself by committing a crime, but always also an irreplaceable ideal value that falls victim to greed through an act of profane arbitrariness.
Art and art theft – in the latest works by Ralph Bageritz (*1958), the two unequal sisters enter into an alliance that is probably unique in art history. In collaboration with the Art Loss Register Germany, the Cologne artist has created works that directly refer to stolen works of art. For his cycle „Metaphysics of Disappearance“, Bageritz uses images of actually stolen artworks and collectors‘ items that are listed in the Art Loss Register’s database. In the sense of an aesthetics of absence, Bageritz thus brings to concrete view in his own work what has been withdrawn from perception through theft, robbery or misappropriation. His works become representatives of what has disappeared, a substitute for what is absent, and through their iridescent „alternating image“ surfaces (lenticular/lambda print behind lenticular) they simultaneously take up the theme of withdrawal in two respects (material iconography and reception aesthetics). Through the artistic reference to stolen art that has disappeared to this day, the other becomes thematic in the artist’s own work both as singular and in its characteristics as principally recurring. In the literal overlapping of different levels of images and states, foreign and own authorships mix to form a dynamic ensemble. The invisible becomes visible, the disparate is brought to simultaneity. In this way, the inversion of relations brings about a coincidence of the different: While the existence of art was initially a condition for its theft, in Bageritz’s work the criminal act becomes a prerequisite for the artist’s own art production. Keyword-like notes about the place and time of the theft leave no doubt about the reality of the crime and at the same time about the virtuality of the images that appear. The levels of reality, authenticity, reproducibility, materiality and ideality of art become fluid and form a confusion between evocation and denied access.
In addition to the new works, the exhibition also shows earlier works by Ralph Bageritz. The current series of works, „Metaphysics of Disappearance“, is thus placed in the overall context of the artist’s oeuvre and reveals references to his work of the 1980s and 1990s. Bageritz, who already in the 1970s counteracted strategies of advertising aesthetics by painting over advertisements and product logos, appears not only through the use of a wide variety of materials and techniques (photographs, collages, assemblages, objects, actions) as an „art chameleon“ who perfectly adapts to his environment, shaped by the entertainment industry, consumerism and a flood of images, through mimicry perfectly, but also as a master of ceremonies of various forms of appearance and disappearance. The catchment area of his „evocation“ transactions includes not only his own biographical background, such as the search for his missing grandfather („Hermann Ruhmer – Wanted for Grandfather [mütterlicherseits]“, 1991) or the derivation of his name through research in the village of Bageritz („Der Ausflug nach Bageritz mit Abstecher nach Baselitz“, 1988/89), but also the socio-cultural search for traces in an urban context („Klingelbilder“ , 1993). The anonymity, isolation, de-individualisation and desolation conveyed by the photographs of the doorbell signs find a counterpart in „Wer nicht wirbt,der stirbt“ (Edinburgh, 1982), a reworked photograph that drastically brings to light the latent violence of advertising in the title-image relationship. Just as huge advertising spaces and brand terror make consumers easy prey, Bageritz unmasks this „campaign“ through what is in fact a bold as well as provocative reversal attempt: The artist uses a similar confrontation strategy when he steals a can of peas, a paperback book or even a pair of jeans in the context of an artistic action in large retail chains, withdraws the object from consumption in this way and then presents the „booty“ – marked with the place and year of the theft – like an icon („STOLEN OBJECTS“ , 1973-1991). Disappearance and appearance – here understood literally in relation to the fast-moving world of everyday life and advertising.
The new cycle of works forms a consistent further development of the central and multi-layered idea of the work: the phenomenon of disappearance. The exhibition shows works by Ralph Bageritz, who has approached the absent and its presence from various perspectives in a socio-critical or ironic manner, from a thematic point of view and attempts to work out the complex references of the topos of disappearance.
The Art Loss Register
The Art Loss Register is an international company for the investigation of art theft. With offices in London, New York, Cologne and St. Petersburg and a staff of around 30, it has the most extensive private database of stolen art in the world.
Founded in 1991, the register celebrated its 10th anniversary last year. Since1997 , there has been a dépendance in Germany, which has been based in Cologne since 1999. All four offices are available to the public for registrations as well as for enquiries about the database. Thanks to a close network with the international insurance industry, the auction business, the police, galleries, art dealers, museums and private collectors, the company has been able to contribute to the identification and recovery of stolen art worth more than $100 million. The database currently details nearly 120,000 stolen artworks and collectibles. For Ralph Bageritz’s exhibition project, thanks to the overwhelmingly positive response, it was possible to provide a large number of the damaged images from the database’s original holdings, from which Bageritz made his own selection for his new works according to artistic criteria. Art Loss Register Deutschland supports Ralph Bageritz’s project by providing anonymised object data from two points of view. On the one hand, the company recognises in Ralph Bageritz’s artistic intention an extremely interesting position of contemporary art. On the other hand, the use of reproductions of actually stolen works of art in fact increases their chances of being found again. Art Loss Register is financed by grants from the international insurance industry and from the auction business. The company’s philosophy is that a central point of reference for all questions of art crime does not require costly marketing. Instead, they want to convince through a high clearance rate (approx. 24%), which also includes „looted art“.
© Ulli Seegers / Art historian / 2001 / Art Education & Art Management / 2021
Thanks for support: ARTAX Kunsthandel, Düsseldorf; Badisches Landesmuseum, Karlsruhe; Dorotheum, Vienna; Fischerplatz-Galerie, Ulm; Heinrich Foss, Cologne; Prof. Dr. Hartfiel, Euskirchen; Galerie Otto, Vienna; Police Bremen, Jörg Rumpf, Cologne; Dr. Kurt Sänger, Idar-Oberstein; Galerie Werner, Cologne and Hiscox AG, Munich.
„CORPORATE IDENTITY – REVISITED“
On the occasion of BAGERITZ®’s exhibition at the Cologne City Museum in 1995, an extensive publication was published, almost 400 pages,
in colour throughout, a bit like a (admittedly elaborate) mail-order catalogue and, above all, reminiscent of the trade journal „Kunstforum“ in its format and power: a catalogue, in other words,
with which BAGERITZ® questions his own profession and medium, makes use of the strategies of the world of commodities, recodes them, just as he himself reawakens them in his works…
In the studio on Eupener Straße, the groups of works lean, hang next to each other, at a distance; it becomes clear that everything belongs together, is densely interwoven. BAGERITZ® uses „trashy“ appearances, he takes headlines and logos that are already taken for granted in our perception and integrates them like a collage. He also erases, covers up or isolates information: „Metaphysics of Disappearance“ is the title of the exhibition currently on show at the Gothaer Kunstforum. Currently, the „Lenticulars“ (2-phase alternating pictures) are based on stolen works of art that are recorded in the Art Loss Register: with a (mostly amateurish) identifying photo, above it factual, documentary keywords taken directly from the register. Depending on the viewer’s position, sometimes one, sometimes the other level is visible. The process of disappearance and possible reappearance is reconstructed pictorially and at the same time fragilely. „The levels of reality, authenticity, reproducibility, materiality and identity of art become fluid and form a confusion between evocation and denied access“ (Ulli Seegers / press text).
BAGERITZ®, who was born in Cologne in 1958, has always incorporated his biography into his work and plays word games with his name, seeing it as a label, as it were, became known to a larger audience in 1989: with the series of works „Der Ausflug nach Bageritz mit Abstecher nach Baselitz“ in a promotional booth at the ART Cologne. German-German history and his own living environment – e.g. Ehrenstraße in Cologne – are the subject and motif of his photos, photomontages, paintings and actions during these years,
and actions, some of which he carried out with fellow artists. In the second half of the 1980s, he founded the „Buero-fuer-Oeffentlichkeits-Arbeit“ and used his warehouse in the Brinkgasse as an exhibition space. The actionist, which between anonymous and named intervention in everyday life echoes the tradition of Happening and Fluxus, still characterises BAGERITZ®`work today. The STOLEN OBJECTS, self-deprecatingly described as „the sincerity of the artist at the end of the 20th century“, have been created since 1991. „The recipient is confronted with consumption in its most abstruse excesses in an ironic, biting neo-Dada manner“, writes Peter V. Brinkemper (Typ., 2001). The STOLEN OBJECTS have been taken from the supermarket – without any intention of consumption – and, arranged in various constellations, have been incorporated into the work of BAGERITZ®. This also includes street bollards, which Bageritz has removed from the cityscape, partly processed and finally exhibited as sculptural objects. And he photographs shops, shop windows, cars that have been broken into. The absence of things becomes a prerequisite for the work of art. Then again, he has compiled a CD with the „GRUNDGERÄUSCHE(N) DER EHRENSTRASSE“. Nothing is excluded that everyday urban events make available, as it is formulated there, often following the principles of consumption and marketing. „The only good news,“ notes BAGERITZ®, „will come from advertising in the future!“
© Thomas Hirsch / Art critic / „CHOICES – Kino/Kultur/Köln Magazin“ / May 2002 / Poster Campaign from 18 – 30 May 2011 in Shanghai/CN
„BAGERITZ: THE MARKET VALUE OF SIGNS“
PETER V. BRINKEMPER
From the perspective of everyday culture, the museum appears as an atypical place where the socio-economic production of signs under the paradigm of art has come to a value-creating climax and standstill. Collection, exhibition and archiving lend production that high cultural nobility beyond the aspirations set by the individual artist-subject that lends the work the patina of the timeless, which is to be preserved with great care and analysed with critical praise. The context of museumisation, however, is only one particularly labour-dividing channel of social attention-getting. Its other, technically highly equipped extreme is found in the digital revolution of the media between TV, computer and internet: Here, the surface output of information, entertainment and advertising is globalised: infinitely expanded, modified and accelerated and thus torn out of its historical and local contexts and dynamised from the outset.
From this double perspective, the real everyday world appears as a niche in which the large and small signatures of the epoch are only made to appear on occasion, where they are for sale or subject to consumption. The everyday world shapes itself according to the imperatives of daily social life, consumption, traffic, work and trade and change. It is a mesh of orders and structures that overlap and contradict each other. And it is in this context that the great visual worlds of the public sphere, politics, the media and art selectively enter: not so much as exaggerated events, but as diminished everyday objects with manifold purposes and misappropriations, as practical devotional objects, manipulable signs, degenerate statements, as highly perishable commodities and wearable material in the context of individual and collective biography.
Bageritz makes the connection between advertising, art and media the subject of his work. The focus is on the exchange value of signs in the context of the everyday world. Bageritz transforms art into a seemingly advertising-like model, whereby the means of advertising are in turn broken up and overtaken by the strategies of art in terms of form and content. In addition, there is the interweaving of everyday consciousness and the claim to art: the disturbance of the art space through sometimes uncensored violent everydayness and the deliberate restaging of everyday space as art space explain the ambiguity in Bageritz’s works, the hinge function of his paintings and object collages.
Signs of the advertising-related approach can be found in his work through the adoption and appropriation of icons, pictograms, logos and messages from the world of commodities, which are modified and alienated in their own context. In 1983, for example, Bageritz used the ®, the Registered Trade Mark, for the first time in combination with an emergency exit pictogram of a running figure that had been processed as graffiti. The result is a new logo: the figure flees from the ® in the opposite direction to the reading direction; conversely, the ® seems to drive the movement of the figure. Image and script are here reduced to individual elementary signs and at the same time provide the basis for Bageritz’s process of continual ® purification, interpretation and reinterpretation.
Since 1984, the ® has been used mirror-inverted in conjunction with the name as a signature. This was also the case in 1985 on the poster for the exhibition „SEX-SHOP 46, 1.Deutsche ®-Läuterung im Europa-Format“. An artistic act of self-irony. For by reversing the ®, the Cyrillic letter now created takes on the meaning „I“ and „Yes“. The large-format canvas work „The b-AGE-ritz. ®-purification for the invention of the (®-) inventor“, 1987, presents an inverted and mirrored ® as a circular system in which many different variants of the normal ® seem to roll like in a lottery drum.
Through the symbol of the ®, the artist’s name becomes a trademark, and the messages equipped with this sign become conceptually calculated advertising slogans. In this way, Bageritz stylises his name into a logo and presents himself and his art as a staged artist and staged work of art, using various media. He obsessively carries out an art-advertising programme under the title that is generally indicative of contemporary art: „Art is generally advertising, and always for itself.“ (1989) In this way, he creates an overall concept for his art that illuminates the structures of the art business. In an ironic, biting neo-Dada manner, the recipient is confronted with the most abstruse excesses of consumerism. The laws of today’s art system are demonstrated by all the rules. (see the series: „Stolen Objects – The Sincerity of the Artist at the End of the 20th Century“; „Pherbotene Votogravie“ and the series: „Bageritz Paparazzo – Stolen Photography“).
The project „Pherbotene Votogravie/Veduten einer Medienlandschaft“, 2000, deals with a scandalous theme in the same ambiguous way as previous works. „Human-animal-sex“ image motifs are stylised into an extraordinary, even outlandish advertising message through the use of company logos. Similar motifs had already led to an earlier series of works in 1982: „Bageritz-Bizarre/Philosophy-Advertisement“ and to other accents. The occasion for „Pherbotene Votogravie“ came from a fashion campaign published in VOGUE (US and D) in which EMANUEL-UNGARO products are depicted in the erotic flirtation of a fighting dog and a model. The staging of the accessories as the equivalent of a luxury dog collar, a sadomasochistic bondage of culture-busting drive structures, speaks for itself: the gentle dictates of fashion domesticate the animal side of people in the medium of exclusive consumption. This theme has led Bageritz to a new model of inspiration.
The earlier works in the „BAGERITZ-BIZARR“ series include, on the one hand, altered magazine advertisements: Product advertisements for „Du darfst“ (reduced-fat margarine), „Remy Martin“, „Deutsche Bank“, are distorted by sexually explicit photo elements, female genitals. The advertising message is torpedoed by absurd irritation of the viewing habits. In another example, images from a „human-animal porno“ are repurposed for advertising: A sophisticated woman in fashionable glasses and a gold watch manipulates a donkey’s genital unconcealed. „Augendübler. Glasses for Cologne“ is the sarcastic message. In the more recent work „Pherbotene Votogravie“, the gaze is diverted. The „man-animal“ motifs form the background for the assembly of several company logos, which occupy and cover the explicitly pornographic image passages. Whereas in 1982, even before the BENETTON effect, Bageritz attacked and reshaped the advertising world in its supposed respectability through the shock of pornographic elements, in 2000 the united company logos seem to be able to successfully occupy and economise all kinds of taboo borderline fields.
The human-animal motif is also culturally motivated for Bageritz: He ties in with an advertisement he himself revised, „Texte zur Kunst“, 1986, which associates a Greek vase image with Swissair’s route network: Europa, daughter of Phoenix and Perimede, is stolen by Zeus in the form of a bull while playing on the beach and abducted across the sea to Crete, where she bears him three sons. Mythology knows no difference between man and beast, it overcomes it through transformation, just as technology overcomes space and time and advertising effortlessly combines culture and business: „Today, her name (EUROPA) is also readily associated with some 50 Swissair destinations.“
Bageritz undertakes raids through marketed reality. This is to be understood metaphorically and literally. This line can be traced from the Stolen Objects to „Bageritz Papparazzo – Gestohlene Photographie“, (2001) He pays back the myth and cult of brands with their own means and constructs advertising from the broken advertising worlds in his pivot archives. He dismantles the media nexus of meaning and image, he dissolves the branding of logo and brand object in order to steer the signage in unexpected directions. In this way, Bageritz gains a distanced view of the commodity- and media-aesthetically oriented gaze. He shows how the environment is repeatedly emptied anew into a worldless brand article, into a consumable veduta, into a sell-out of the stately overview (Bageritz: „Vedutas of a Media Landscape & Canaletto & Guardi“). Logos stand for company philosophies, market shares, slices of reality and product ranges. We read reality in its saleability without seeing it. Bageritz makes the market-driven perception of everyday life and the environment visible and at the same time breaks open the illusionary closedness of meaning and image under the rule of market value. Written and pictorial symbols make new, unusual offers (in the conscious use of advertising-strategic equipment such as posters, flyers, T-shirts and stickers). The symbols enter into negotiation with the recipient. The image redesigns test the ability to distance oneself from one’s own, thoroughly standardised attitude to the world; they appeal to the willingness to distrust long-accepted expertises and cultivated assessments. Test the Test. „Stiftung Warentest“. Issue 12/2000. Appealing. 34 wines in test. 5 appealing. 25 average. 2 simple. 1 very simple. 1 faulty.“ This is one component of the collection of judgement labels, which has been growing since 1989 and which appears as projections of logos on the screen, under the title: „Ready-Made-Test-Painting“: 14 gas condensing boilers, 22 lawn mowers, 19 floor hoovers, claims settlement: 40 hull insurers, 14 anti-icing agents, 22 mattresses, 23 orange juices, 18 steam irons, 16 smoked salmon products for sensory quality, 15 shampoos for damaged hair, investment advice from 28 banks, 27 health insurers, 19 wireless telephones, 19 toasters, 7 of which have thermal jackets, 65 emulsion paints, 13 APS cameras, supplementary hospital insurance for children (no figure), school language trips to England (no number), 30 white lacquers, 23 jigsaws, 19 frozen pizzas, 23 bathroom cleaners, 18 espresso machines, 17 VHS video cassettes, 20 printers, 12 electric scarifiers, 22 fan heaters, 11 burglar-resistant house and flat doors, 16 winter tyres and 25 internet providers, 15 holiday parks, 16 travel agency chains and franchise organisations. The collection archives material market values of today’s perjury society.
The scandal of „Pherbotene Votogravie/Veduten einer Medienlandschaft“ is pre-programmed less in the pictorial motif but essentially in the layout and form of the work. The artist has reduced the literary-political multi-layeredness of his typeface-image compositions to three clearly separated levels: Provocative trivial-pornographic photo pages from Dutch human-animal-sex magazines indexed in the Federal Republic are pasted over in the crucially copulative places by regionally and globally known company logos with exclusive or egalitarian brand policies. Nothing more, but nothing less either. In addition, Bageritz hands out his typical language cocktails with media-political catchwords that hint at the alienation of media society and thereby operate with strategies of inversion when talking about „HUMAN LOVE FROM ANIMAL PERSPECTIVE“.
The temporary confiscation of the work by the police immediately after the opening due to an anonymous complaint did not deter the media from a positive review (KÖLNER EXPRESS, DIE ZEIT). Their author referred to the „moral offensiveness“ of the pornographic material. For the artist, profiling through pornographic content was out of the question. He was only concerned with the medium of photography with „PHERBOTENEM SUJET“. Only the artist’s own shortcomings in his way of seeing could prematurely impute his own anthropologically unreflected projections. For although the individual motifs are recognisable in the ground plan, in no case is there an explicit representation. The explicit passages lay in the subsoil of the logos. Only by damaging the works could the view be restored. The police, in their official curiosity, proceeded in this way.
The shock-conscious insinuation with deliberate concealment corresponds with the current tendency towards porn art as a natural part of fashion and lifestyle. In the process, the sexual is peculiarly neutralised. In the earlier revised advertisements of the series „Bageritz-Bizarre / Philosophy-Advertisement“ (1982) as well as in „Alte Provokation – Neue Herzlichkeit“ (Old Provocation – New Cordiality) (1985), sexual parts, phallus and vagina, are presented obtrusively as pictorial elements of marketing or idiosyncratic devotional objects in order to mark the salaciousness of advertising or belief („HEART-JESUS-CULT“).
The pseudo-pornographic practice of PORN ART in the lifestyle magazines from Great Britain, Holland and the USA, mostly indulges in glamorously stylised teasers, which as shock motifs are supposed to heat up the sterile world of fashion in a youth-conscious way. In the aforementioned UNGARO campaign, the advertising for the accessories keeps the upper hand over the raunchy subject matter. In David Lachapelle’s photo story „My Father bought me a Pony“ for „I-D“, lifestyle and luxury are illustrated with the metaphor of the potent daddy stallion, sex becomes an icon of social prestige.
In „Pherbotene Votogravie“ the company logos separate the view from sex. The result is a concealed, thoroughly coded representation. The image-managing violence of the brands conquers the last territories and taboos, their global ideology overgrows the concrete experience, one’s own animalistic libido, which, like all other life functions, is normalised into the latest consumer behaviour in order to make a business out of it.
The neutralising offensiveness of copulation is based on the technique of eliminating the opponent – a kind of digital techno-cannibalism. It is repeated and intensified at the level of corporate logos: faces, breasts, hands, genitals of humans and animals, that is, needs, wants, desires, passions, aberrations, perversions, are covered by carefully pasted corporate logos such as „Sony“, „GAP“, „Dr. Oetker“, „PRO 7“, „Reemtsma“, „DAS“, „Stadtsparkasse“, „Proeffekt“, „Ritter Sport“, „Future Step.de“, „Bertelsmann-Stiftung“, „OBI“, „Herta“, „H&M“, „Securitas“, „RWE-Energie“, „Telegate“, „Hipp“, „Online Today“, „Bahlsen“. The logos grow together into fields, they compete with each other and they devalue the supposed provocation in the background of the picture. The creation of a branded article is a process of abstraction, of ciphering, in this case of de-pornographisation. What remains is the often involuntary comedy of the source material, which Bageritz radicalises. He exposes through concealment, poetises the brutally trivial template of sodomistic representation.
The colourful typographies of the company logos make the subject disappear completely when looking at it for a longer time. The assembly of the many signets per picture is reminiscent of the massed perimeter advertising at football matches and dissolves the exclusive image effects and advertising impact of the respective individual brand. The battle for shares in the as yet unbranded desire is in full swing.
A similar effect is created by the abundance of exhibits on display. The picture wall with countless „pherbote“ motifs leads to indifference, to the „metaphysics of disappearance“ (Bageritz). The corporate structure of supply works everywhere, even in the market of desiccating perversions.
The orgy only takes place in the economy. The signs and emblems are in a state of wildest takeover, of capital copulation. For Bageritz, every viewer has his or her implicit valuations and course predictions in mind: staid cheapness in ProMarkt and Aldi, Allianz security thinking and Sony’s high-tech. In the assembly of logos, low-price and high-price policies meet, western and eastern appreciation policies culminate.
„Bageritzised vedutas of a media landscape“ are an apt determination for the change of course the artist is taking: In the digital age, the individual image is more than ever part of the economic-political production, it is supposed to be „veduta“, idealising-enlightening, seemingly complete view, dream image, ruling view of the Infosociety. Bageritz uses the profane advertisement of individual imperfection to escape the „aestheticisation of the non-existent“, the „longing of the postcard“ and the eternal „millionaire show“ of unsatisfied desires. This „risk art“ must remain unpredictable, it produces the perpetual tightrope walk of themes, forms and their reception. © by Peter V. Brinkemper / Philosopher / 2001
„THE LOGIC OF ART IS THE LOGIC OF ABDUCTION!“
The Artist RALPH BAGERITZ between STOLEN OBJECTS – the METAPHYSICS OF VANISHING & MOST WANTED ART
PETER V. BRINKEMPER
Art theft has a special nobility, unfortunately less in reality than in art itself and in literature and film. Undoubtedly, it is always a crime of a special kind. According to a typical model, one thinks less of joint robbery and loud assault, as in the case of the sad smashing and violent looting of the archaeological museum in Baghdad during the ongoing Iraq war. Real art theft requires „civilian“ high-tech standards of minimally invasive operation: inconspicuous penetration, gentle packing and wrapping, initially unnoticed pilfering, or casual embezzlement. The fact that, of all things, Munch’s „Scream“ in the Oslo Museum’s version of the painting was once more violent, then again fits in with the open mouth of the main figure, long since degenerated into a global plastic signet in the teen slasher film „Scream“ or inflatable doll in the museum shop. But a crop of gentleman-caper-movies with Thomas Crown figures and with their often joking disabling of alarm systems (the boomerang in Wyler’s „How to Steal a Million?“) and video cameras (the video loops in Soderbergh’s „Ocean 11“) ensures that the image of cultivated theft has taken root in the minds of the audience, and this image merges with an almost standard art transport to nowhere. The whole thing is imagined to be organised by professional and exceptional master thieves or by clumsier gangs, controlled by educated backers, corruptible gallery owners, eager collectors and sappy museum staff, night watchmen and sketchy alarm systems. By its very nature, art theft has something of the meticulousness of an archaeological, a scientific and artistic enterprise, and behind it always something of the risky recklessness of a gambler’s nature. A kind of grave robbery in the cultural pyramids of the present, a treasure hunt for the last originals of the present and the past in the midst of a post-industrial world whose objects, subjects, experiences are becoming increasingly interchangeable as the technologies of digital media, cloning and the nanosphere push the reproducibility of things ever further.
The motives for misappropriation can be manifold. For the commissioners and their intermediaries, they oscillate between clear or diffuse monetary interests, a perverted obsession with art, an exaggerated desire for personal fame and social prestige, the fun of taking risks, anti-bourgeois resentment and hard social envy, as well as elitist and aristocratic affects. One damages the public reputation of museums by playing off the elite circle of experts and wealthy collectors and sponsors against the general public of the educated and art-interested. Or one tries to push up names and prices at the next auction. Economic motives and criminal potential coincide in the case of the movers and shakers. They all have something to do with the theory of rich people and those who pretend to be rich.
ARISTOCRATIC ART IMMANENCE – THE MASTER THIEVES
In the figure of the master thief, all these roles are condensed into a strangely mythical and idealistic figure: it is about the myth of pure art immanence. According to this, true art does not actually want to go to the market, where it is only alienated and alienated by supply and demand, and this art sees itself in distress and therefore steals, kidnaps and at the same time preserves itself by returning home to the sphere of pure genius. One need not immediately think of E.T.A. Hoffmann’s „Cardillac“ or Charles Bonnet from Wyler’s film „How to Steal a Million? „, two art figures from the old, absolutist and the modern post-war Paris, who either murderously steal back their art, in Cardillac’s case the sold jewellery, in Bonnet’s case a Benvenuto Cellini statue faked by his grandfather and exhibited in the museum, or merely have it stolen peacefully, to take back the divestment of their works of genius, to reclaim art from the hands of owners alienated from art, chasing only the beauty of their mistresses or their own prestige, – to indulge in delusions of grandeur, as the jewel god and as the forger genius who always produced better works than the copied original artists.
In the eyes of these high-level gentleman thieves, everything remains in the hands of an aristocratic art lobby. Accordingly, there is actually no theft, no robbery, but a relatively gentle theft of an object, the abduction of a famous, well-known personality from the wrong context, which above all cannot be transferred back into a renewed acquisition through corresponding payments. The real presence of art thus lies in the radiant sphere of the artist and producer; any distance from this source is a station on the way to the alienation and obscuration of the work.
SOCIAL PETTY LARCENY – THE ROBIN HOODS
The theft of Spitzweg’s „poor poet“ from the New National Gallery in Berlin in 1976 also represents a kidnapping action that is artistically motivated and conceived, albeit precisely not with elitist but social, socio-critical accents. Marina Abramovic and Ulay gave their action the title „There is a criminal touch in art“. They announced the „Spitzweg“ theft and, by carrying it out, proved the ease with which well-known art can be stolen in leading institutions. They stood by their action, which they signed with their names as art dealers, and transferred the loot quite socio-critically-populistically into a non-exclusive private sphere. They temporarily gave the exhibition object the function of a sofa picture in the living room of a Turkish family who certainly could not have afforded to own such a picture legally, even on loan. All processes were recorded photographically. The disappearance in public space corresponded to the appearance in the private sphere. The undertaking led to a lifelong ban on the artist’s presence in all museums of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation. But it also led to the artistic documentation first of a theft and then of the artists‘ subsequent social-critical re-functioning of public art in Robin Hood and Günter Wallraff style. Together with Abramovic and Ulay, Mike Steiner produced a photographic documentation of the theft, which was thus both artistically staged and real. In this respect, the action was less an act of disappearance than an act of making visible cultural border crossings, an extended art and image production that was publicly exhibited several times, as most recently in 1999 at the Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin, and in 2006 in the exhibition „The Stolen Gaze“, Exponatec Cologne / Cologne Fine Art, in which Ralph Bageritz was also involved.
The theft and misappropriation of art are closely linked to the art-scientifically, criminologically and monetarily authenticated original. For this reason, theft and disappearance are events that, with sufficiently differentiated reporting in the media, can be sure to attract the attention of an internal or broad public. Theft is the criminally or artistically staged side of the attention and value creation system of art. The discovered and reported theft is, as it were, the last public appearance of art, in the still current word and in the image that has become historical, before its actual disappearance. The real tragedy of the action is that the stolen exhibition object, intended for private or public use, is necessarily lost to the sphere of the public and the corresponding use, research and broader reception. It is misappropriated, if not mishandled, damaged or directly destroyed by unknowing hands or malicious actors. The theft of art from private or public art space is thus undoubtedly an act of material and non-material damage.
From the perspective of the democratic public and the art market, the issue is the continuum of mediation between artist, gallerist and museum, between exhibition and purchase, between private collection and museum presence. In this way, art should be made maximally accessible to the public as an exclusive possession of private individuals and collectors and, in the long term, in the form of foundations as culture for all, as a democratically transparent instance of value creation.
FAREWELL TO ROMANCE – THE ART LOSS REGISTER
The information provided by the Art Loss Register/Deutschland GmbH, the world’s largest private database for the recovery of stolen or lost works of art, with its headquarters in Cologne, among other places, gives us reason to refrain from romantic and socially romantic notions of art kidnapping: in 2006, the report reads that art theft is also flourishing in a market that continues to be lively. It is „already in third place in international crime after drug trafficking and arms smuggling. More than 50% of the victims of art crime are private collectors, followed by museums, churches and other public institutions. Rarely is it the artists themselves who would have to report a theft.“ This finding speaks to the fact that the idealistic perspective of art is far behind the monetary dimension; one only steals art when it has been given a certificate of authenticity by the market, a pedigree and a monetary career through purchase, insurance, etc.
BAGERITZ: „METAPHYSICS OF MISTAKE“ and „MOST WANTED PLACE“.
Consequently, Ralph Bageritz dedicates the series „MOST WANTED ART“ to the stolen works of important artists. The title is already ambiguous in itself, because it alludes both to the status of the works as missing and wanted and to the cultural and economic value of the disappeared art production. If you like, the title „MOST WANTED“ formulates the toprank, the superlative of lack, absence and search in the presence of a picture-text montage that is broken in itself.
Bageritz works with two-phase lenticular images, raster or alternating images, backed with lambda photoprints, laminated on aluminium dibond. Depending on the viewer’s position, either the written information or the pictorial representation of the missing work becomes visible on a scale of 1:1. There is an unstable moment in the „changing image“ effect. Unstable in that the usual spatio-temporal stability of at least the material appearance of paintings, the three-dimensional continuity of artefacts and sculptures, as tradition and modernity know it in their works and in the usual museum presentation, is called into question. The presentation of the works oscillates between complete image withdrawal, flaring up and temporary striking imagery, phantom-like presence. And this as a purely photographic document in the quality of its time, which cannot consistently contain all the details, character traits and subtle subtleties of the present original in the standard achievable today.
The interactive moment of the changing images consists in the fact that the recipient enters into a controlled relationship with the staging of the binary representation through his or her active behaviour, through corresponding position in space, through turning the head and through the movement of the body. Optionally and alternatively to each other, the concrete appearance of the work and the abstract written image of the art-historical and criminological basic data are faded in or out. The viewer and the image change interact ambiguously. The respective image phase controls the movement of the viewer just as much as the viewer influences the change of the displayed motifs.
From the interaction of changing image and gaze, a complementary entanglement of aspects emerges: the spectacle of a luminescent on and off, the continual back and forth of presentation and withdrawal of the stimulus of „famous“ art, in interplay with the prosaic data on the work, the author, the institution and the offence of disdainful theft.
Bageritz’s „MOST WANTED ART“ functions as a double-phased phantom, wanted and commemorative poster at the closed gates of a world of great art and dark desires, and at the same time takes ironic leave of it. Ostensibly, Bageritz’s work may have been born out of the semi-documentary occasion of promoting general awareness of the public and private damage caused by art theft. But Bageritz’s intellectual work goes beyond this.
Ralph Bageritz is concerned with the exchange value of signs in the context of the image-flooded everyday world. His art deals with both the desire for beauty and the critical margins of the aesthetic, but avoids escaping into a formatted pre-conceived meaning. By means of his own aesthetic critique – or critical aesthetics? – he takes up the sunk visual material that has penetrated everyday life, in its authentic distortion of meaning, its hackneyed speechlessness, in order to translate it into the language of art, as close to life as possible and yet carefully arranged. A language in which the foreground and the background, the inconspicuous, interpenetrate. A language through which the course value of the signs in the everyday context is ultimately determined by it playfully but nevertheless precisely – and this consciously without conforming to a general expectation of art.
© by Peter V. Brinkemper / Philosopher / 2007
EXHIBITION DOGS! – OF ALL MAIN AND SIDE WORLDS! – UNITE!
For Thomas F. Fischer – From Time to Time / Cologne / 2015
Holy City of Cologne – on the Ubierring – bizarre-specifically the `67 exposed aggregate concrete façade by sculptor Ludwig Gies, with cubist-hat (play)-shaped relief rows, slightly libidinously denigrated as „bosom temple“ – in Rhenish vernacular…
1982: …my first walk through the corridors of the „(Hoch-) Schule für Bildende Kunst“ – (called „Kölner Werkschulen“ – „in the plural“ – after the model of the „Bauhaus“, in 1926).
The path between Karl Marx, Daniel Spoerri & Stefan Wewerka…, partially graffitied markings on the walls of various rooms – over white porcelain – possibly traces of so-called „Young New Savages“, but also those of the artist duo at the time: „Fischer & Raap / Art & Culture around the clock!“
As well as striking references to the seminar „Art Mediation“ (How do I become famous quickly?) by and with Wulf Herzogenrath, the director of the Kölnischer Kunstverein, but above all:
Daniel Spoerri’s self-ironically announced „art history from the sewing box“, in direct utilisation of a critical quote by art historian Marlis Grüterich (from the same house).
And Spoerri, who wrote to me: „…I hope the little is still enough!“, after an intensive discussion including his sending of material on the subject of „Art lies in omission!“. Or rather in the deliberate radical „taking away?!“ or „letting it reappear?!“, entirely in the sense of my own „annexations“ taking place to this day, titled „My right is your right to your own image!“, which just at this moment take up an advertising clip slogan running on PRO 7 – coincidentally – announcing a Harrison Ford film, loosely based on the (alleged) Picasso quote: „Good artists copy, great artists steal.“!
I meet Thomas F. Fischer on and off over the years – at art fairs, exhibitions, his performances. At this point in time at the Cologne City Museum, where artists‘ pub landlord Horst Leichenich, boss and godfather of the famous ROXY Club, where I could always reliably monetise my excess sponsored opening-day beer kegs (Sion!), invites you to the „Endstation“ party.
The former cinema neon sign, the „ROXY“ lettering curved in deep blue, has migrated to the museum as a relic, lets one remember the former hangout of the art & music scene of the 80s/90s and such deputies as Sigmar Polke, Jürgen Klauke, Ulrich Rückriem or Manni Löhe, Arno Steffen and Zeltinger, Willy DeVille, the Moody Blues and many more…
The remaining hard core is present, today on this evening in 2011 – so is Thomas F. Fischer. And at the moment of our greeting, despite all the hustle and bustle around us, it pops into my head, this one, repeatedly recited sentence in his performance, loosely based on August Mühling: „It takes little to be glad, and he who is glad is a king!“
Back in 1983, at the height of the „Cold War & Petting instead of Pershing“, it was also a party, John Cage’s own birthday party and a festival at the same time, in the „art capital“ Cologne, at that time definitely to be mentioned in the same breath as New York.
It was organised by Ingo Kümmel, the legendary exhibition organiser and busy sleuth for contemporary art, keen eye and networker, artist friend, generous patron and supporter, who unceremoniously handed over his entire huge address card index in order to bring art to the (collector) people in the true Fluxus sense, who wrote cash-free opening speeches and preferred to give them himself, calling it his „. . his very own domain“ to exhibit in „…unusual places and to mix art forms in spectacular actions.“ (Text fragments / Opening speech: Import-Export / Neue Bilder – Alte Geschaefte / Aachener Straße 33 / Cologne 1986)
Ingo Kümmel invites Thomas F. Fischer to perform that evening, gives him the space for a performance that is to take place right in the middle of the assembled international artists‘ scenario, in Kümmel’s graffiti art temple „Stollwerck“, a former chocolate factory, a place of celebration for young art in Cologne’s Südstadt. Inside the spacious production hall, at a height of several metres, wrapped in a linen-like fabric, the artist appears on the gallery, at first only exposing his head with black glazed glasses, then opening the cloak and standing at a cage-like railing – the former entrance to the adjacent hall, from where the confectionery production at that time could be monitored:
And chants this seemingly banal song, familiar from childhood days, sung in canon. A folk ballad for the art audience as a cultic service, performed similar to a liturgy, in the glaringly harsh light of the spotlight directed at him.
Fischer’s onset of gospel-like sprechgesang, his raspy, unwieldy singsong sound, from which it is not difficult to hear the Rhinelander, penetrates the sounds of the assembled artist party crowd without wanting to drown them out. Sometimes clear, rough and coolly ironic, delivered without the slightest pathos, then like a slowly flickering light that rises to an emotional flame, with brute force. A series of magical snapshots. In the course of the evening, voice and body become a vertical unity, in a haunting presence. Minimalist thoroughbred art – reduced to the essential, in the overall picture of timeless beauty.
And so it still rings in my ears, thirty-two years later, this one line: „It takes little to be glad, and he who is glad is a king!“
Social media post in memory of the draughtsman & performance artist Thomas F. Fischer (* 4 February 1954 in Cologne / † November 2019) / incl. photo portrait: snapshot during a visit – a detail – rotated 90 degrees to the left / © Bageritz Berlin / 2015
„BAGERITZ: LOST IN CHINA – SHOW ME THE WAY TO AI WEIWEI!“
PETER V. BRINKEMPER
After Part II of Bageritz’s planned action IN THE BEGINNING THERE WAS THEFT in Tokyo was cancelled (due to the nuclear catastrophe in Fukushima), his path now leads him to China and Shanghai. In direct reference to previous exhibitions and work cycles on the theme of METAPHYSICS OF MISTAKE / STOLEN OBJECTS / THE SUSPENSION OF THE ARTIST AT THE END OF THE XX CENTURY, Bageritz sets out by means of a poster action to search for the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, who has disappeared since his arrest on 3 April (THE ABSENCE OF SUBJECT). Bageritz, who has always been a poster artist as well, reworks Ai Weiwei portraits downloaded from the internet on site with his typical text slogans and slogans such as SHOW ME THE WAY TO AI WEIWEI or IF DEMOCRACY IS FUN… (in the Beuysian sense), designs the search messages in colour as „eye-catchers“, signs them with e-mail and facebook address, documents them photographically. Similar to what Hans-Werner Bott already described in 1995 in the catalogue DAS MITTEILUNGSBEDUERFNIS DES HERRN RALPH BENNO ALBERT BAGERITZ (11 Jahre Ehrenstrasse & Umgebung), this message campaign is also conceptually related to his early „street art“ actions, where he acted in and on the streets (STADT-RAUM-BILD / DEUTSCHLANDS LIEBLING IST MUEDE): „I have been reading Bageritz in the street scene since ’88, where he reminds me of the approximate recollection of reality through the flushing out of meaning and repeated use of the language of advertising and mediation as an art text. The artist’s activity on the ground of capitalist predatory economy is his field of investigation…“ (see also the following text by Marianne Saul, exhibition AM ANFANG WAR DIEBSTAHL/ Part I, Gummersbacher Kunstverein, 2011). With his art action, Bageritz follows the principle of inversion, a conceptual questioning with means of visual and textual confrontation, the (involuntary) joke in relation to the real (e.g. the advertising theses of the billboards found in the city centre). This situation reveals the absurd and the ludicrous, in an arguably hopeless search for the missing artist, the STOLEN SUBJECT in the myth-saturated streets of Shanghai, in strictly totalitarian territory, with an uncertain outcome. But nevertheless it is a path – far from obedience rushing ahead – and Bageritz knows that his action can only be a small gesture – of recognition, sympathy and solidarity for an artist he holds in the highest esteem.
© Peter V. Brinkemper / Philosopher / 2011
SHOW ME THE WAY TO AI WEIWEI – THE VANISHED SUBJECT!
Unauthorized Poster Campaign in Public Space Shanghai City / Museum of Contemporary Art Shanghai and PPAC – Chinese Propaganda Poster- Art Centre Shanghai
„Ralph Bageritz, an artist from Berlin, became acquainted with the Chinese police in Shanghai when he carried out his “Show Me The Way To Ai Weiwei” campaign there. On the last day of his action, which lasted several days in public space, he was caught gluing posters and arrested, after which he had to endure “six hours of interrogation in jail”. Bageritz on the “Kunstforum”: “Fortunately I wasn’t searched – there were about 20 posters in my shoulder bag. If they had been found, I would probably have been completely examined and not yet back in Germany today – so they couldn’t find the chip that I had hidden in my mouth.
It was exactly like a thriller. I was able to save all the photos and thus the campaign.“ / © Jürgen Raap / Art critic / Magazine „KUNSTFORUM international“ Bd. 210 / Personals / 2011 / CN
IN THE BEGINNING WAS THEFT – / … WAS (HILDE STAB) – THEORY AND PRACTICE
(Image and exhibition title subsequently revised / 2018)
Oberbergischer Kunstverein Gummersbach / Opening speech / 27 March 2011
When Bageritz claims that everything began with theft, I involuntarily ask myself what came afterwards when we were thrown out of paradise? We commonly say, „All beginnings are difficult“, but have you ever thought about what would have happened if we had not had to leave paradise? Well, I imagine it would have been quite boring. Nothing would have come about. We wouldn’t have had to discuss any problems. There would have been no conflicts, no quarrels! But no solutions either! Our existence would be unimaginably dull. Of course there would be no artists, who also offer us solutions to problems with their works! And consequently not this Bageritz. We would not be standing here! And we would not have the opportunity to be inspired by his works. With this happy message, I would like to welcome you to our retrospective of his portrait works!
In fact, however, the theft as such is of great importance to Bageritz. Since the mid-eighties, his work has revolved around this theme, which he sometimes addresses in a literal sense, then again metaphorically. The series of „STOLEN OBJECTS“ clearly shows this.
For example, Bageritz steals 23 parking bollards from the city of Cologne and declares them, cast in a concrete base, to be Stolen Objects within his series, apostrophised as the „GENERAL STOLEN OBJECTS“, or steals goods from KARSTADT. He integrates these into his pictures. He denounces himself. The city of Cologne takes him to court, Karstadt makes an exhibition with Bageritz.
Later he expands his radius and comes to us with the demand „STEAL MY IDEA“, „COPY MY RIGHT“, „MY RIGHT IS YOUR RIGHT TO YOUR OWN PICTURE“ in the Dadaist tradition, to lead the previous DIEBSTAHL-AKTIONEN quasi democratically, here everyone is asked, everyone can contribute, ad absurdum. Why these actions? I think he wants to cast out the devil with the Beelzebub? And perhaps at this point we should reflect for a moment on the meaning of theft.
To be able to carry out a THEFT, you need PROPERTY. Because OWNERSHIP is the prerequisite for THEFT. PROPERTY is something that belongs to ME and not to the other person. PROPERTY therefore has two characteristics: 1. it separates me from my neighbour who may own nothing. 2. it produces UNEQUALITY.
But what causes UNEQUALITY? In the best case, striving for JUSTICE, aiming at EQUALISATION. In the worst case, ENVY and THIEF is not far away.
A society that recognises the right to OWNERSHIP consequently accepts UNEQUALITY and as a consequence has to live with THIEF.
A radical thought? I ask you! Imagine that this PROPERTY does not exist and that EVERYONE of us owns EVERYTHING because we all benefit from each other anyway. Think where we would be if we had had no Einstein, no bricklayers, no carpenters who built us tables and chairs, no engineers who implemented our ideas? Where would we be without all these inventions, without this infinite creativity, which in turn builds on previous knowledge. We were constantly developing what someone had already discovered. All in all, without the help of others we are not viable!
But why then OWNERSHIP? Why do we live in a society that upholds this principle of order and thus takes THEFT into account?
These considerations could precede Bageritz’s actions. (A question Ralph Bageritz pursues again and again in his work. ) We here present, in the contemplation of his works and possibly with the willingness to engage in this train of thought, cannot help but conclude that the concept of theft is a system-immanent one and Bageritz, who was once described by an art critic as „a 100% child of capitalist society“, goes straight into the lion’s den when he takes on the THEFT in its entire scope in his art actions.
Not without sarcasm he titles his self-disclosures „DIE AUFRICHTIGKEIT DES KUENSTLERS AM ENDE DES 20. JAHRHUNDERTS“ (The Sincerity of the Artist at the End of the 20th Century) and, for me, questions the whole system when he takes up his great theme „AM ANFANG WAR DIEBSTAHL“ (In the Beginning Was Theft) again with wit and irony in the series „METAPHYSIK DES VERSCHWINDENS“ (Metaphysics of the Fall), created in 2001.
What is it about the „METAPHYSICS OF THE VANISHING“? Again, it is about stolen goods. He is preoccupied with art theft. But this time Bageritz takes the other side. He offers his help to the ART LOSS REGISTER, an organisation that researches stolen art objects worldwide. From the copies of the stolen works deposited with the ART LOSS REGISTER, he has a 2-phase lenticular image produced in each case and presents his series to the recipient with the indication that the stolen works of art have reappeared. It only depends on the location. So to say, freely after the well-known song, „SAG MIR WO DU STEHST“ (Tell me where you are), and to remain in Bageritz’s linguistic idiom, the „METAPHYSIK DES VERSCHWINDENS“ would be his FIRST PICTURE SERIES FOR PRACTICAL COOPERATION, because experiencing the „METAPHYSIK DES VERSCHWINDENS“ presupposes the willingness to change.
You dear members and friends, you can try it out right now. Stand in front of the works and move, change your position and you will experience the 1st stage of the „METAPHYSICS OF THE VANISHING“. The stolen goods appear and probably disappear again in a moment. DADA sends its regards! The 2nd stage of the „METAPHYSICS OF THE VANISHING“ does not require an external readiness to change, but a mental readiness to change. We are urged to part with what we have lost and to recognise what is new. With the „METAPHYSICS OF THE VANISHING“ Bageritz demands a NEW START from us. A NEW START that means opening up to what is there now and, for example, putting aside a Warhol, who is represented here with his portraits of Lenin and Mohammed Ali, in the truest sense of the word. We know enough of all this, Bageritz seems to be telling us. And yet, it is precisely through his quotations that appear and disappear that this special dialectic between the old and the new, between the known and the unknown emerges. The one conditions the other, the second would not have come into being without the first.
We all profit from each other… is that what Bageritz is trying to tell us? The „METAPHYSICS OF THE VANISHING“ puts both together. It shows the positive side of the dependence of one on the other and playfully creates new aesthetic symbioses by means of the lenticular effect.
You remember. „Where would we be without all these inventions, without this infinite creativity, which in turn builds on previous knowledge? Summa summarum, without the help of the other we are not viable!“
I could say a few more things about this, for example that I see Bageritz as a modern DADAIST, because this and many of his works are in this tradition. We have printed out the manifesto, perhaps you have already read it, if not, just very briefly: The DADAISTS were founded in 1916 as a literary-artistic movement. In their MANIFEST 1918, they proclaimed that it was necessary to „…use all means of satire, bluff, irony, but in the end also violence, to take action against this culture“, against the „…madness of the times“, by which they meant the ruling politics, militarism and established art. The best and most outrageous artists will be those who hourly pull together the tatters of their bodies from the turmoil of life’s cataracts, dogged in the intellect of the time, bleeding hands and hearts.“ That’s gaudy, isn’t it? They weren’t so cool back then. I’m not sure the Ralph Bageritz sees himself that way either. But perhaps it’s enough at this point that I see him that way. Today, such a manifesto would certainly be written differently in terms of language. But what the DADAISTS demanded in terms of content is of timeless beauty.
I spoke at the beginning about a retrospective of his portrait work, and indeed Bageritz brought us his first drawing from 1963. He was only 5 years old when he portrayed this clown. He seems a little melancholy, as clowns often are. Clowns are comical moralisers. The black skin colour…. an outsider? As artists often are. A self-portrait? Could be!? The clownish, the mischievous, the enigmatic, the ironic always comes to the fore in Bageritz’s works and so it is no coincidence that he gives his drawing the title, „I was already MULTICULTI at the age of five“. Sometimes, however, one’s laughter gets stuck in one’s throat. His series „GREATEST ARTIST OF THE 20TH CENTURY / HOW UNSALEABLE CAN ART BE?“ I mean – the title alone is so funny again – and yet, with the HITLER PORTRAITS, Bageritz (already) ventured into a delicate subject in 1986. Are we allowed to make fun of Hitler? Cheeky as Bageritz is, he simply does it. Basta! he wants to say. Now just think about it! How unsellable can art be?“
Exactly, this is not about selling. The pictures have been in my possession since 1986 and I will always show them! Yes, I want to provoke you so that you don’t forget this dark chapter of our history! This is how Bageritz could have said it.
At the age of 10, he adored JIMI HENDRIX, and would have liked to decorate his room with a poster of his likeness. When he saw a small photo of the guitarist in the newspaper, he grabbed brush, paint and paper and created his own image of his hero.
As a result, Bageritz describes this work as Stunde Null. As the real beginning of his awareness of art. Consequently, after studying art history and philosophy for two years, he began to study art with Daniel Spoerri at the Cologne University of Applied Sciences for Art and Design in 1982 and at the same time at the Düsseldorf Art Academy. In 1985 he initiates his first exhibition. He presents his works in a sex shop in Cologne’s Ehrenstraße or in Hamburg at the „Große Freiheit“. He is anti-authoritarian, not established, I see him at this time as a street worker who wants to bring art to the street, to everyday life, where life happens,
where life begins.
He was quick to recognise the times of globalisation when, in 1986, he exhibited his work in an import and export shop under the title „NEUE BILDER – ALTE GESCHAEFTE“. The legendary Cologne gallery owner Ingo Kümmel, spoke at the opening of (and I quote) „…new results of order that merge with that movement of emancipation that transports art out of its elitist reservoir, tears art out of its culinary standardisation and expands it into a socio-critical, time-related problem awareness.“ In the summer of ’88, Bageritz travels to the GDR and processes his travel impressions in paintings which are shown with moderate success at the Cologne gallery ERNESTO + KRIPS in the summer of 1989. Bageritz is given a promotional berth at ART COLOGNE and his gallerist exhibits Bageritz’s Germany series „DER AUSFLUG NACH BAGERITZ MIT ABSTECHER NACH BASELITZ“ there. On 9 November ’89 the WALL falls, and two days later the ART fair opens in Cologne. Bageritz’s pictures are sold out the very next day. Various prizes and lots of exhibitions follow until today.
Perhaps I should briefly mention Bageritz’s silicone paintings. Bageritz has been working with this rather unusual painting material for several years. Initially used only marginally, silicone is now mutating, in different colours, to cover entire canvases. Bageritz has achieved real mastery when he portrays in pointillist style our venerated Chancellor as she seems to beg heaven for mercy because of her undefined politics. Silicone, the plastic, stands for our plastic world, for an art world that artificialises us humans, alienates us from natural conditions. With the plastic silicone, Bageritz puts his stamp on our time. Make a point! Perhaps he wants to say…! In his latest series, Bageritz again takes the theme „IN THE BEGINNING WAS THEFT“ to extremes in the DADAIST tradition. He uses exactly copied forgeries by the Chinese shooting star painter YUE MINJUN, who has achieved world fame with his shrilly laughing Chinese. Bageritz acquires the original motifs, painted in oil on canvas by assembly line copyists, in a Chinese deco shop, as artist, curator and collector in one person, so to speak. In a process of assembling his own texts and additionally painted motifs, a collage-like montage of images is created, which in turn questions the social rules and principles of MEIN UND DEIN, of GIVING AND TAKING, and at the same time leads them ad absurdum…
„IN THE BEGINNING WAS THEFT“ art can’t be more topical, it said in our press releases. Fatally, the catastrophic world events proved us right in one (also in this) !!!! respect. The exhibition shown here in Gummersbach was to be followed immediately by another action in Tokyo. This will not happen now, but Bageritz’s path will lead him further – probably to China… SHOW ME THE WAY TO AI WEIWEI.
© Marianne Saul / Author / 2011
„LURING ON THE TRAIL OR AN AESTHETIC MEMORY LANE“
„THE DOORBELL PICTURES BY RALPH BAGERITZ“
„We are a sign, meaningless
Painless we are and have almost
lost the language in the foreign land.“
(HÖLDERLIN / Mnemosyne)
The confusion of mass culture, which finds its expression in phenomena such as the abundance and fast-moving nature of the world of goods, the media’s flood of stimuli and images – and finds its infrastructural breeding ground in the urbanity of the modern metropolitan structure – pose a special challenge for modern man to tackle the question of his historical identity – insofar as it confronts him. The selective view and the individual attribution of things and experiences for one’s own living space offer opportunities to personalise the concept of time. An aesthetic realisation also provides the opportunity for a more expansive commitment.
In the examples of photographic black and white works created in 1993, the Cologne-based artist Ralph Bageritz isolates a pattern of repetition, an ornament of urban life from its ordinary sphere of appearance and, by means of aesthetic interpretation, auratises its seemingly hopelessly anonymous fate. In the serial arrangement of doorbells and the nameplates assigned to them, familiar from high-rise buildings and tenements, he discovers the abstraction of a modern attitude to life, the formalised reduction of a complexity of existential questions about residency, identity, fate and social environment, which he seeks to interpret through his artistic approach.
The critique of civilisation at the end of the 20th century has long since created a critical psychogram of the ideas of the enlightened bourgeoisie and the utopias of the workers‘ movements with their idea of social housing within the framework of an urban home. The tenement blocks, the multitude of modern high-rise buildings and the apartment blocks with single flats testify more to loneliness than to the possibility of communication and social justice. The personal disappears behind a multitude of nameplate arrangements and the bells that go with them, which are supposed to become a medium of contact but are often merely exposed to rust and the weather. The existence and residency of the individual in urban culture, which is primarily determined by fluctuation, often seems irrelevant.
Enlarged as a fragment and raised to the status of a pictorial object, the rows of mostly round bell buttons with their parallel rectangular nameplates appear in Bageritz’s photographic works, however, as beautifully shaped peculiarities and are thus relieved of their currently possible social burden without at the same time making it conceivable. In addition to the graphic precision, the black and white aesthetics of the group of works contribute to this, giving the individual images more of a historicising aura than anachronistic bleakness. In front of a documentary concern, photography proves to be an accomplice in securing an aesthetic trace, which in the doorbell buttons and the nameplates knows how to secure not the real object but an atmospheric sign of modern city life. The brown-toned bars – they vary in colour depending on the series – that Bageritz has superimposed on the names do not at the same time expose the people hiding behind them to the public or exacerbate the problem of anonymity, but provide protection and, like mathematics, which need not be a mere sign, secure the secret of a „great unknown“ with whom usually only children dare to make contact in their personal detective story, only to quickly steal away. The otherwise also possible allegorical reading of the „blocked“ name as a reference to a psychological constitution of the individual to be designated is, moreover, a very modern and, of course, also realistic reading, but should not become too threatening to the formal structure of the bell images.
Modern urban life, with its vision of a new world, has also socialised the human type of the flâneur. The flâneur strolls through the streets of a seemingly democratised living space in which the tenements, storey buildings and domesticities of the free market economy promise him the equality of the plot. The flâneur uses his personal right, which allows him to let his perception of things become a historical moment, traces of his history, or even to auratise them in the space of art. For, modern urban life has above all made the artist a flâneur who seeks to formalise his view of things. Since the artistic avant-garde of the Dadaists and Surrealists in the 1920s and 1930s, this approach has been a tradition and provokes reflections that go beyond themselves and are capable of nobilising found objects and aspects of everyday life in a historically significant way.
Ralph Bageritz’s bell pictures lure us onto this trail of the action space of urban forensics and approach the complex field of social questions by means of formal abstraction, which is discovered in the object itself.
© Barbara Hofmann-Johnson / Art historian / 1994 / Director Museum of Photography Braunschweig / 2021
„BAGERITZ AND BAGERITZ – ARTIST`z MEET CUSTOMERS“
When Bageritz celebrates an anniversary, an eleven-year anniversary, the Chamber of Commerce should honour this … nice lead, broadside in the glossy Markt & Wirtschaft. To me, the art figure Bageritz seems to be his very own (that will have to be checked) PR enterprise and that of the retail and wholesale trade around Ehrenstraße, including the adjacent bookshops and galleries, to which he sometimes lends that dimension of experience that those who are in their mills wish for: Humour and adventure. The hustle and bustle of these businesses and those who run them, and especially the artists‘ efforts as entrepreneurs to find their way into the world of commodities, inspire him to create this double level of operation that reveals their subject matter to be ambiguous and their objects to be deceitful. A feeling that the „Stolen Objects“, for instance, the framed loot designated as stolen goods, first carry to the thief’s hand and then to the art dealer’s showcase.
I have such a thing on the table and think: this is, no mystical junk in the heads helps, the post-magical age, 20 x 15 x 3 cm, pot cleaner, original packaging. Inscription yellow/black: STOLEN OBJECT, 1991. What KODI or ALDI had to book in the minus under incoming goods, they can confidently book in the plus under PR. The objects do not seem to be made for the private enjoyment of art, only the simple frame seems to be made, the rest is from another world (the double one), but in the public eye they win immensely. That’s how I was able to show the objects with my general store for multiples at the first (and for me the last, because then it was off to the Cologne exhibition hall) Art Multiple in Düsseldorf, together with the esteemed relic and postcard collector Sigi Sander from Castrop or Herne (who knows where the sausage is made). A circumstance, at any rate, that helped to stage a Punch and Judy show between Professor Timm Ulrichs and Ralph Bageritz, the likes of which I have never seen more entertaining under the rubric of intellectual theft and theft of ideas, and which added to the glamour that the STOLEN OBJECTS received in the Kunstkaufhaus anyway. Professor Ulrichs felt stolen from, cheated out of his copyright and wrote in a circular letter together with a poster and supporting material: „…I am used to many things, but that someone should steal the idea of my stolen objects from me is surely the height of audacity – but not of irony, if you like: for that would have meant not embezzling my priority, but – building on it – exaggerating it. But you do not succeed at all in thinking my work further; you only repeat exactly what I demonstrated twenty years ago. And when you now write that „…we all know – history repeats itself (…) it only shows that you belong to the ruminants…“.
Which, by the way, see Eva Meyer’s essay in Kunstforum no. 114 on the „Form of Repetition“, would be an honourable introduction to a theory of art, but in addition to the misdeeds of the assistants, this is the department in Bageritz’s empire that is responsible for the execution of planned examples, there is always the deed of Mr. Bageritz, the head of the company, so to speak, who has posters printed and texts written, if he doesn’t do it himself, which comment on the event and, together with the objects, must be regarded as evidence for the exhibition of a deed idea, which wants to create a legend out of a texture that ultimately dismisses the thing as a poem (an assertion that is easy to write, but which is ultimately and finally proven by the scolding/flower pictures).
The deed of Mr. Ulrich, peering out of a showcase in the sixties, a photo that is readily handed down to make a certain brazen wit and repartee seem tenable, may be protected by copyright (we still admire the ingenuity and versatility of the brilliant professor, but we know that this wit and repartee just didn’t last). Mr. Bageritz’s drive, however, is a very different one, and one that also deviates considerably from history, for still and ten years later he is acting on and along the road. He discovers history, wherever it is stimulated, as his own and pursues it as his representative. Thus, in contrast to the black-and-white appearance of the already archived and established artist-teacher, we love him as a product of our time entirely designed for colour authenticity: blue-eyed, tanned and „born blond“ as a picture title claims.
Cheerfully and light-heartedly, he therefore asks the faculty of the Münster Academy:
„As I was informed via Paszti-Bott, I am apparently not the first to have come up with the glorious idea of the Stolen Object. I can assure you, however, that the idea developed from previous works on the theme of „consumption – the object in itself“. But still: wouldn’t it be in the spirit of the thing to steal the idea of STOLEN OBJECTS again? Coincidence did the trick… P.S. Are there any more Stolen Objects and if so, could we perhaps swap some?????“
As a man of conviction, Bageritz remains true to his socio-critical design, and above all has no illusions about the reality that is market everywhere and in which everything is always doubly and triply interlocked and displaced, developing precisely from this circumstance a position of movement, responsibility and giving, while the creative, gifted, expressive and visionary Ulrichs (satisfying the demands of the academies and art halls) testifies to a position of hardening and rigidity and illusion, to which he rightly and finally famously succumbs at the Kassel Necropolis, where I have to make a pilgrimage if I want to read what the artist is talking about.
I have been reading the Bageritz since ’88 in the street scene, where he reminds me of the approximate recollection of reality through the flushing out of meaning in the repeated use of the language of advertising and mediation as an art text. The artist’s activity on the ground of capitalist predatory economy is his field of investigation. Someone once called him a 100% child of capitalist society and he wrote himself a poster title with it. These poster titles tend to have the character of the found or, as Boris Nieslony would call it, the misappropriated. Ralph Bageritz’s I, at least the artist’s I, is not necessarily at home in his own house, but a wandering one that, like the ichneumon wasps, likes to live and emerge here and there. And I definitely see an authorship there that the public incubates and the artist manages.
The titles tell the story:
Bageritz – Import – Export. Removal of a Bageritz Sculpture. New Pictures – Old Business. And (I’ll come back to this later and it contains what I claimed before): The excursion to Bageritz with a detour to Baselitz.
Bageritz: 1st Great Rectospective ( here the joke announces itself, the banal, perfidious, mean, aggressive joke, which then also the rant and ALDI pictures have). The Name Dropping Number. Decor – professional image neglect. Ehrenstraße 23 – incl. 23 special guests. Exhibition accessible on 4 floors. Office of the District Court / Performance. The sincerity of the artist at the end of the 20th century. The b – AGE – ritz – (transcendental migraene / Normalitas Egalitas). German explanation in Cologne format. Bageritz – Die Allgemeine Schwundquote… and so on and so much more, you can see where it’s going, and almost at the end: „Treasure“ (the shop in Brüsseler Straße, which has now disappeared) shows STOLEN OBJECTS with the note: „Idea stolen from Timm Ulrichs“. All the posters of his exhibitions – and they are always poster actions – demand Werk & Haltung with their logos, quite ironically. Timm Ulrichs did not think of this figure. He couldn’t, because it can be written by reality and he came too early for that, Kippenberger did, who is close to Bageritz – oh, God, who to whom, the great Kippenberger, who would at most throw a crumpled paper tiger after him for every stolen idea. And yet they are not stolen ideas, because it is easy to prove that some things belong together. An article on „ART BRUT“ falls into my hands, I copy it to apply to the topic of who steals from whom, what I find in Michel Thévoz’s article „Art Brut or a Ruminative Aesthetic“, in which he quotes André Malraux: „No artist goes directly from his childhood drawings to his artworks. Artist’s don’t come from their childhood, but from their confrontation with other artistic individuals“. This speaks to one of the significant differences between the disputants, which is only important to me because I can measure an attitude by it, namely that one insists on first ascents, like Reinhold Messner, and the other arrives at a statement through assimilation and repetition. The word genius has become part of the language of professional idiocy or the language of sport, to which, for example, a Kippenberger joke can refer. I put on the „Gorbachev Sylt shirt“ by Bageritz with the successful island contour on Gorbi’s forehead and jump out a little to exercise. That’s how a little joke gets around that is so delightfully topical since Gorbi will indeed soon be part of the club of friendly old gentlemen meeting on Sylt.
And also the statement. „If you want to fuck, you have to be friendly“ can certainly be asserted tastelessly over and over again broadly on the chest. The courage to be ugly is not easy to find. At any rate, it’s not so easy to reach higher orders with it. It’s cheaper if everyone leaves out the same things (even the sameness). And who wouldn’t want to be consecrated in the art scene, in the paradise for antlers? A tasteless person who joyfully violates the solid conventions has a hard time, and so the resulting joke and superstition is also largely borne by a certain rage and attack on the renowned artists‘ guild: on the way they first and foremost advertise their own business. Bageritz made the subject of an action during ART COLOGNE ’90 what the answering machines reveal, it is the „NAME DROPPING NUMBER“ that Jürgen Klauke’s answering machine brought him to, which spoke: „Jay Kay. I was a can. Hide after the beep!“. And so Bageritz called around and recorded from the dialled tapes from General Idea to Salomé, tapes that were then directly audible at the fair or could also be retrieved from certain galleries.
The action, like the title and the idea „The trip to Bageritz with a detour to Baselitz“, describes the artist’s own drive, which wants to cross, to set positions in motion and to make other drives transparent, to nourish itself, as it were, from what is already in motion. Bageritz outsources himself and fictitiously inhabits the place BAGERITZ, as Baselitz once called himself after a place he had inhabited as Georg Kern in DEUTSCH-BASELITZ. The incarnate Bageritz slips into this process to tell a story. Such stories, however, are fabulous, or it is the character who tells them that way.
Bageritz’s text-image work is always a self-invention seeking wit, attacking circumstances, but in publishing it opens windows and lets us see more than the whole filthy art and business landscape. The real person, the one who speaks it, can be determined by the operating language that art mediation secretes. In the pause of the endless cassette for the „Name-Dropping-Number-Action“, Benedikt Taschen recites his version of Edith Piaf’s „Quoi ca sert lámour“ as if on hold with his company answering machine. When the joke is found in the object of contemplation itself – in its naming – it increases the artist’s delight. We are likely to find new examples of this in this book.
In the object pictures, foreign and own authorship are mixed: the direct depiction of an object stolen from reality (stolen poetry) testifies in context to an impulse that we also find in Art Brut authors: „Art Brut authors can be explained by a secret jubilation at going against all that is sacrosanct to our culture compulsory obsolescence“. With the word in the picture, with the direct address, the author of this picture as a pamphlet makes us co-conspirators against the power of things declared sacrosanct. „Appealing pictures“ was then also the title of the article about an exhibition at Maximilian Krips in a pretty double meaning. The exhibition had three titles that named three groups of works: „Stolen Objects“, „The ALDI & Co. Portraits“ and „Flowers Are Telling You“. The latter group of works showed a picture format inscribed with the prompt „SPEAK TO ME“ and with a console at the bottom carrying a potted plant with a swear word written underneath. Object pictures with potted plants was the name of this series with not exactly friendly attacks on the viewer.
The friendly come-on with which the representative of his artwork appears (but we know that about representatives: once they are in the door they show their claws and don’t let go) turns in the work into a tough invitation to part with the object of persiflage. In this way, a painting like this reads like a 3D poem. Here, I must say in conclusion, Ulrichs ignores quite a bit of further development in the image-word poem, which takes on board the weariness of an overpowering world of commodities.
© Hans-Werner Bott / Gallery owner / Curator / Exhibition organiser / 1994
„ALWAYS™ ALLDAYS™ / PLUS AND ALDI – THE WORK AND ITS PRESENTATION“
„Art is advertising“, says Ralph Bageritz about his present book project, which is both an exhibition catalogue and a guide through one of the best-known shopping streets – a documentation of artistic work and a list of an urban topography. This is hereby condensed into a „walk-through plan“, and Ralph Bageritz’s art is not only an occasion for this, but also an orientation signal.
Since Pop Art, there have always been close connections and mutual inspirations between the world of art and that of advertising and publicity, art has found its way into the business world far more than before, and the boundaries between classical academic art and design have become increasingly blurred. Ralph Bageritz belongs to the younger generation of artists who consciously acknowledge everyday culture, take it up, reflect on it and critically question it. With „Stolen Objects“ (1973-94), such as bollards or the loot of deliberately staged department stores‘ thefts, he ironically revealed himself as a „100% child of capitalist society“ with its dirigisme, its values, its temptations and its mass culture as the sole backdrop to the reality of life. Like a collage montage, elements of everyday life in the GDR, still rudimentarily perceptible today, flowed into his pictorial world as an aesthetic antithesis when he undertook a „trip to Bageritz with a detour to Baselitz“ in 1989. And in garish colourfulness he also offered us a series with a clownishly laughing Hitler – not to demonise the demon or to cynically joke with horror. Rather, in his cycles of images and objects, he points out interfaces where the emptiness of content in democratic election campaign advertising could come close to that of totalitarian phrase-like propaganda, where ecologically senseless and economically questionable abundance of consumer goods focuses on other supply deficiencies: if there were no abundance, those who do not partake of it would not perceive the lack as such. Needs do not have to be awakened (by advertising) if longings are already present. Bageritz reacts to contemporary phenomena, but his „R-explanations in hyper-format“ do not always and necessarily receive a moral appeal.
„Art is generally advertising – and always for itself“ was the title of one exhibition (1989). As much as art is and should be related to society, as much as it is able to take on extra-artistic functions, certain possibilities of effect are nevertheless limited on its part. Bageritz is well aware of this, but it does not lead to the dictum „art is art and advertising is advertising“. Even if art in a museum is hung in a seemingly sacral manner, and distance is demanded, it is still part of our everyday life. Sometimes it can only unfold its intensity directly in everyday life, which is why Ralph Bageritz has repeatedly chosen un-museum-like places for exhibitions and actions over the past 11 years: empty shops, for example, and also the public street space. His immediate living and working environment in and around Ehrenstraße has been and continues to be the culmination point of such entanglements, the place of artistic action and presentation, such as an exhibition in his neighbour’s flat during the gallery premieres in spring 1987: the otherwise closed-off, private, even intimate place was made public as a showroom for a few days. If now the shops in his neighbourhood become the exhibition venue, this is quite coherent as a continuation of the presentation strategy just outlined – and in doing so, not simply a proximity to life is demanded for the art, but a congruence between perception, inspiration, pictorial realisation and its communicability is offered, without being about original decoration, which is normally the essence of shop window design. By exhibiting older examples of work in a retrospective manner, where it is precisely not the impressions of exotic regions that determine the pictorial content, but where the iconology is based on a shared knowledge and immediacy, the artist, the shopkeepers, the customers and the casual strollers are guaranteed a participation or potential participation in what is shown. This does not necessarily have anything to do with Joseph Beuys‘ „expanded concept of art“, but a lot to do with the destruction of the ivory towers in which art has remained for too long, especially in this century.
No explanatory model is practicable if it is remote from life, and this also applies to the world concepts in art. In the last thirty years, there have therefore always been art currents that avoided aesthetic arbitrariness and tied themselves to direct situations and concrete places.
Seeking a sense of place also means facing up to potential areas of friction,
means the unexpected confrontation with any audience and not only with art connoisseurs. Bageritz seeks the public sphere of a market where ancient philosophers also presented their ideas, where academies, as is well known, were not closed off in an elitist manner as they were in later epochs. Since Beuys was already of the opinion that nowadays the mysteries take place at the main railway station, art on the street or in the street does public relations work in several senses of the word. For a limited period of time, it becomes a fixed point in the street scene and, in terms of its content, a counter-image to the other objects of perception such as shop and traffic signs, price tags, window displays, cinema posters, graffiti, etc. The street space contains various urban objects, such as a museum, a museum of art, a museum of art, a museum of art. The street space contains various urban functions, it offers supply and leisure, information and connections to other places, invites mobility and is a fixed locality at the same time, and it can also be an art space within this multi-structural system context. It is not several exhibition venues that have to be wandered through in this project, but rather a single exhibition staging distributed over several locations, which fits into the staging that the shops offer anyway in terms of interior architecture, atmosphere and the presentation of the stock of goods.
Other streets and districts are monostructural due to the urban planning policy of the post-war period: here a concentration of banks and insurance companies, where life is deserted after office hours and Mitscherlich’s thesis of the „inhospitableness of cities“ is still valid, there pure residential and entertainment districts. With its mix of business and residential life, gastronomy and other leisure culture (cinema, fitness centre), Ehrenstraße, on the other hand, is a model of postmodern liveliness and socio-cultural integrity. Here, „milieu“ actually still means „centre“ in the true sense of the word, and it is from this centre that Ralph Bageritz gains his field of inspiration, where it is a matter of exploiting everyday occurrences pictorially.
© Jürgen Raap / Art critic / Catalogue text „Bageritz – 11 Years Ehrenstraße & Surroundings“ / 1994
„EAST / WEST SIDE STORY“
Excuse the picture „Gudrun Ensslin“ (1989)! The name of the dreaded West German terrorist of yesteryear graces the canvas peacefully, in green-gold letters and not without a certain seductive elegance. Not exactly a name for normal bourgeois household use, one might think. And yet, from a purely visual point of view, it contains precisely the kind of toned-down sweetness that suits bourgeois tastes. The ornamental lettering inevitably brings to mind the typology on cheap boxes of chocolates. In other respects, too, the cross-shaped image truly goes to good taste. „BOUNTY“, the indulgent chocolate bar, and „L’OREAL“, the good cosmetics brand with the current „MONDRIAN advertising“, fill a rectangular picture section, each in original typology. Two further, likewise rectangular parts of the picture bear the names of a Federal German politician, Otto Graf LAMBSDORFF, who has a criminal record in the meantime but is still in office, and of a rather mediocre figure from the German entertainment industry, Margarethe SCHREINEMAKERS. The rest of the picture is obviously of photographic origin and documents scenes from humble East German lands: here a discarded cooker, there a barbecue put away, then a bucket by a door and a filled waste basket. The arrangement of these objects, their disposition, betrays artistic calculation, even if the photographed situations were found by the artist in this way. However, the names refer without any differentiation to elements of horror or entertainment, to politics and consumption; they merge with the photos in an ornament-adorned fusion of motifs. This, it soon becomes clear, is in the truest sense transgressive, documenting contemporary history.
For of all the strange illusions that haunt the minds of Germans, the most persistent has been the belief in national reunification. Apparently, the time has now come. And many a person from the West German art and culture scene has foreseen it, for example Hans Magnus Enzensberger (Ach Europa!, 1987), who simultaneously feared it and described German-German history as thoroughly mendacious, the German-German harmony after the Wall was torn down as pure fiction. Meanwhile, reality has caught up with its own prophesied aestheticisation through art, through literature as well as through the visual arts. In some places it has even overtaken it, for example in the catchy „WIRTSCHAFTSWERTE“ (Economic Values) by Joseph Beuys from 1980, which still dealt with the formulation of a new concept of capital and economy due to the German separation. – In many places in post-war Germany, whether in the works of Penck, Kippenberger, Dahn, Lüpertz or Immendorf, this theme was present in various shades. In this respect, West German art was always willing to expand. Therefore, if one looks for images of the German-German present, i.e. for a pre-aestheticisation of the unified reality of today, one will find what one is looking for.
This is where the tomographic images of the Cologne artist Ralph Bageritz, born in 1958, are to be contextually classified. They look like INSTANT HISTORY PAINTINGS, and yet he photographed and painted them at a time when Honecker was still in office and Kohl was not yet playing German-German language games. In part, therefore, they are political, contemporary departures of pure imagination, when the transformation in content of West German proper names (including the artist’s own name, which derives from a place name in the GDR) and of product names is caught up in a tendency towards bourgeois kitschy advertising ornamentation and with photographic notes from the GDR. On the other hand, Ralph Bageritz’s pictures are a youthful search by a West German artist for his own – German-German – roots. For as photographic documents, collaged and painted over, enlarged and alienated, they are first and foremost the results of a trip the artist Bageritz made in 1988 to Bageritz, a town in the GDR district of Halle, with a detour to Baselitz, Deutschbaselitz, to be precise, in the district of Dresden, reflecting, as it were, on art and the painter Georg Baselitz.
Bageritz thus conducts family and artistic genealogical research. He travels as a subcultural Western artist and combines individual, private levels with political-social ones on his journey to the GDR. Inner reflection and open action illuminate art and cultural-historical contexts, embellish them with temporal and social factors, with structures of the market, advertising, entertainment, art, outside world and inside world, private and social-public show themselves in a Picabia/Polke-like pictorial layering process, in the juxtaposition and overlapping of different pictorial levels. They are the components of a unification that ultimately seeks opposition in order to unify. A cathartic „Deutsche ® -läuterung“ is the result, in which, as it were, the life of the artist and the politics, society and everyday culture of his time merge in the art and in which bourgeois ideas merge with themes of East and West German everyday cultures. Products or names that are associated with the West and which over there in the GDR are symbols of a longed-for attitude to life, run here, endowed by the artist with a fatal leap in quality, into provocation, irony, sarcasm.
Sarcasm, irony and a sense for outlandish demonstrative exhibitions, for example in a Cologne sex shop or in the „Star-Club“ on the Große Freiheit in Hamburg, have always been important components in Ralph Bageritz’s art. He describes himself as a „publicity worker“, an „inventor“, a „® -finder“. His studies, among others with the object artist Daniel Spoerri, brought him conceptually close to the neo-Dadaist identification of art and life, made him look for themes and materials from everyday culture, for example from the media, from politics, but also from politics itself. With his art, Bageritz expands the state of consciousness of his viewers in general and here, „on the journey to Bageritz“, specifically the state of consciousness of the supposed German-German community of people, language and images.
Picture titles and puns are of central importance. „Betroffenheit, Teil 2“ (1989), for example, which is, among other things, a term for the sensation meter used when viewing works of art, leads the viewer into dreariness and loneliness and is accompanied by a hint of that forlornness that has become commonplace on German motorways these days from the inevitable, helplessly slow-moving Trabi. Thus Ralph Bageritz’s pictures are only partly subversive documents of a unity-fixated East/West thing, value and image context. Their essential component is the use of images per se, demonstrated by the example of a German-German unificationist image-obliteration. Clichés conveyed by Western advertising, product names of Western products, names of Western media stars or of taboo persons such as terrorists or sex murderers, are combined with GDR photo sketches to form images of Eastern/Western cultural relativity.
The pacesetters of West German consumer society, from the world of advertising, politics, the entertainment industry, collide abruptly with scenes of small-town East Germany with its rural ways of life that we classify as backward. Patterns of taste are absorbed in images and writing, trivial myths of our lead in prosperity are questioned. The photographed situations, people or things that seek the artistic context become interchangeable substitutes for reality. Here, equations and interrelationships condition all-German experiences. These, in turn, are designed pictorially in such a way that the actual character of these experiences is not presented, but that the optical mediation of images itself – East and West – is unmasked as a meagre, fragile, immaterial inventory.
© Norbert Messler / Art critic / Review / Art magazine „ARTFORUM“ / New York / 1990
„PORTRAIT RALPH BAGERITZ“
TRISTESSE AND BEAUTIFUL PRETENCE – Photos of everyday life in the GDR are painted over by Ralph Bageritz from Cologne with shiny gold names of West German celebrities, ostentatious trademarks and catchy advertising signs; with their superficial pathos, the works expose the illusory world of Western consumer society.
„Everything so beautifully colourful here,“ roars the GDR rock singer Nina Hagen after her move to the West. „Everything grey,“ is the stereotypical judgement of western travellers about the GDR. The colourful and the grey to the left and right of the German-German border are combined by the young Cologne artist Ralph Bageritz in the series of works „Deutsche ® – Laeuterung“.
He got the idea from his similarity of name with the 200-strong village of Bageritz in Saxony, in the area between Halle and Leipzig, where almost all place names end in -itz or -witz and the air is at its blackest. Deutschbaselitz, 140 kilometres to the southeast, is well-known among art connoisseurs. The place owes this not to its location, but to a famous son: Georg Baselitz, the German painting star whose civil name was Kern, named himself after his birthplace.
When Ralph Bageritz learned that his family name was derived from the GDR village of Bageritz, he undertook a trip in the summer of 1988 to the land of his ancestors, which his parents had already left in 1950. From his „trip to Bageritz with a detour to Baselitz“, the 1958-born student of Daniel Spoerri at the Cologne University of Applied Sciences for Art & Design brought back a stack of photographs he had taken himself: Snapshots from everyday life in the GDR with shop window displays, house entrances, backyards including residents and the ubiquitous „Trabbi“.
Enlargements of these documents form the basis for his new series, which is both autobiographical and politically motivated. Around the GDR motifs, Bageritz paints signets of Western consumer and zeitgeist articles in the familiar original typography, supplemented by names of greats from politics and the media. In addition, he uses lettering that is familiar from advertising, thus also branding the celebrities.
The name of the FDP chairman Otto Graf Lambsdorff stands in this German-German picture grid next to that of the hair cosmetics manufacturer „L’Oréal“, the chocolate bar „Bounty“ and the TV bimbo Margarethe Schreinemakers. Or: The trademark of „Tempo“ handkerchiefs meets the name of the terrorist Andreas Baader, the dapper „Tagesthemen“ anchorwoman Dagmar Berghoff and the epidemic AIDS are mentioned on one sheet. „Jacobs“ coffee ranks next to the Republican leader Franz Schönhuber, Freya Barschel, widow of the former prime minister of Kiel, next to the youngster fashion brand „Esprit“.
Across these picture surfaces divided into rectangles – the West German ones brilliantly typographically pimped, the East German ones rather shabby – Bageritz always lays a splendid lettering: gold-framed, for example, the name „Ensslin“ is emblazoned over the backdrop of a crumbling classicist building – as if the dead terrorist embodied upswing and adventure, elegance and pleasure. Ernst-Dieter Lueg, head of the ARD office in Bonn, is represented by artfully intertwined letters; the whole secret of the Western economic miracle seems to be hidden in his name. The catchy empty phrase „Betroffenheit“ („Affectedness“) also stands as a showy signet above the grey everyday life of the GDR.
Yet Bageritz does not pursue a one-sided critique of real existing socialism. On the contrary: with their superficial pathos, the fat advertising slogans reveal the illusory world of western consumer society. In contrast to the images of the poor, but sensually tangible, humanly touching GDR province, the puffed-up lettering seems like mute, interchangeable surrogates that make consumers believe that what the advertising industry wants to sell is their purpose in life.
By showing how easily the name of a terrorist can be transformed into a marketable product name, Bageritz warns against the temptation to believe that all that glitters is indeed gold.
® Carl-Friedrich Schröer / Art critic / magazine „art“ No. 4 / „Tristesse and Beautiful Pretence“ / review of the exhibition „The Excursion to Bageritz with a Side-trip to Baselitz“ / Gallery Ernesto+Krips / Cologne / 1990 / Eiskellerberg TV – Programme for Art / Düsseldorf / 2021