Kunstsammlung NRW
Klaus Rinke, Zeitfeld, 1987, Südpark, Düsseldorf, Foto: Kunstsammlung
this & that

"Why Is That Here?"

A follow-up report on a symposium at the Heinrich-Heine-Universität organized in cooperation with the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen and held on June 6, 2014 at the Haus der Universität

"Why Is That Here?" – this question is often posed by people who, strolling through the city, past parking meters, benches, trash bins, and advertising billboards, suddenly find themselves confronted with a sculpture. In Düsseldorf, such encounters are probable, since well over 1000 artistic works are distributed through the urban space of the regional capital: three-dimensional sculptures, figural ensembles, statues, abstract forms, commemorative plaques, and murals, which are set up on streets, at intersections, on building facades, in parks, and in cemeteries.

Curator Maria Müller-Schareck reviews the Symposium on Art in Urban Spaces for #32.

As pedestrians, we barely even notice some of the artworks we encounter. Some obstruct our paths, others are sources of fascination or interest, even provocation, while still others simply leave us indifferent. Some even seem to be cloaked in camouflage, to be almost invisible.

The question "Why Is That Here?" – alongside numerous others concerning the artists who created these works, their aims and functions, their states the conservation, and the ways in which their presence is explained to passersby – was posed during summer semester of 2014 by students of art history at Heinrich-Heine-Universität in Düsseldorf.  The seminar was directed by junior professor Ulli Seegers, with the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen contributing as a cooperating partner.

From Seminar Room to Public Forum

The seminar focused on acquiring familiarity with selected sculptures and exploring their art-historical significance, i.e. with questions concerning encounters with art and with art communication/education. The methods and approaches employed are manifold! In the context of a symposium, it seemed wise to invite competent guest speakers to address these issues. The result was the public symposium "Warum steht das hier?” ("Why Is That Here?"), which took place at the Haus der Universität am Schadowplatz, and featured guests from politics, art scholarship, sociology, and communication, as well as a series of artists. The public consisted of students, of course, but also of a gratifyingly large number of interested citizens and cultural producers, who made substantial contributions to lively discussions with the invited speakers.

The event was launched by Hans-Georg Lohe, head of Cultural Affairs for Düsseldorf. He underscored his commitment to Düsseldorf as a city of art with reference to a number of ambitious earlier projects (for example EUROGA 2002plus), to the committed work of the Office of Cultural Affairs, and to vigorous exchanges with artists. With pride, he then presented the artistic projects in the new underground stations of the Wehrhahn-Linie, awarded in the context of requests for proposals involving primarily younger artists.

"Art for Everyone" 

That art in public spaces is not necessarily chiseled in stone or cast in bronze was demonstrated by Uwe Lewitzky, a sociologist of culture from Hamburg, and author of the publication Kunst für alle (Art for Everyone): he not only presented an overview of the developmental stages of art in public space in the West since the 1950s, but also showcased a series of projects through which artists and residents of urban districts have joined forces to defend urban space against commercial interests while creating places that are adapted to their needs (for example Park Fiction, Hamburg, etc.).

This was followed by “Observations from ‘The Scene of Struggles for Attention’”: here, it was a question of current situations in the city of Düsseldorf , with its highly heterogeneous distribution of sculptures, particularly in the city center. And of how to improve things: By enhancing public appreciation of the existing inventory? By improving care and maintenance? Through discussions concerning the location, quality, and meaning of public artworks? By recruiting active citizens and patrons?

A Helping Hand from the Association of German Cities

In 2013, to promote improved approaches to art in public space, the Deutscher Städtetag (Association of German Cities) formulated the essential issues, and recommended making this the basis for implementing individualized conceptions that are tailored to concrete urban situations. Positive approaches are found in many quarters, but all too often, personnel and financial shortages, alongside political wrangling, stand in the way of consequential follow-through. In the afternoon, Markus Ambach’s presentation shed light on this question as well. In his project “The Urban Congress,” conceptualized with Kay von Keitz, the focus was on sculptures in Cologne’s city center which had altered their surroundings to such an extent that work and setting no longer formed a meaningful unity. To recognize and identify problems, to call attention to them through action and discussion, and to resolve them through sculptural realizations: a good summary of the triadic structure of their considerations, whose realization in Cologne is currently however being thwarted, whether by political intrigue or financial restrictions.


Inge's Idea: Addressing the Beholder with Wit and Irony

Also invited were two artists – Thomas Schmidt, the creative mind of the artist’s group Inges Idee (Inge’s Idea), and Rita McBride, the rector of Düsseldorf Art Academy – who have been occupied with projects involving public space for many years. Unfortunately, Rita McBride had to decline on short notice, but was well-represented by a screening of 3 films about her sculpture Mae West, realized in Munich. This construction of thin, lightweight members, which looms up high above the skies of Munich, is reminiscent of a gas tank, but also of Mae West’s wasp waist. And while many locals have yet to genuinely warm to the installation, Mae West doubtless has the potential to become a municipal landmark. Thomas Schmidt presented a number of projects that have been successfully realized by Inges Idee worldwide, demonstrating strikingly that as a rule, the “right” project – i.e. regarding spatial situation, the location’s the function, and its users – encounters few obstacles to acceptance. The site-specific works accomplished by Inges Idee share lucid, recognizable forms and incisive narratives. They address beholders with wit and irony, offering highly unusual and at the same time multiply usable places – among them a rippled basketball field and a soccer field bisected by a waterfall.



From the Perspective of Art Education

That placing a sculpture in urban space is only beginning was the message conveyed by Annika Plank, herself an artist, and an experienced art educator at the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen. She lists all of the media and all the possibilities currently available for communicating information in urban space: from the simple texted panel all the way to highly versatile apps, the possibilities seem endless. Choices about what is sensible and appropriate must be made in each individual case. And always with an awareness that as a rule, the first, direct encounter between stroller and sculpture is unexpected, and may trigger confusion, or even irritation or aggression. But such works can and should also be sources of delight, be intriguing or thought-provoking. The fact that many sculptures lead a shadowy existence, and that some appear to have suffered years of neglect or even been demolished by attackers suggests that the citizens of this city are not necessarily friends of art in public places.

Art in unrestricted public spaces is accessible to all, including those who avoid museums. Positioned outside of such protective spaces, it is at the same time vulnerable and exposed. The fact that urban spaces – through which we pass daily, where we spend time, and which we even avoid – are of concern to all was highlighted by the lively discussion, which became spirited at times. It only remains to add that the Haus der Universität, at the heart of town, was the perfect setting!



Over the past exhibition year, art in public space has been a key theme for the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen: on view at the K20 am Grabbeplatz in spring of 2013 was “Sculpture at the Düsseldorf Art Academy from 1945 to the Present,” which assembled three-dimensional works by more than 50 professors and former students of the Academy. The focus of the accompanying program, organized jointly by the Kunstsammlung and the Art Academy, was on works realized by artists in public spaces in Düsseldorf. Every attendee received a city map showing the locations of many works, and hence an invitation to engage in programmed art strolls beyond the exhibition dates.

  1. 10.07.2014 14:46 Christel Wöhr
    Zum Beitrag: "Warum steht das hier?"
    Guten Tag,
    ich möchte in diesem Zusammenhang auf das umfangreiche Werk von Wolfgang Funken verweisen: "Geschichte der Kunstwerke und kulturellen Zeichen im öffentlichen Raum der Landeshauptstadt"
    Erschienen im Verlag Ars Publica Düsseldorf
    3 opulente Bände, Gewicht 10 kg!
    Viele Grüße
    Christel Wöhr

Hinterlasse einen Kommentar

Deine E-Mailadresse wird nicht veröffentlicht.
Erforderliche Felder sind markiert *