The Dream of Being Able to Fly
printed in SITE Magazine, Sweden nr. 9/10, July 2004,
|Die Museen sind voll
(Bernhard Hööke, 1967)
This is the End, the Only End My Friend
It is really necessary to start with one of the real starting points. Bauhaus 1925, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy forwarded the idea that the piece of art and the artists as well must have considerations for the age in which they live. What is important to recognize is that the role of the curator, such as we have learnt to love and to hate it through the last decade have been very important through out the development of art exhibitions during the whole 20th century and one of the most important - but also the least known - main figure is Gerry Schum, that during the time 1969- 1972 realized a number of pieces and exhibitions in a rather unusual format -television. It should be mentioned that during these times there was produced a number of exhibitions that was rather critical to the white cube or turned to unusual spaces. One could say that a whole generation of artists had a different relation to the institution than (especially the American) the post war generation, by talking about, to use the words of Harald Szeemann, breaking the trinity of power: studio - gallery - museum. It was the end of the 60ties and the early 70ties when a large amount of exhibitions with institutional critique embedded turned up, among them When Attitudes Become Form, Bern 1969 by Harald Szeemann, One Month 1969 by Seth Sieglaub, and the summer exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, NY, Information 1970. The gallery of Schum was in Düsseldorf and he made exhibitions for the viewers of German television.
Gerry Schum made in 1968 a TV show about the use of multiples and editions in the gallery scene of Cologne, Düsseldorf, Paris, Munich and Bern, to intermediate sales of art to the layer of people with less spending power. Schum was no artist himself, but he worked a lot with artists and was producing TV shows from biennials, art fairs and also documentaries about artists and the arts. This was broadcasted in nationwide covering frequencies of West Germany. During 1969 he opened up a TV-gallery with the name Fernsehegalerie Gerry Shum, where the main idea was to make art pieces that only existed in the very same moment it was broadcasted or shown on the screen. The first exhibition, Land Art, was broadcasted on nationwide covering television 15.04.1969 and included eight works from: Richard Long, Barry Flanagan, Dennis Oppenheim, Robert Smithson, Marinus Boezem, Walter De Maria and Michael Heizler.
The broadcast included a recorded documentation of the "opening" that took place in a TV studio in Berlin, which was for the occasion rebuilt as a white cube, where eight monitors were placed in the wall and photographs from the productions were covering the space in-between like a mosaic. The opening was just like any other opening today, with a detailed introduction by Gerry Schum. The first piece, made by the then only 23-year-old Richard Long, started with a 360° camera movement and a white map of Moor, England. Walking a Straight 10 Mile Lind Forward and Back Shooting Every Half Mile starts with a black board with the word "Forward" followed by 21 sequences, app. seven seconds each, from the landscape. The camera is placed in Long's point of view and it zooms in the landscape ahead slowly. The sequences fade to white and are lap-dissolved. The last one shows a river, followed by a black board with the word "Back" and after this, 21 new sequences, the first starting where the last one ended: in the river. The whole piece includes the sounds of Richard Long's breathing and sounds of his steps.
This is a very typical piece for the exhibition Land Art, but it is the only film or video piece that Richard Long made until today. The piece shows how Schum worked closely together with the artists to produce pieces since most of them did not work with film earlier. Another brilliant example from the exhibition Land Art is Jan Dibbets 12 Hours Tide Object with Correction of Perspective. In this piece a bulldozer makes a three meter wide trapezoid in the sand close to the cameras elevated position, which becomes 30 meters wide close to the ocean. Through the wide-angle lens of the camera, which is the only way to get an overview of the trapezoid, it turns to an equivalent square. With time, and the tide, the trapezoid vanishes. Dibbets work is aiming more directly to how the camera's mechanical features affect the viewer's perception of reality.
A last example from the exhibition is Barry Flanagan's A Hole In The Sea, which starts off with a view of a beach and the ocean. In the foreground you can see a plastic cylinder sticking up from the sand. Next sequence is filmed from above and is showing the cylinder like a circle in the midst of the image. The ocean is rising, and the different cuts are illustrated by a black board with time information from 13.15 until 16.38. Seen from above the image looks just like a hole in the ocean, but in the end the illusion is broken by that the waves turns the cylinder out of balance, and the last image is shot from ground and shows how Flanagan wades out and gets the cylinder. Land Art combines room with space in a noteworthy manner.
The exhibition was sent 22.40, relatively late in the evening, but received good press coverage. It was however not well received by the TV channel that paid for the production costs that actually was larger than some museums would have invested in such an exhibition at the time, this because Gerry Schum had somewhat of a political agenda about giving the artists the same kind of rights as other allografic creators like writers, composers and musicians. The ideological thought behind a TV-gallery was to make art more accessible for a larger mass of onlookers and that the times was almost mature enough for such a revolution and that television and video was the correct mediums for this kind of expansion and the democratisation of art. But as Daniel Buren points out in an interview in the extensive exhibition catalogue Ready To Shoot, the exhibitions of Shum's galleries in Kunsthalle Düsseldorf in 2004; "Unfortunately the idea of confronting quite normal consumers with art through the medium of television, was a dream. It was a very successful dream, but it never became reality." What Buren means is that television already by then was reserved for one type of information that art was unable to overtake, and that you could not democratise art through television - or more precise, that you could not democratise art at all.
Buren was aparted of the second and last exhibition of Fernsehegalerie Gerry Shum, Identifications, which was produced by Kunstverein Hannover and broadcasted with nationwide coverage. Before this the gallery had produced two new works that was shown in the middle of the ordinary programme without any form of information to the TV audience. One of the pieces was Keith Arnatt's work TV Project Self Burial, shown one time a day (a few seconds) for one week, where Arnatt himself sinks down in a hole of mud gradually until the eight and last episode where he is totally covered in mud. The other production was Jan Dibbets TV as a Fireplace where a close up of a burning iron stove was shown for 2:45 minutes every night for eight nights in a row. Fernsehegalerie Gerry Schum had also had some breakthrough in the art world, the first exhibition was shown within the When Attitudes Become Form at the ICA, London, and the MoMA summer exhibition Information as well as different exhibitions and smaller biennials.
Very late in relation to Shum's own utopian plan of continuation, the second exhibition was sent 22.40 on the 30th of November 1970 with contributions from Joseph Beuys, Reiner Ruthenbeck, Klaus Rinke, Ulrich Rückriem, Daniel Buren, Hamish Fulton, Gilbert & George, Stanley Brown, Ger van Eik, Giovanni Anselmo, Alighiero Boetti, Pierpaolo Calzolari, Gino de Dominicis, Mario Merz, Gilberto Zorio, Gary Kuehn, Keith Sonnier, Richard Serra, Franz Erhard Walther and Lawrence Weiner. The large amount of artists and the more "opened up" title makes the exhibition varying and more than in Land Art, the body is in focus, often its rashes or limitations. The two grand exclusions are Gilbert & Georges Ohne Titel where the artists sits quite relaxed in a British garden landscape for 1:25 minutes, and not the least Daniel Buren who displayed the TV station's board of warning of technical problems for almost a minute. The artists with the probable largest impact because of its sense of humour was Ger van Eik's piece where you can see a close-up where a cactus gets a shave by a razor, and Gino de Dominicis' work where he tries to fly with the help of his own powers. ("Maybe because I cannot swim, I decided to try to learn how to fly,"; as Dominicis says in the voiceover of the piece).
For the television gallery this was the end. No stations were inclined to make more exhibitions after Joseph Beuys had treated a TV with a blutwurst and Reiner Ruthenbeck who crumbled up a pile of paper and threw them into a corner. This meant a new phase that consisted of a real gallery that worked with video exhibitions and editions. From the start Schum had been working with editions, limited or unlimited, of both exhibitions and single art pieces. The original idea did not include a regular gallery, but the distribution of the pieces was a part of how Schum wanted to develop an economy around the production of artists that worked with video and film. The editions that the video gallery made was mostly limited and Schum, together with his collaborator Ursula Wevers, made them accessible by a certificate of objects. Mostly this was new productions with several of the artists from the two television exhibitions, but also an exhibition by Bruce Neumann in collaboration with Konrad Fischer Galerie - and an exhibition with already then deceased Peter Ruher. Editions were made also by Richard Serra, John Baldessari and Wolf Knoebel. The gallery opened late 1971 and had its last exhibition in December 1972 with Hanne Darboven. Gerhard Alexander Schum took his own life in March 1973.
Schum is described by Christiane Fricke in the book Dies alles Herzchen wird einmal Dir gehören like both a product and a brilliant catalyst of the art of his age, but he was in the same degree a prototype of how the curator helps the artist to be able to realize pieces of art that would never be possible otherwise. This means that the word catalyst could be transmitted to how Schum acted with the exhibitions that he produced. It is rarely more correct to say that these pieces of art would never have been produced without a certain person. Except for the more regular responsibilities Schums technical knowledge about film and video as a medium combined with a propelling force for a democratisation of contemporary art and the goal to make it more easy for artists to make a living out of what they make. Not only was it, for the most of the artists, the first time to work with the medium, but it was also clear from the start that it was supposed to be suitable for a specific medium, namely television - or in the worst case a monitor - therefore contemporary art in a very demanding medium, because of that it demands so much more organizing work than to produce a catalogue or a book as an exhibition because it is a much larger apparatus. Any hindrances are many-doubled with each step on the way to the realisation. This was in the end overwhelming and stopped Schum's ambitious expedition in what was really the starting phase.
Today most curators work closely with the realisation of the work, and they work close with the artist as a commissionaire and makes things possible, and are preoccupied by the physical and intellectual aspect of the exhibition and the off-site projects. It is quite clear that the manner in which Gerry Schum worked, considering both how, where and the ideological and intellectual thoughts behind, is to take for a model in the future.