09
Aug
09

Review: ‘presentation/representation: photography from Germany’ at the Monash Gallery of Art, Wheelers Hill, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 3rd July – 30th August, 2009

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An Exhibition of the Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen e. V. (ifa/Institute for Foreign Cultural Relations), Stuttgart, Germany and presented in cooperation with the Goethe-Institut Australien.

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Heidi Specker. 'D'Elsi – Elsi 1' 2007

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Heidi Specker
‘D’Elsi – Elsi 1′
VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, Germany, 2007
Courtesy Fiedler Contemporary, Köln
Galerie Barbara Thumm, Berlin
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, Germany, 2007

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Claus Goedicke. 'Trip to the Moon' 2006

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Claus Goedicke
‘Trip to the Moon’
2006
© Claus Goedicke

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Albrecht Fuchs. 'Daniel Richter, Berlin' 2004

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Albrecht Fuchs
‘Daniel Richter, Berlin’
2004
© Courtesy Frehking Wiesehöfer, Köln

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I was looking forward to this exhibition and so on a cold and very windy winter’s day I ventured out on the drive to the Monash Gallery of Art in Wheelers Hill expecting to be challenged by a new generation of German photographers. I was to be sorely disappointed. This show, with the exception of excellent work by Andreas Koch and good work by Laurenz Berges, epitomises all that I find woeful about contemporary photography.

There is a lack of life and vigor to the work, no sense of enjoyment in taking photographs of the world. The narratives are shallow and vacuous inducing a deep somnambulism in the viewer that is compounded by the silent, deeply carpeted gallery making the experience one of entering a mausoleum (this is a great space that needs to be a contemporary space!). How many times have I seen photographs of empty spaces that supposedly impart some deep inner meaning? See how a great artist like Tacita Dean achieves the same end to startling effect with her film ‘Darmstädter Werkblock’ (2007). How many times do I need to see ‘dead pan’ portrait photographs that are again supposed to impart rich psychological meaning? I have seen too many already.

Conceptually the work is barren. Technically the proficiency of some of the work is almost non-existant. If this standard of work was put up for assessment in a university course it would fail miserably. For example in Nicola Meitzner’s work ‘Forward Motion’ (2006), vertical portraits (of the same person in different poses) and streetscapes of Tokyo are poor quality prints mounted in unattractive silver aluminium frames. They are forgettable. If an artist were to study the work of, say, Manuel Alvarez Bravo, then one might gain some insight into how to photograph the city and the people that live in it in a way that elicits a response from the viewer to the photo-poetry that is placed before them.

Uschi Huber’s photographs of boarded up shop fronts, while a nice conceptual idea, are again lacking in technical proficiency and are nothing we haven’t seen many times before while Peter Piller’s ten print-media type pigment prints of girls at a shooting range with rifles do not bear comment on both a conceptual and technical level. Similarly, Wiebke Loeper’s colour photographs of the city of Wismar – houses, roads, water, oat fields, people peering into shop windows – sent to friends living in Melbourne to show them the desolation and rebuilding of the city are seriously year 12 work.

The two redeeming artists are Laurenz Berges and Andreas Koch.

Berges four large type C colour photographs of an empty house and the surrounds as seen through a window are intimately detailed visions of human absence from the built environment: the huts, piles of woodchips, barren trees, the feathers on the floor of one print, the cigarette butts on the floor of another, the marks on the wall in blue and red add to a sense of abandonment and alienation from the environment – traces of human experience, identity and memory etched into the photographic medium.

As the text on the IFA website observes,

“Laurenz Berges is a chronicler of absence. His minimalist photographs point to the earlier use of spaces, only fragments of which are shown, whose inhabitants have put them to other, new uses. Berges depicts the traces of this change in austere images that, due to their reduction, tell their stories indirectly and almost involuntarily. These are stories about the existential significance certain spaces have for our identity, and also about their transitoriness and their loss.”1

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The star of the show was the work of Matthias Koch. His five large aqua-mounted type C prints from the series ‘Sites of German History’ (2006) are both technically and conceptually superb, full of delicious ironies and humour. Using an aerial aesthetic (apparently by climbing the ladder of a fire engine that he owns) Koch looks down on the landscape and through his images formulates new ways of seeing national symbols (even though many of them are not in Germany). His re-presentation of spatial inter-relations and objects embedded in their rural and urban surroundings are both simple yet layered and complex.

Unfortunately I have only one photograph (below) to show you of his work. No other was available and there are none on the Internet but the image gives you an idea of his raison d’etre. The specimen of U-995, built in Kiel in 1944, is presented as a trapped and mounted animal, preserved for our delectation and inspection with gangways and stairs to view the innards. Little hobby craft lie on a beach behind while people paddle in the shallows, a ship barely seen in the distance out at sea. The fact that this U-boat was once used to destroy such a ship, the irony of the proposition, is not lost on the viewer.

Other images in the series include a photograph of the derelict runway of the Heinkel factory as seen from above, the overgrown concrete slabs cracked and lifting, the edges filled with grass, the distant view dissolving into mist and nothingness. The photograph ‘Harbour, Allied landing near Normandy, 1944′ (2006) shows an American jeep and half-track of the period on the beach of the Allied landing in Normandy, tyre tracks swirling in the sand while in the distance the concrete block remains of the Mulberry harbour used in 1944 still litter the coastline. How many men, both German and American, died on this beach all those years ago? In another tour de force ‘Atlantic Defence Wall near Cherbourg. Bunker construction built 1940′ (2006) concrete bunkers dot the landscape with the beach and sea beyond as people sunbathe on the grass amongst the ruined bunkers, probably oblivious to the context of their surroundings. Koch is a master of the re-presentation of the context of memory, history and place.

Overall this exhibition is a great disappointment. I find it hard to believe that the exhibition has been curated by the same man who curated the recent Andreas Gursky exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria. The choice of work and the presentation of technically poor prints is not up to standard. I also find it difficult to reconcile some of the reviews I have read of this exhibition with the actual work itself. Thank goodness for the photographs of Matthias Koch for he alone made the journey into outer Melbourne a worthwhile journey into the memory of the soul.

Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Laurenz Berges. 'Garzweiler' 2003

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Laurenz Berges
‘Garzweiler’
2003
© Courtesy Galerie Wilma Tolksdorf, Frankfurt/Berlin

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Karin Geiger. 'Leipzig (Heiterblick)' 2005

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Karin Geiger
‘Leipzig (Heiterblick)’
2005
© Karin Geiger

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Matthias Koch. 'Submarine Laboe near Kiel, built 1944' 2006

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Matthias Koch
‘Submarine Laboe near Kiel, built 1944′
2006
© Matthias Koch

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“Laurenz Berges, Albrecht Fuchs, Karin Geiger, Claus Goedicke, Uschi Huber, Matthias Koch, Wiebke Loeper, Nicola Meitzner, Peter Piller, Heidi Specker.

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This international touring exhibition was developed by the Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen (ifa) in Germany and is presented in cooperation with the Goethe-Institut Australien.

MGA is hosting the important international exhibition ‘presentation/representation: photography from Germany’, which brings to Melbourne the work of ten of Germany’s best contemporary photographers.

‘presentation/representation’ is curated by Thomas Weski (curator of Andreas Gursky recently seen at the National Gallery of Victoria), and covers the work of the generation of German photographers that has followed the now-legendary Kunstakademie Düsseldorf generation of Gursky, Thomas Ruff, Thomas Struth and Candida Höfer. For the artists in presentation/representation, including Matthias Koch, Laurenz Berges and Heidi Specker, photography is a medium that has its own language and characteristics, and their work collectively explores the limits of the medium.

Shaune Lakin, Director of the MGA states MGA is thrilled to present presentation/representation and to bring to the people of Melbourne such an important survey of contemporary German photography. As well as providing a comprehensive survey of German practice, the exhibition will complement the experience of those who saw Weski’s wonderful Gursky exhibition at NGV. We are also delighted to host participating artist Matthias Koch.”

Koch will be presenting a series of public programs including an artist talk, student tutorial and a field trip exploring the industrial suburban sites close to the gallery. “With his critical interest in landscape, architecture and history, Koch will provide some wonderful insights into our local landscape for participants in these programs,” notes Dr Lakin.

MGA’s Education and public programs coordinator Stephanie Richter says: “This is a great opportunity for students and Melbourne audiences to meet one of Germany’s most celebrated contemporary photographers and to participate in the busy schedule of talks, tutorials and field trips with Matthias.”

Press release from Monash Gallery of Art website.

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Nicola Meitzner. 'Forward motion' 2006

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Nicola Meitzner
‘Forward motion’
2006
from the tableau: forward motion
© Nicola Meitzner

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Uschi Huber. 'Fronten' 2006

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Uschi Huber
‘Fronten’
2006
from the series: Fronten 2006
© Uschi Huber

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Wiebke Loeper. 'To the sisters of Carl Möglin' 2005

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Wiebke Loeper
‘To the sisters of Carl Möglin’
2005
from the series: To the sisters of Carl Möglin
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, Germany, 2007

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1. Anonymous. “Presentation/representation: Laurenz Berges” on the IFA website [Online] Cited 08/08/2009 www.ifa.de/en/exhibitions/exhibitions-abroad/foto/presentation-representation/die-kuenstler/laurenz-berges/

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Monash Gallery of Art
860 Ferntree Gully Road
, Wheelers Hill, Victoria 3150

Opening hours:
Tue-Fri: 10am-5pm
Sat-Sun: 12pm-5pm
Mon & Public Holidays: closed

Monash Gallery of Art website

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4 Responses to “Review: ‘presentation/representation: photography from Germany’ at the Monash Gallery of Art, Wheelers Hill, Melbourne”


  1. 1 John Billan
    August 27, 2009 at 10:57 pm

    presentation/representation: photography from Germany

    Thanks for the review Marcus, it is really valuable to have your comprehensive visual coverage
    of this show, I will be going out to see it now. Even with my disenchantment of some of the disciples of the Teutonic style.

  2. 2 bunyanth
    August 10, 2009 at 7:40 am

    Hi Abby
    Yes – go! see!

    Perhaps I am being a little harsh (but perhaps not!)- but when the show is billed as the next generation of German photographers following Gursky, Thomas Ruff, Thomas Struth and Candida Höfer then one does have certain expectations and a right to question what is presented.

    Marcus

  3. August 9, 2009 at 11:31 pm

    Thanks for the review Marcus.

    I have been lamenting the fact that it’s highly unlikely I’ll make it all the way out to this exhibition, due to a dearth of time and transport. Reading your review actually makes me want to see it even more… universal praise singing is not always as tempting as a discrepancy in opinions. I feel the need to judge for myself.

    And if upon viewing the show I come to the same conclusion as you then it sounds like the work of Mattias Koch is well worth seeing in reality.


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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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