Before the law - Post-War Sculpture and Spaces of Contemporary Art

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© Courtesy of Museum Ludwig Köln
Before the law - Post-War Sculpture and Spaces of Contemporary Art

50667 Köln
December 17th, 2011 - April 22nd, 2012
Opening: December 17th, 2011 10:00 AM - 6:00 PM

Tue-Sun (incl. public holidays): 10-6; Every first Thursday of the month 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Closed on Monday


Every day, human dignity is infringed upon millions of times around the world. We can find out about injustices that are testified by diverse media at any moment. How can visual art address this issue without being didactic? In this exhibition, Franz Kafka's parable "Before the Law" (1915) served as mental and metaphorical point of departure. The tale tells about a man from the country who steps before the law. Before the law stands a doorkeeper who will not let the man pass. The country man who does not know about the achievements of the Enlightenment remains excluded from the law all his life. In contrast to its common meaning, Kafka depicts law as a spatial expansion. Thanks to this parable, one can be positioned outside the law. This individual has neither rights nor duties; the law is a refuge for him. With regards to human rights, this text shows that it is neither possible to stand outside an inborn right nor to move there physically. Especially with regards to human rights, the crucial new post-World War II approaches changed a great deal. What remains from them? BEFORE THE LAW unites representational sculptures from the 1950s - as part of European history - with expansive contributions by contemporary artists who refer to the universal issue of rights in relationship to retaining human dignity. The show's radius thus encompasses the past sixty years to account for the existentialist potential of contemporary art. The representational sculptures from the 1950s are the exhibition's argumentative core. In retrospect, the exemplary statues mirror the post-war Zeitgeist and the aftermath of any war, conveying a sense of the experienced horrors and the accompanying speechlessness. Aesthetically speaking, the sculptures by Reg Butler, Alberto Giacometti, Wilhelm Lehmbruck, Giacomo Manzù, Gerhard Marcks, Marino Marini, Henry Moore, Germaine Richier, and Ossip Zadkine appear to fall outside their time. Formal considerations are less characteristic for these statues than their standpoints vis-à-vis history and general queries of humans. The expressiveness and the directness of the formed bodies may equal the will to lend a face and a form to their own situation as well as to that of a traumatized country. At the center stands the human as a broken creature. Pawel Althamer, Phyllida Barlow, Karla Black, Paul Chan, Jimmie Durham, Zoe Leonard, Bruce Nauman, Thomas Schütte, and Andreas Siekmann transfer their thoughts about human existence to the museum spaces, operating - in a changed world - with an expanded concept of art, different means and materials. The bronze statues - once protruding into the sky from the midst of war ruins - are juxtaposed with works that try once again to represent the human presence. One of the exhibition's aims beyond addressing the historic context is to sharpen our perception of the humanist potential of contemporary art. During times dominated by auction records and fast pace it seems necessary to deal with art that insists on sincerity regarding the human condition.