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Gustav Metzger, project installation view, 2007

Presented in one of the many green spaces alongside the Promenade, a pedestrian avenue that encircles Münster’s city centre, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster’s outdoor installation, ‘Münster Novel’, assembles miniature reproductions of about 40 works created by different artists since the first edition of the decadal exhibition in 1977. A small-scale replica of Richard Serra’s work ‘Trunk—Johann Conrad Schlaun Recomposed’, 1987, consisting of two 1.5 metre high rusted steel plates planted in the ground, stands next to a 1:4 maquette of Dan Graham’s pavilion ‘Oktogon für Münster’, 1987, a collection of concrete balls that recall Claes Oldenburg’s ‘Pool Balls’, 1977 and a miniature version of Richard Long’s sculpture ‘Stone Cairn’, 1977.

‘Münster Novel’ underscores the principal stakes of the 2007 edition of skulptur projekte münster 07, one of these being an attempt to highlight the history of this 40 year old event. As its title suggests, Gonzalez-Foerster’s work has been conceived as a narrative depicting her vision of the skulptur projekte, and the installation could easily be read as a history book that chronicles the different layers of projects, revealing the variety of artistic approaches to their context. The ten year span between each edition, an unusual periodicity for this kind of event, also functions as an eloquent marker of the changing relations of art, society and public space. Questions linked to the connections between skulptur projekte and the city of Münster, the accumulation of several generations of works on the face of the city, and the evolution of the role played by art in the public sphere were at the core of this year’s edition. These concerns manifested themselves, through the presentation of the skulptur projekte archives at the Landesmuseum, with the production, (40 years after it was initially conceived), of Bruce Nauman’s installation ‘Square Depression’, and the presentation, (for the fourth time in the context of skulptur projekte), of Michael Asher’s work ‘Installation Münster (Caravan)’, 1977, a caravan parked in different locations in the city during the exhibition.

Functioning as a playground or as a theme park reminiscent of the miniature cities that one can visit in various places in the world, Gonzalez-Foerster’s installation also illustrates a contradiction inherent to skulptur projekte. Though the event is dedicated to the presentation of public art that is, art incorporated into the fabric of city life, its targeted audience appears to be composed of, not Münster residents, but art connoisseurs, who visit Münster to see an exhibition that just happens to be outdoors. This fact is especially pertinent this year because of skulptur projekte’s clearly advertised position in a circuit of biennials and major art events, alongside documenta and the Venice Biennale. In a well-known assertion regarding the possible relocation of his outdoor installation ‘Tilted Arc’, 1981, created for a public square in Lower Manhattan, Richard Serra stated, to remove the work is to destroy it’, emphasising the importance of the site-specificity of his installation and the triangular relation of site-work-audience. Transposed in the context of such large-scale events dedicated to public art, Serra’s assertion could question the status of art within public space when this space is merely décor, and when its natural audience, that is, the residents of the city, is removed. Is there such thing as audience-specificity? Does public art remain public when disconnected from the life of the city and its locals?

Because of the specificities of skulptur projekte münster 07, this contradiction was a question indirectly addressed to each artist invited to take part in the event, and one could evaluate the relevance of their answers by their ability to tackle this issue. One strategy, used by two artists working with moving images, was to approach Münster and its residents as a topic. Valérie Jouve’s video ‘Münsterlander’ portrays several protagonists who had never been in Münster before, moving through the city toward a single location, a pedestrian underpass at Hindenburgplatz. Clemens von Wedemeyer’s 35mm film ‘Von Gegenüber (From the Opposite Side)’ focuses on passers-by in the area of Münster’s train station. For skulptur projekte, both films were screened in the location where they had been shot: the pedestrian underpass for Jouve’s video and a former cinema close to the train station for von Wedemeyer. But to take a city and its inhabitants as subject matter and to show the works in the location where they were shot doesn’t necessarily make those films public. Jouve and von Wedemeyer approach public space as a mere theme and fail to reflect on the position of their work within that space.

In the same way, Guillaume Bijl’s ‘Sorry—Installation (Archaelogical Site)’, a fake church spire displayed in a five metre deep hole parodying an archaeological site, develops no connection with Münster but the fact that the city houses many churches. As the coins thrown by visitors in the installation recalling fountains in touristic sites show, the work stands as mere spectacular attraction.

More convincingly, a number of artists emphasise the ‘public’ character of their work by playing with its dislocation, approaching chance as the only possibility for an encounter with the art. Dora Garcia’s project ‘The Beggar’s Opera’ involves a performer who, for the duration of the exhibition, wanders through Münster’s streets, observing everyday life, telling stories and interacting with people. In the same way, Gustav Metzger’s project ‘Aequivalenz—Shattered Stones’ was executed everyday by a forklift driver who transported a number of rectangular granite stones to a location in Münster, randomly assigned by a computer. For each location, a picture was taken to be included in an online database available at the Landesmuseum.

In a letter addressed to the curators on the occasion of his participation in the 1997 skulptur projekte, Lawrence Weiner expressed the following: ‘I am quite excited with the idea of structure and inhalt being within the realm of the artist, and the placement (+ use) being in the realm of those who are to live with it.’ His contribution consisted of text works displayed on the rectangular steel plates used by Münster’s municipal workers to cover construction-site holes in the streets. If Weiner’s intervention plays with the distribution of his pieces within the city, it also introduces a notion that can be considered as one of the most interesting approaches with regard to skulptur projekte’s context; that of use, and the importance of placing the work within the life of the people who live with it.

Use is also at the core of a number of works completed in the context of this year’s event. Nauman’s ‘Square Depression’ and Martin Boyce’s ‘We are still and reflective’ are public squares constructed in two locations within the city, on the campus of the University of Natural Sciences and on the border of the Promenade, respectively. Both installations conceive of the city square as the ‘zero degree’ of public art, opposing the traditional monument to the horizontal space appropriated by the inhabitants of the city. Nauman’s project takes the form of an inverted pyramid made of four large white concrete triangles, extending downwards and intersecting at the lowest point in the centre. He describes it as ‘somewhere lost and out of time’, as a ‘misplaced place’. Boyce’s square consists of an assemblage of numerous concrete slabs whose forms are borrowed from the French sculptors Jan and Joel Martel’s concrete trees. A number of metallic bands have been placed in the gap between the slabs to form letters, which, following the outlines of the shapes, read, ‘We are still and reflective’.

Two works more directly involve Münster’s inhabitants in their development and completion, approaching the notion of use as a straightforward answer to the issue of art in public space. For ‘Speak to the Earth and It Will Tell You’, Jeremy Deller has asked 54 users of allotment gardens in Münster to keep a diary for a period of ten years, until the next skulptur projekte. There is nothing to visit during the event but the typical German allotment gardens; the development of Deller’s project is left in the participant’s care, between two editions of skulptur projekte. Located on the outskirts of the city, Pawel Althamer’s ‘Path’ is one kilometre long, starting in a public park and continuing through the neighbouring wheat fields. Though the initial path was designed by the artist, the development of the work now belongs to Münster’s residents, free to abandon the work to the vegetation, to preserve the path by keeping using it or to modify its route. Such paths, simply made by people walking and taking shortcuts in public spaces are called ‘desire lines’ by architects—collective creations revealing how people use and appropriate the city, an interesting model for artists willing to work in public spaces.

Christophe Gallois is a writer and curator based in Paris
sculptur projekte münster 1 June-30 September 2007