Artist′s Plan to Put Death on Display Draws Disgust | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 22.04.2008
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Artist's Plan to Put Death on Display Draws Disgust

German artist Gregor Schneider's plan to feature a dying or recently dead person in an exhibition about the "beauty of death" has been panned by critics who say he's going too far.

Portrait of Gregor Schneider

Schneider wants to free death from cultural taboos

Schneider, 39, is looking for someone prepared to die a natural death in the most artificial of settings -- a room especially created by the artist, possibly in a museum. It should be a "humane place for death," Schneider said, adding that the dying person would be permitted to have a say in how the exhibition is carried out.

"Unfortunately today, death and the road to death are about suffering," the 2001 winner of the Venice Biennale told Die Welt newspaper. "Coming to terms with death as I plan it can help take away the pain of dying for us."

According to some reports, Schneider has already found an obliging participant.

But will he be permitted to go ahead with his plan? Not, it seems, if certain members of the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) have anything to say about it.

Wolfgang Boernsen, cultural spokesman for the conservatives' parliamentary group, and Guenter Krings, a member of the parliamentary committee for culture and the media, have released a joint statement opposing Schneider's concept.

Gregor Schneider's exhibit entitled Hannelore Reuen

Schneider's work often takes death as its theme

"At the end of his or her life, a human being should not be debased as a mere object to look at," the politicians said. "Death is the final phase of human life, which should not be put on public display as an instrument for artistic or other purposes."

They said that while Gregor Schneider is an important contemporary artist, he has become obsessed with an idea which seeks to appeal to our most macabre, voyeuristic instincts.

Death becomes him

Since discussing the concept for his exhibition publicly, Schneider said he has been on the receiving end of extreme reactions -- including death threats.

"I get phone calls or e-mails with recommendations that I kill myself," he told the Westdeutsche Zeitung daily. "I've received an absurd death threat. But nothing's even happened yet."

Schneider is perhaps unable to comprehend the consternation his idea rouses, given that he himself would like to die in a room of his choosing, in a museum, surrounded by art. His hope, he said, is to die "beautifully."

"Maybe we could all do that, if we were to free death of its taboos, and turn it into a positive experience, akin to that of the birth of a child," Schneider said.

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