Why artist Gregor Schneider is the master of German Angst | Arts | DW | 05.12.2016
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Why artist Gregor Schneider is the master of German Angst

The works created by Gregor Schneider, winner of the Golden Lion in 2001, are eerily disturbing. They can now be experienced at an exhibition in Bonn called "Wall Before Wall."

For the exhibition "Wall Before Wall" at the Bundeskunsthalle museum in Bonn, Gregor Schneider conceived 20 spaces, offering a retrospective of his works of the last 30 years.

It is dark in most of them. Darkness is one of the artist's guiding principles, says the curator of the exhibition, Ulrich Loock. Schneider rather sees his art as "a self-consuming production." One thing is clear: Theoretical discussions cannot convey what one feels experiencing the works of this artist first-hand.

Gregor Schneider Wand vor Wand (Gregor Schneider/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016 )

"Dark Room" by Gregor Schneider

The entrance hall is filled with a video projection of a temple being built in Kolkata. It's vibrant and noisy, creating a shocking contrast with the following space: A steel door leads to an aseptic corridor with a series of fake doors, reproducing a hallway of Guantanamo Bay's top-secret high-security prison. It smells of disinfectant; it's screamingly silent.

Creepy imagery

The next room is a chamber out of corrugated iron with a floor drain. Then comes a refrigerated room. Going through these spaces, a narrative emerges. What kind of torture takes place behind those closed doors? How much blood was poured down that drain? Is the cold room a space to keep bodies or does it provide another torture method?

In another windowless linoleum-covered room, a children's pink mattress is the only piece of furniture. It automatically triggers more disturbing associations.

Gregor Schneider Porträt (Ottmar von Poschinger)

Gregor Schneider won the top prize at the Venice Biennale in 2001

A feeling of oppression emerges from these spaces. They raise questions about death and violence, morality and ethics. 

Intimidating simulations

After going through the "Guantanamo" wing, visitors are left walking in the dark, until they reach a shabby living room and bedroom with cheap ingrain wallpaper, and a gray-plastered garage in a moldy smelling basement with an oil tank.

They are remains of Schneider's middle-class home "Totes Haus u r," an ambitious installation built by the artist inside the German Pavilion at the Biennale in Venice in 2001 - with which he also won the "Golden Lion" that year.  

A room for 'German Angst'

Schneider has been building rooms in his works for many years. The now 47-year-old artist removes rooms from houses and builds them into new spaces. Or he reproduces copies of existing rooms.

Schneider bought Joseph Goebbel's former house and gutted it, and then sent the rubble to Warsaw (picture-alliance/dpa/F. Gambarini)

Schneider bought Joseph Goebbel's former house and gutted it, and then sent the rubble to Warsaw

Two years ago, he bought the birth house of Adolf Hitler's minister of propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, in Rheydt. He gutted it and had the demolition waste dumped in Warsaw. The performance was filmed; the video is shown at the Bonn exhibition.

Schneider's rooms are always closed, often soundproofed, and they rarely open onto the outside. One exception is a "mud room," which includes a clay basin and a hole in the ceiling. It can rain and snow in it; it was conceived to rot. The work is entitled "German Angst 3." "Germans are world champions in transmitting fear," Schneider says about it.

The exhibition "Wall Before Wall" runs at the Bundeskunsthalle in Bonn until February 19, 2017.


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