Physical Dramaturgy: Ein (neuer) Trend?

Dramaturgie im zeitgenössischen Tanz ist ? positiv gemeint ? ein heißes Eisen. Idealerweise sind Dramaturginnen und Dramaturgen während der Erarbeitung eines Stücks die besten Freunde der Choreografen. more more



And then it went boom

Cornelius Tittel visits the "Neuen Wilden" artists, asking why the once wild young men and women are now all but forgotten.

"Poor boy," thought Rainer Fetting on the evening of 25 March 2006. Not much more. Just: "Poor boy." Although his face was reflected in the window of the "Ruz" tapas bar, he was not referring to himself. He was looking across the road, to the other side of Auguststrasse in Berlin, straight into the window of Eigen+Art gallery. He saw people smoking, drinking and blowing kisses.

Rainer Fetting,
"Stromboli", 1981. All images courtesy of Galerie Peter Borchardt

Francesca von Habsburg was trying in vain to get up the few steps into the gallery, past American billionaires, Japanese curators, German former ministers and all the other people who may only have been there for the free drinks, on this evening in the middle of Berlin.

Somewhere amidst all this, leaning against a wall, was Matthias Weischer, the poor boy from Leipzig who once again had sold all his paintings before the invitation cards were even printed. Six months before, one of his works had sold at auction for 321,000 euros.

The number "321,000" hissed round the room, "at 32 years of age", and the other numbers didn't sound bad either. The crush was like a cocktail party on Wall Street: wild, hysterical, but tense, as if it was important to keep an eye on stock prices even after the close of trading.

A few weeks later, the very thought of this evening will send a shiver down Rainer Fetting's spine. As bad as if he was driving very slowly past the site of an accident and had looked too long at just the wrong moment. "No," he will say, unlocking the door to his studio at Südstern in Berlin's Kreuzberg district: "I couldn't go in there. I sat down at the window across the street. The people waiting in line, the atmosphere, it all reminded me too much of the old days."

Rainer Fetting, "Good Cop Desmond", 2003

For Rainer Fetting, the old days is 25 years ago. In the old days, Fetting was what Weischer is today: young, successful, an international star. In the early 1980s, the art world had had enough of Conceptual and Minimal Art, it felt a hunger for paintings, a hunger satisfied by Fetting and his fellow Moritz Boys (of the Self-Help gallery at Berlin's Moritz Platz) with their large-format canvases. At this time, Fetting's pictures had titles like "Van Gogh at the Berlin Wall" or "The Big Shower." They showed scenes from the gay subculture and looked like they had been painted after an amphetamine-fuelled sleepless night by some revenant version of Max Beckmann.

Fetting became a star of the Neuen Wilden (or young wild artists). After the celebrated "New Spirit in Painting" show at the Royal Academy in London, he entrusted his business to Anthony D'Offay, Bruno Bischofberger and Mary Boone, the three most successful gallerists of their time. Collectors waving blank checks, invitations to dinner with Gloria von Thurn und Taxis - everything Jonathan Meese, Daniel Richter and the painters of the Leipzig School are experiencing today, Fetting has seen it all (see our feature "A sight for sore eyes" on the New Leipzig School).

Anyone who wants to know what life after fame might look like for the star painters of today need only visit the heroes of yesterday. Salomé, Fetting's former partner, loved to fly Concorde and is now happy if he "manages to keep the costs under control" when he paints. Elvira Bach, who showed at Documenta in 1982, now shows at Festung Rosenburg. Or Rainer Fetting, who once told journalists he was making not art but art history, now admits he "sometimes feels frustrated."

Everyone has their own destiny, says Fetting. "Some people only become famous when they're dead, others have sustained success, and others are destined to be feted then forgotten." This last destiny is one he shares with almost all the major star painters of the 1980s who disappeared from public view in the wake of the art market crash of 1990. With the Italians Cucchi, Chia and Clemente, with David Salle, Julian Schnabel and the painters of the Mülheimer Freiheit group (named after street where they shared a studio in Cologne).

Rainer Fetting, "Schlittschuh", 1981

There are now so many famous corpses lining the wayside of recent art history that Maurizio Cattelan's Wrong Gallery recently published a book dedicated to the "100 Most Forgotten Artists." It featured nothing but rave reviews from the international art press of the eighties and nineties. With Rainer Fetting featured several times.

Not that there is any cause for serious concern. Fetting still has a few loyal collectors, he rents out his New York loft for top prices, and in Berlin he owns half of a tenement block where he lives and works with more than 700 square meters. The only thing is: "Hardly anyone hears about what I'm doing, the major magazines stopped writing anything and never started again."

When Rainer Fetting talks about his meteoric rise, he tells a story of being subjected to excessive demands. The story of a young painter from Berlin's down-at-heel Kreuzberg district who becomes a star overnight, who has no command of business or small talk, whose sole desire is to paint, and who responds to the art world with an arrogance born of shyness. "Once a boom like that gets underway, when everyone is tugging at you, it's hard to carry on doing your own thing. You're under constant stress."

To him, this pressure was so great that over the years he fell out with all of the gallerists, as a kind of act of defiance. And now he sits there and is annoyed that his show is at Kunsthalle Emden in the deepest provinces, while Immendorf's is at the New National Gallery in Berlin (see our feature "The art of the ape" on the show).

"It has nothing to do with quality," he says. "The works exist. If I was able to do a major show again, I'd blow away some of the people being celebrated today. But I don't get the chance."

Rainer Fetting, "Cab", 2003

Fetting shows some new works – in one large-format picture, a hurricane sweeps across a road, bile-green palm trees bend over double. Fetting still knows what he is capable of. If he was young and from Leipzig, he would be sure to score record prices at auctions. For the hurricane and for the underground pictures leaning against the wall in the next room.

As he sees it, it would only be fair for him to be given a sporting chance, to go head-to-head with Georg Baselitz or Gerhard Richter. "That's something I'd like to see. Baselitz selects his fifteen best works and I select mine. Then we'd see. That would be an interesting project, but it hasn't occurred to anyone, because even the major museums only follow trends, and the powerful gallerists obey them."

Now Fetting is sitting in his office. On the wall above him hangs a photo that shows him with Andy Warhol. The picture is 25 years old, and even then, he looked into the camera as if he didn't trust all the excitement. "It is not an easy path," he says, and hands over a pile of catalogues. "The main thing is that things that are good get made."

The Berlin collector, dealer and curator Heiner Bastian is probably right: it probably really is true that after success, there are two options open to artists: "Either they achieve classic status," he claims, "or they disappear."

But there are different ways of disappearing, as one notices after a short trip on the underground through Kreuzberg. Just four stops from Fetting's studio at Südstern is the place where it all began for the Moritz Boys and the Neuen Wilden. Salomé (paintings here) still lives in the same house where he and Fetting, together with Helmut Middendorf and Luciano Castelli, founded the Moritzplatz Self-Help Gallery in 1977.

Rainer Fetting, "Green Glow", 1989

"I'm still here," he says, pouring himself a cup of lukewarm peppermint tea. While Fetting carries on his bitter struggle for a place in art history, Salomé gives the impression of a former pop star who is happy to take yoga courses and do some voluntary work for AIDS support groups.

In winter – says the man who once sold the output of an entire year to Bruno Bischofberger in advance – in winter he doesn't paint at all. The heating costs for his studio on the first floor are just too high. "Things could be going a bit better," he says, but on the whole he is content. "My work has hung in almost every museum in the world. I can't ask more than that." Even the rock'n'roller in him, so he claims, has achieved all of the major objectives: stretch limos, flights on a Concorde, a jet-set life between Long Island and Bad Doberan, fast money, fast drugs, and even faster sex. People who knew him at the peak of his success describe him as an egomaniac.

Salomé's arrogance seems to have given way to a kind of humility. Maybe he is enough of a rock'n'roller to guess that there are worse things than being a one-hit wonder. Maybe someone broke it to him gently that his new pictures are so bad that he can be glad of the chance to show them at all. One thing is certain: he has seen through the first rule of the art market. "Children," says Salomé, "always need new toys."

Elvira Bach is someone else who once produced the kind of toys which, for a few years, big collectors and museums were queuing up for. She too still works in Kreuzberg, she too shot to fame overnight as one of the Neuen Wilden. Bach went for a broad approach, both physically and in the marketing of her art: at Documenta in 1982, the broadsheet art critics enthused over her female figures, and not long after, you could buy them in the supermarket, decorating wine labels, boxes of biscuits and a tea service by Rosenthal. For "Bunte" magazine, Bach became "Germany's best-known woman painter;" for the art world, she became a persona non grata.

"I was always very happy doing all that, and I still am," she says today. "That's what made me really successful." Elvira Bach sits at a long table in her huge light-flooded studio, smokes, laughs and smokes some more, always alternating between the two. Around her stand dozens of canvases all showing the same motif. A woman who, like Bach herself, wears fat gold earrings and red lipstick put on so thick it looks as if she has drawn an outline round the shape of her mouth. It is a woman who 20 years ago would have been called "strong" – Bach's only motif. For so many years now that the accusation of her living off self-plagiarism has long-since become a platitude.

The way Elvira Bach strolls over to her fridge, cigarette in hand, to fetch a bottle of champagne, in the early afternoon, she would make a good role model for young star painters who already sense that their days in the spotlight of the international press are numbered.

Martin Eder, for example, whose never-changing pictures of innocent nymphs and little pussy cats sell like hot cakes around the world: could he not follow her example and produce initial editions of 500 prints, or a pretty tea service?

"And why not?" asks Elvira Bach. "People are always saying: buy more art. For me, commercial has long since ceased to be a dirty word." Elvira Bach pours another glass, soon after four o'clock the bottle is empty. "Commercial, provincial. What do they mean?" She can even cure the young artists of their fear of the provinces. "You know," she says as her parting shot, "I've had both: big shows in big cities and little shows in small towns. I like it best in the provinces. At least there someone is pleased if someone famous shows up."

Rainer Fetting, "Willy Brandt", 1996. The statue is located in the SPD party headquarters in Berlin

The art market has a tendency for categorical judgements, says Heiner Bastian, and when he says "art market," he is not talking about sleepy provincial outposts. "Thumbs up or thumbs down. Classic status or oblivion."

Heiner Bastian should know. He has worked with the greatest classics, as private secretary to Beuys, later as the curator of the loveliest Warhol retrospective (shown at the Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin and The Tate, London). He also gave advice to those who disappeared, to Fetting and Salomé, as well as he could. It was he who purchased Fetting's "Big Shower" for the Marx Collection. "A powerful picture," he says, "even today." But it is not on show; since the opening of the Hamburger Bahnhof it has been in storage.

Does Bastian know why they disappeared, the former Neuen Wilden? "Their painting was probably just the expression of a feeling, a zeitgeist," he says: "And when that feeling disappeared, the art went with it." Bastian briefly raises his eyebrows, totally unsentimental, as if he were talking about asymmetrical haircuts, leggings or shoulder pads.

He doesn't say that the forlorn figures and sad interiors of the Leipzig School might also just be the expression of a particular feeling or zeitgeist. Anything is possible, even a revival of shoulder pads. But, he says, it's not likely.


The article originally appeared in Die Welt Am Sonntag on May 14, 2006.

Cornelius Tittel is cultural editor for Die Welt.

Translation: Nicholas Grindell

Get the signandsight newsletter for regular updates on feature articles. - let's talk european.

More articles

When soft power fails the acid test

Wednesday 14 March, 2012

Western museums are opening their halls for huge state exhibitions in collaboration with non-democratic regimes. The British Museum is currently hosting an exhibition on the Hajj which is funded by Saudi Arabia and reflects the royal family's position on the ritual. Should an institution dedicated to secular learning accommodate such religiously doctrinaire exhibitions? Yes, says Malise Ruthven in the New York Review of Books blog, who evidently believes in the conciliatory effects of such cultural politics. Tagesspiegel author Nicola Kuhn sees the new "Roads of Arabia" exhibition in Berlin's Pergamon Museum more critically. Image © National Museum, Riyadh
read more

Art in circles

Wednesday 7 March, 2012

TeaserPicFrankfurt's Städelmuseum has just opened its new subterranean contemporary art extension, the culmination of a radical overhaul of the building and its collections. Hans-Joachim Müller ventures down below the surreal domed lawn and is left to meander through a refreshingly idiosyncratic retrospective that turns its back on received ideas about the progress of art. (Image:exterior view of Städel extension by Norbert Miguletz)
read more

Hokusai and the quest for perfection

Tuesday 20 September, 2011

The Martin Gropius Bau in Berlin is currently hosting Germany's first major retrospective of the legendary Japanese artist Hokusai, featuring over 430 exhibits, many of which have never left Japan before. It is hard to believe that such incredible diversity could stem from the hand of just one artist, but it is the product of a lifetime's dedication. By Katrin Wittneven. Image: "Onikojima Yataro and Saihoin Akabozu"© Katsushika Hokusai Museum of Art
read more

Who's afraid of Ai Weiwei?

Tuesday 12 April 2011

German museum director Martin Roth, who has just organised the exhibition "The Art of Enlightenment" in Beijing, belittles the attention focused on Ai Weiwei. His response to the arrest of the Chinese artist is alarming and clearly shows how marketing takes precedence over ethics in the world of culture. A commentary by Rüdiger Schaper.
read more

Protected by pictures

Friday 6 November, 2009

TeaserPicAi Weiwei - the modest megalomaniac, the relaxed rebel. Hanno Rauterberg met China's most interviewed man in the cellar of Munich's Haus der Kunst, where the artist was preparing to turn the place into a battlefield.
read more

The aesthetics of notation

Monday 4 May, 2009

TeaserPicAn exhibition in ZKM Karlsruhe explores the enormous range of artistic processes that exist between the moment of conception and finished work. By Kathrin Peters
Image: Dieter Appelt "Partitur" © 2009 ZKM
read more

Inflated phrases

Wednesday 28 May, 2008

When matter leads to immateriality and transcends the actuality of the object, we are reading a text about art. Notes on the crisis of criticism by Christian Demand
read more

Coincidence and illumination

Wednesday 19 September, 2007

Cologne Cathedral looks back at a long and eventful history. The inauguration of Gerhard Richter's stained glass window for the South Transept adds a new chapter, bright with 72-colour, frame-breaking abstraction. By Petra Kipphoff
read more

Poison in the air

Thursday 19 July, 2007

Now, as the last eye witnesses are dying out, totalitarianism is tempting a new generation to warm their hands in its fire. From Bernd Eichinger, Jonathan Meese and now Tom Cruise, is there no letting go of the Führer? By Georg Diez
read more

Summer of political art

Thursday 21 June, 2007

Both the Venice Biennale and the Documenta in Kassel have taken the dark side of modernity as their theme. Looking at how the two mega-exhibitons do battle, Hanno Rauterberg prefers Kassel's investigation of evil to Venice's concession to it. (Untitled, from the series Spring-Sow-Plum-Scene, 1996, mask 6, 2003. © Aoki Ryoko)
read more

Art on the cutting edge?

Thursday 14 June, 2007

Is today's art no more than the fashion of the day? Are there only niches in art, each with its own cutting edge? Brigitte Werneburg asks what contemporariness means in a world where the lines are blurred between fashionable art and artistic fashion.
read more

Art to the rescue

Wednesday 6 June, 2007

In a disused dockyard in Rostock, the "Art goes Heiligendamm" initiative has put the final touches to its G8 intervention. The preferred topic among the artworks is borders and overcoming them. Aside from that they deal anything that's good: information, documentation, irony, utopia, anti-consumerism. By Irene Grüter
read more

The unofficial documenta list

Thursday 3 May, 2007

Probable, silent, public, inofficial - there are many categories of participant in this year's documenta. What's lacking are the official ones. Because the exhibition organisers are keeping tight-lipped about what artists have been invited, we are left to guess, speculate, hope and dismay. By Ludwig Seyfarth
read more

Wurm holes everywhere

Wednesday 11 April 2007

Dada is back. Erwin Wurm is the great grandson of the Surrealists. The hilarity and hidden meanings of his stagings and sculptures unsettle and get under your skin. To coincide with a major retrospective in Hamburg's Deichtorhallen, Werner Spies visited the artist in his studio in Vienna.
read more

Smiles permitted, grins less welcome

Thursday 29 March, 2007

The art of glimmer and of deception. Seminal works show the roots and origins of the Op Art movement in an exhibition at Frankfurt's Schirn Kunsthalle. The dynamic of black and white fields meets snuffling electric motors. And a bachelor machine makes jokes and winks. By Ulf Erdmann Ziegler
read more