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Galerie Peter Herrmann
Graue Linie
The Linden-Museum Stuttgart exhibits its permanent collection from May 15 - Sept. 26, 2004

Unobserved from the outside, the Linden-Museum is one of the institutions that acquired art by African artists — and therefore put an end to my longstanding thesis of the missing presence of this type of art in German museum collections.

A circumstance that should be a happy one, if there weren't a whole lot of nonsense to be expected in the Linden-Museum for Ethnology in Stuttgart, my hometown. Not at all expecting that the museum's Africa department was in a position to ever put up another exhibition, I became aware of the unanticipated activities in a program calendar.

I had to smirk when I saw the advertisement. Dr. Hermann Forkl, probably the exhibition concept's initiator, seemed to want to contrast an alternative to the imaginary idea of the "modern" by emphasizing the Other Moderns. Daring. Barely has something arrived in the jungle of western contemporary art that one could, in all differentiations, designate as art from Africa, does he contrast it against an immature "other" in all the past few years' exhibitions.

You have to give it to Mr. Forkl. He gallantly enters the void. You can almost see a cloud of dust behind him. But don't get the wrong idea, it comes from the Sütterlin writings; disintegrating papers in the vitrines, which piled 5cm thick on his shoulders while he walked through the lonely archive hoping to find the "other" there.

A subtle naiveté from the Oshogbo city — a center for Yorubaish devotional trade in Nigeria — flickers through the grey-blue advertising background. Spiritual apparitions glide mystically over a colorful spotted rug, warming ethnologists' hearts in the face of so much original  proof as their cultures fall. The color can't be seen in the advertisement because of a heartless graphic designer, but in the foreground is an amorphous vertical arm in red (the original is horizontal and brown) upon whose upper end the unformed hand holds an astonished, unformed mask by its chin. Silhouetted and mercilessly slapped onto the Oshogbo.

Old assumptions shot through my head after seeing the advertisement. Will Mr. Forkl, whose personal motto is "How it once was in reality," exhibit Mr. Tingatinga? One of the housekeepers discovered by relief workers, who in his unemployment created cute little animal pictures for the children's room with poppy, unresistant acrylic on hardboard, establishing a tourist income that flourished for centuries? Will Mr. Forkl finally exhibit his collection of hair-salon signs, of which is rumored that he, Mr. Forkl, bureaucrat, acquired from Mr. Forkl, private citizen? The ones kept from us for so long? Of which, despite many requests, he never denied that the buying price should be 85,000E? We could already mock some of the signs he bought in the mid-90s when we realized he thought they were art. Does he seriously want to tell us that these are the other moderns? Something that entertained us ten years ago — will he make it true now?

Will he show the perfectly formed stones from Zimbabwe, where half the population has been busy transporting a serpentine mountain range to satisfy the demands of a worldly clientele for Zimbabwean dream- and spirit-figures to aesthetically decorate their genuine oakwood-veneered living room wall unit with imitation Munyaradzis? Will the Presbyterian handicraft centers' linoleum prints appear in Forkl's Other Moderns? And please, please, another Makonde figure on top. Nicely polished so dust doesn't stick to it. But please with a Cites certificate. Hey, Mr. Forkl, don't forget — ebony — endangered species. Not that we, as bureaucrats, can declare mass product as arts and crafts with Germany's 16% value-added tax, instead of as art, which takes only 7% VAT, to take this as a detour in admiring junk.

Such thoughts went through my mind. Then a look at the Museum's website and my worst fears became reality. Hair-salon sign "art", arts and crafts, and lo: "from the expressive carvings of the Makonde 'tribe' to multifacted academic painting and Ethiopia's drastic political art to western Africa's colorful sign painting."

I had forgotten Ethiopia's drastic political art. There are primarily images of tribal slaughters and also of love, courageous lion hunters and similarly meaningful genres in the traditional icon painting style. With the large amount of these works available, our field researchers will surely be able to bear witness to an originating epicenter as well. This folk culture tradition can be followed throughout the centuries. It's hard to comprehend what in it is supposed to be modern.

Have all discussions on the topics of art and ethnology completely missed the Linden-Museum? All the stupidities that were slowly cleaned out, now compromised as a pile of swept-up trash in Stuttgart, the Swabian tribal chieftain's lair? Africa's past art, confusingly termed as primitive, now seamlessly arriving in the moderns as naive? Every classical and already punishable stupid didactic mistake of the 70s warmed over in a desperate attempt of a completely backward Doctor of Ethnology from the Bavarian Tribe's? Is this what we can expect? Their Gods must be crazy...

Oh Lord, send down a brain...

Can a few readers besides ethnologists remember the 70s in Germany in connection to art from Africa? The handling of old art landed in a few museum bureaucrats' antiseptic hands and was therefore damned to increasing meaninglessness for time eternal, and became something that no longer interested upcoming audiences. The magic moment of an unproductive partnership between ethnologist and dean. The term "art" was still negated in ethnological circles at the time, because natural tribes had no word for art. In search of one, which according to theory should arise in the flux, paired with a current peculiar sweet longing, academic field researchers declared everything that was colorful enough for their snuff collection as art. The main thing was that a story was told that was suitable as a building block for their sociological tautology. Scurrilous, horrifying, mythical, naive, childish and funny were the selection criteria. Art collections emerged in which low-brow philanthropists collected everything that shone in the sun in gleaming acrylic for three times nothing. All the better when the sign authentically peeled because it hadn't been primed, which wasn't a criteria anyway.

The academies existing in Africa were largely ignored, as they were too reminiscent of the western image. Instead, pompous do-it-yourself supertalents were courted — who pruned themselves like Christmas trees, forcefully hopped next to spirit images and were dubbed with the new term "performance". Best that one called himself a prince and invented a compelling story. Almost all such "discovered" and self-made artists were sign painters, studio photographers, village priests — in short, mostly craftspeople and housekeepers.

Mr. Forkl is reconnecting to exactly these 70s now, in 2004. With this background — if a critical, discursive reflection of the time under the consideration of art-historical classification were to take place — this exhibition, with all its lamentation, could become an asset. Not everything I cover somewhat superficially here is bad; most is more a differentiation of terminology. Gunter Péus' collection, very obviously copied by our Stuttgart bureaucrat, is an important and valuable engagement in contemporary history in everything that exposes itself as a horror by today's standards. But with Forkl, it could be like trusting the cat to keep the cream. Everything that was written and spoken of in the past twenty years with the background of exoticism, Eurocentrism, cultural imperialism, desired projects, charity cases and transmission errors, I see it coming — Forkl wants to wipe it all away again with one choleric brushstroke.

Is he following the demands of the time or does he negate the same because in a scientific context it's more important to validate not zeitgeist but unspectacular unconventionalism? Does he make populist compromises to attract missing visitors?

None of the above. Something is taking place that could have developed a bit like as follows: In lonely years of study, colorful little pictures are consolidated. In the years at the museum, the soft spot for rustic color continues, this time visibly, in the removal of top-class old specimens from the permanent collection's vitrines, to be replaced with childish recycling motorcycles. Increasingly lonely, something like spite is apparently developing in unedifying connection with their own investments, which will stimulate trade among people who wear wide-wale cord.

It is the repulsive gesture of advanced scientific theory full of terminological errors and uncontemporary observations that will likely make this exhibition an annoyance for many, even now. An institution makes itself responsible for this exhibition, which pedagogically proclaims the presentation of world cultures with a straight face. But the advertisement already hides so many improvidences that the worst can be expected after the opening.

It is generally known that some artistic personalities have developed from sign painting. That, derivatively, African advertising graphics have mutated to art, because some of its protagonists have gone this direction is, on the other hand, simply nonsense. In the 20th century, with all continental differences, advertising graphics are advertising graphics here or there, handicrafted small series are handicrafts here or there, and art is, wherever it is, more than only thown-down little stories that come from the gut without knowledge of materials. In Africa, a continuing-education painting course is a mission station. An artist can scarcely emerge from a member of a clan whose language is dying out, who scratches his tribal myths according to ethnological stimulation with a colored pencil. And not at all per se.

And now comes the fun part. The advertisement states that the exhibition is dedicated to kitsch. It seems to me that the expression isn't exact enough. More likely is that the exhibition is about kitsch. The title would have to be changed to The Other Kitsch of Africa. Or even more exact: Africa's True Kitsch.

Or do we have to change our thinking to something European? The crying gypsy child as a relief print in a synthetic frame, the Bakelite Eiffel tower as a television relic and the Daedalian snow globe as Europe's Other Moderns? That would be difficult.

Come catch the fever, be astonished. Will he do it? The gallant Herr Forkl and perhaps even his Matrix Firla? Will my favorite unethnologist go one further and maybe even write about art? In his self-published catalog? Or will K.-F. Tingatinga Schädler do it?

Can the term "academic," right in the middle of the arts and crafts confusion, be connected to Péus' naive collection? Have the exhibition curators helped themselves to it? Have the gentlemen convened? Are the 70s ruthlessly striking back? Is the new modern collection an exact copy of the Horizonte '79 exhibition in the framework of the 1st Festival of World Cultures in Berlin?

Is The Other therefore a sleek product of vacuity?

So many questions.

Let's look forward to it together. I can hardly wait: The time after May 15, 2004 in the Linden-Museum.

Peter Herrmann, in April 2004

P.S.: buy dust rags.


Schöner Kitsch

The Other Moderns

Graue Linie
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