Monday, July 15, 2013

A show about terrorism and its historic hues

An interesting exhibit, entitled ‘October 18, 1977’, takes place at Klemens Gasser & Tanja Grunert, Chelsea. It stands out for the fact that the participating artists take inspiration from an eponymous 15-painting cycle by Gerhard Richter a 1970s West German terrorist group’s imprisonment and demise. The series in the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection shows the Baader-Meinhof gang and the prison where they died. The project is considered not just a bellwether of starkly conceptual painting, but also perhaps the best art made about terrorism ever.

“What might the sequence of events well mean to artists in some other country who are gripped by spectre of radical terrorists, albeit a generation removed and an ocean away? How might today’s artists respond to iconic pieces of art, which addressed the events in their immediate aftermath?” These are some of the questions that guided Birgit Rathsmann who has collaborated with 19 artists from Europe and the US to conceptualize this meditation on that ‘infamous night’.

Many works in the show respond to Richter’s paintings whereas some other creations address specific aspects of the deaths and their cultural setting: the aesthetics of mid-20th century German institutional architecture, that particular era’s proliferation of ‘zine-like publications sympathizing with terrorist organizations and the psychological impact of prolonged solitary confinement. An accompanying note elaborates: “Rathsmann ‘commissioned’ new pieces and collaborated to varying degrees with the participants in the exhibition. This created a dialog among artists who share her interest in the questions raised by the events of October 18, 1977 and those raised by earlier artworks that address those events. In other words, Rathsmann didn’t curate this show; she served as its catalyst.”

Taken together, they come across as a multifaceted examination of that confounding historical moment in the Germany of 1977 and its lingering cultural influence. Artists included in ‘October 18, 1977’ are Neil Bender, Michele Abeles, Erica Baum, Becket Bowes, Grayson Cox, Tania Cross, Anthony Lepore, Oliver Kossack, David Lukowski, Jessica Mein, Dominic Nurre, Filip Noterdaeme, Paul Pfeiffer, Claudia Pena Salinas, Jochen Plogsties, Siebren Versteeg, Daniel Rich, Kristof Wickman, Jeff Williams, and Jenny Vogel.

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