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  • Tasteless, Crude, and Politically Progressive
  • Paul David Young (bio)
Christoph Schlingensief , Christoph Schlingensief, a solo exhibition at MoMA PS1, Long Island City , New York , March 9–August 31, 2014 .

When Christoph Schlingensief posthumously represented Germany at the 2011 Venice Biennale and his exhibition won the Biennale’s Golden Lion for Best National Participation, his name may have still been unknown to many, since he had worked outside the art world proper for the most part and primarily in the German-speaking realm in film, theatre, opera, and television.

The exhibition on Schlingensief’s work at MoMA PS1 is therefore illuminating in many ways. It is of course a well-composed survey of his artistry in the different fields in which he operated (film, theatre, television, opera, and visual art). Through video and production stills and explanatory wall text, it provides an introduction to many of his diverse ventures. The show demonstrates that Schlingensief was an important artist and justifies in this instance the application of the kind of rhetoric that invariably attaches to an artist in promotional materials (“groundbreaking,” “genre-defying,” “revolutionary”).

The exhibition also illuminates how to build a career out of blunt, campy taste-leness that is directed toward social good through provocation. One need only think of his project My Felt, My Hat, My Hare at documenta X in 1997, during which Schlingensief and his troop of professionals and amateurs occupied a building in a park, confronting the police and chanting, only days after she was killed, “Lady Di, the old slut, is dead at last,” and, “Kill Helmut Kohl,” the chancellor of Germany. Advocating the assassination of the country’s leader is one thing, but how about making a television show (Freakstars 3000) along the lines of American Idol in which the contestants, all residents of a home for the mentally disabled, are ruthlessly critiqued? Or how about his 2000 television series (U3000) filmed live on the subway, or U-Bahn, in which Schlingensief appeared on camera indecently underdressed in clear plastic and fake fur, singing and dancing and shoving carrots up the ass of a naked audience volunteer kneeling on a rolling cart in the middle of the train car? During this [End Page 73]


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Christoph Schlingensief, Eine Kirche der Angst, 2008, film still. Courtesy Aino Laberenz.


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Christoph Schlingensief, Kettensägenmassaker, 1990, film still. Photo: © Eckhard Kuchenbecker. Courtesy Filmgalerie 451.

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episode, a father and his two young sons look on in amusement and cheer Schlingensief’s outrages whenever called upon. Since part of Schlingensief’s project was to eliminate the division between audience and performer, it is a sign of his success to see that the audience does join in on the subway and, in other projects, during the demonstrations and confrontations with police.

The exhibition also illuminates how to be both a spotlight-hogging ham and an endearing, humble personage, the sincerity of whose beliefs and good intentions are never in doubt. Like any actor or enfant terrible, both of which Schlingensief was, he puts himself front and center, always the showman and principal mess-maker, screamer, and provocateur. In the documentation of his work, the troop of company regulars and amateur participants barely register, like the swarm of secondary figures surrounding Jesus in an altar painting. In his 1996 theatre piece Rocky Dutschke ’68 at the Volksbühne in Berlin, he staged a street confrontation during which the 1968 killing of beloved student political leader Rudi Dutschke was reenacted. Schlingensief appeared as himself, the master of ceremonies—a role he almost invariably assumed—and as Dutschke, though the production involved yet another Dutschke figure, played by someone else. Anna-Catherina Gebbers writes in her catalogue essay that Schlingensief always wore many hats: “In many of his projects, Schlingensief was the actor, cameraman, and editor, in later cases the set designer and builder, all under different pseudonyms.”

The exhibition’s organizers include MoMA PS1 director Klaus Biesenbach, the independent curator Anna-Catharina Gebbers, and the Kassel Fridericianum’s artistic director Susanne Pfeffer, in collaboration with Berlin’s Filmgalerie 451. The sumptuous accompanying catalogue, a joint publication of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1537-9477
Print ISSN
1520-281X
Pages
pp. 73-79
Launched on MUSE
2014-09-05
Open Access
No
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