Jan Winkelmann

There have been a number of attempts in the last five years to exhibit both the art scene in Saxony as well as contemporary art from Dresden in either local, national and now with “SPLIT POINTS”, international presentations.

The first worthy initiative toward a stocktaking of contemporary art from Saxony was the traveling exhibition “Vitale Module“ which took place in 1997 and was initiated and organized by Harald Kunde, then director of Kunsthaus Dresden. It apparently followed the need for a better understanding, or even the establishment, of a regio-cultural identity. The exhibition brought together seventeen positions of contemporary art in Saxony. Art stars like Neo Rauch or Olaf Nicolai who have since become successful on an international level were represented here, as well as less established, but not less interesting artists such as Adam Page & Eva Hertzsch and Tilo Schulz. If the exhibition was not able to show a sense of homogeneity considering its prescribed focus on one federal state, then this had less to do with a curatorial deficit than with the diversification of local scenes and therefore, their representation in the superior context of an exhibition. There have been numerous exhibitions over the last ten years that have attempted to exhibit the art scene of a certain region and with this, generate a type of canonization in public perception. That the results of this attempt as a rule had to be and will always be very heterogeneous is fundamental to its nature. No contemporary art exhibition, whether it is a collection of national or of regional positions, would be capable of launching or even generating a trend. It might perhaps, at most, manage to clarify some aspects or to consolidate, and draw these into a limited “public consciousness” with the presentation. Since only one type of spotlight can be cast, so much of course still disappears into the darkness outside of this cone of light.

If efforts continue to be made to promote Dresden’s art scene with national and/or international exhibitions, as was the case with the exhibition “Success” in Kunsthaus Dresden, 2001 before “SPLIT POINTS”, then we need to ask why the production of art in Dresden is so interesting. What is interesting and at the same time, astounding, is that this does not differ very much from other German cities. Generally, you could say that aside from the occupation with traditional pictorial media like painting, there has been a change in consciousness regarding the way art has been made and thought about over the last ten years. There has been an increased interest in socio-political and socio-cultural issues as well as a growing concern with the everyday and the personal and work-related life. In addition, the shift and almost complete dissolution of the traditional notion of the art work as well as infringements and in some cases, appropriations by other art and non-art practices as well, led to the need to search for new forms of presentation and distribution. Although on the periphery, on the southeast border of the republic, an artistic potential in Dresden could develop within the above-mentioned context. One which allowed and would continue to allow work to be developed, which could participate on an equal level in the national and global art discourse, as would other cities that could more easily be deemed a nimbus of contemporary art centers.

The reasons why many students of the Art Academy in Dresden from outside the region come specifically here to study have less to do with factors aimed at a certain field of discourse, art related facilities or even potential networking possibilities. This might be the case with academies in other cities who offer star professors and a given proximity to galleries with a high economic presence, who could therefore promise (and then only putatively) a smoother path to success. The reasons that have brought and still bring people to Dresden have more to do with ‘soft factors’.

As the former royal seat, the federal state capital in certain areas may still emit the glow of former times, but nevertheless, the River Elbe’s metropolis thrives above all from her fractures and upheavals. It is a city in the process of metamorphosis and whose spirit is suspected of hovering somewhere between the myth of the olden days, the trauma of the destruction caused by the Second World War and a cautious euphoria about the future. City planning transformations are still going full speed ahead, as well as indications of the first image improvements, due to the establishment of new and innovative technology industries, clever structure developing decisions and massive investments. In the new federal states, still popularly known as “der wilde Osten” (“the wild East”), there are still many interesting facilities and various possibilities of placement within a not yet saturated society. The most exciting thing about living and working in a city so marked by social upheavals caused by the reunification is the incredible dynamic it has to offer. There are no bogged down structures that constrict ones own radius of action and for this reason so much more (although not everything) is open and possible.

All the same, there has been a noticeable migration of artistic talent from Dresden over the last few years that could almost be described as an exodus from the desert of Dresden to the exalted city of Berlin. Many artists living in Dresden have since searched for their salvation in Berlin. Dresden may well be an obvious and downright fruitful and inspiring place to study — or better: to spend a certain part of one’s artistic development — yet the chances available for establishing oneself in the art community are very clearly limited. This is because the city does not offer the infra-structural network necessary for the successful and professional advancement that would enable a spring from the periphery into the centers. Dresden does profit from its many treasures like the collections of old and new masters, the ‘Grünen Gewölbe’ and the ‘Semperoper’, but these are isolated examples that serve firstly the educated classes’ and especially the tourists’ concept of art. There is no contemporary art institution operating on an international level, nor is there a flourishing art trade, and consequently — except for some examples — no galleries worth naming who operate internationally, which might offer a possible economic basis for artists living locally, or could contribute to making Dresden a more attractive location for contemporary art. There is a nagging suspicion that Dresden, especially compared to Leipzig, might suffer from a form of indecisiveness when it comes to contemporary art. It does offer excellent educational possibilities with its Academy of Visual Arts, and with its various grants’ and awards’ programs (such as the Kulturstiftung des Freistaates Sachsen), also offer financial support that can help ease economic pressures during and after academic studies. In addition, there are a number of important institutions like the Albertinum, the Deutsche Hygiene-Museum and the Festspielhaus Hellerau for example, whose occasional and rather timid attempts in the area of contemporary culture promotion are unfortunately rarely acknowledged beyond the city or state's borders. Compared to Leipzig, where a joyously rapid development over the last five years can be noted, especially in newly established, self-run institutions and non-commercial exhibition spaces, no progressive tone can be sensed in Dresden — at least from a distance — despite evidence of immense artistic talent lurking in the city, confirmed again and again by the success of numerous younger generation artists who have either already left the city or who are on their way up, and out. A less halting official attitude toward a revitalization of the institutional art scene would most certainly set new impulses. It would also be undoubtedly a shot in the arm for Dresden's reputation as a center for contemporary art, as well as help the expansion of “Aufbau Ost” (the build-up of the East) regarding contemporary art.

If an exhibition presenting contemporary art from Dresden achieves more than a visual, aesthetic, conceptual and critical presence, and exposes certain (infra)structural problem areas which exist in its place of origin, then more would surely be accomplished than the simple generating of publicity for works by the participating artists.

(Translated by Laura Bruce)

Published in: SPLIT POINTS, Ausst. Kat. National Galerie Prag, 2003.

© 2003 Jan Winkelmann

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