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Suddenly this closeness:
Notes on Collier Schorr



In the USA, Collier Schorr is one of the most influential artists of her generation. Her carefully composed photographs of German youths posing in uniforms of the Third Reich, the US armed forces, and the Israeli army also made her known virtually overnight on the European art scene. Now, her exhibition project "Freeway Balconies" is on show at the Deutsche Guggenheim. But what prompts Schorr to explore the male worlds of soldiers, wrestlers, and racing car drivers? Oliver Koerner von Gustorf on the New York-based artist's controversial work.



Collier Schorr, Opium, 2005
Courtesy 303 Gallery, New York


"I would stay home with the parents playing cards, watching boxing, and drinking 'Vogelmilch.'" When Collier Schorr talks about her German family, it sounds like it's from another time. On the table in front of her is a photo album with pictures from Vogelmilchland: under a broad sky, a girl with blonde braids stands in overgrown corn fields; a stone statue of Maria holds Christ's shroud in her hands. The sun shines over abandoned factories, latticework facades, and lowered blinds. Boys pose in Nazi uniforms or uniforms of the American army; they hang out in the grass. Neighbors/Nachbarn is the title of the book published in late 2006 to accompany Forests & Fields, Schorr's first German one-person exhibition at the Badischer Kunstverein.



Collier Schorr, Brother and Sister, reflection, 2002
Courtesy 303 Gallery, New York


We're sitting in her Brooklyn studio sipping cappuccino from a coffee shop around the corner. Outside, the street is lined with brick buildings, workshops, and garages, and now and again trucks thunder down Driggs Avenue. It's a cold spring day, with small dogs bundled up in little coats and art students zipping by on mountain bikes; the summertime Germany in Schorr's book seems as far away as a hyper-real dream. And it looks so black and white, so crystal clear and ruthless, as though Walker Evans' images of impoverished country laborers hadn't been made in the American Midwest during the Great Depression of the 1930s, but in Swabia. Or, more precisely, in Swabian Gmünd, where Schorr has spent every summer for the past 19 years. Located fifty kilometers to the east of Stuttgart, it has become her second home. To the people who live here, Collier is the "American" sister who takes part in birthday celebrations and funerals; she has repeatedly photographed their homes, children, friends, and relatives over the years. But what propels a New York artist from a liberal Jewish background into the narrow confines of a small Swabian city?


Collier Schorr, The Master, 2007
Courtesy 303 Gallery, New York


When Collier explains that she became stranded here in 1989 with 30 dollars in her pocket on her first trip to Germany and met her girlfriend, 18 at the time, in the only alternative bar in the city, then it seems clear: this is how you fall in love with a person's city and countryside. Indeed, it sounds like a love story when she describes how she was taken in overnight by her friend's parents - Siebenbürger Saxonians who came to Swabia as immigrants, people she would play cards with in the evening beneath framed puzzles. But then she describes her initial attempts at separation, the panic she felt in the face of such a vastly different background. She speaks of her friend's gentle insistence, the afternoons she met with the whole extended family for barbeques in their little garden, and how their unconditional affection enabled her to eventually forget her fears. When Schorr speaks of "her" family without hesitation, when she says "Vogelmilsch" in her New York accent, as though the Rumanian sweet were a thing everyone should know, it takes on an aftertaste of whipped egg white and powdered sugar, reminiscent of the milky white skin and blond hair radiating in her photographs: the skin of children stepping out of the shade of fruit trees, adolescent boys in camouflage pants lounging on cots or in blossoming meadows, peering into the camera like heroic war prisoners.


Collier Schorr,
Matti, Back (There I was...), Ellwangen, 2001
Courtesy 303 Gallery, New York


In light of Schorr's photographic excursions, another motif of her fascination for German culture becomes apparent: the possibility of slipping into another identity, to travel to another country so foreign as to seem like the enemy, and to absorb everything that is the exact opposite of oneself. Yet it was only after four years, in the mid-nineties, that she actually began taking photographs in Swabian Gmünd - at exactly the same time the American army withdrew. Schorr, born in 1963, was unable to pass by train tracks in Germany without thinking of the deportations to concentration camps; smoking chimneys made her deeply uneasy. At the time, she says, she was only able to spend time here as a member of a victorious power in an occupied country, protected by the American army: "The minute they closed the army base I became obsessed with recreating their presence in town. So all these things started happening in my work when I started photographing the family and started building projects around these characters, their identities, or sub-identities."



Collier Schorr, Fussball Spieler, 2004
Courtesy 303 Gallery, New York


Because of Schorr's assertive manner in dealing with male rituals and military and sport fetishes, her photographic concerns have often been reduced to a homoerotic or queer perspective. One of her own best-known statements contributed to this. When she was asked years ago why she photographed wrestlers and soldiers, but not girls, she answered: "I do, I just use boys to do it." Yet she has serious problems when her work is ascribed to a primarily gay context: "The word 'queer' has too much content in it. I would prefer just to be seen as an artist than queer. I consider myself part of the art scene just as Thomas Demand is part of it. Convincing Germany to see me as part of it is difficult because the work seems to be so radically different, but in fact it is a continuum. It all comes from August Sander, who tried in his photographic portraits to record the wide spectrum of social and vocational groups in the Weimar Republic. It all comes from this idea of trying to capture these different characters and style them into a format. Sander would bring clothes and he would pick the people and this would be his vice person."



left:
Collier Schorr,
Helmet, Kindling and Deer Feed (Winter), Durlangen, 2000
Courtesy 303 Gallery, New York


right:
Collier Schorr, 2 Clicks North, 2000
Courtesy 303 Gallery, New York


Schorr, too, picks a "vice person" to stand for an entire generation. For instance, in 2007 she used the story of the 19-year-old drag car racer Charlie "Astoria Chas" Snyder and his '67 "Ko-Motion" Corvette as the basis for her installation There I Was in the 303 Gallery in New York. Already as a child, she accompanied her father, who worked as a motor sports journalist and photographer, on races that boys like Snyder and his souped-up car took part in. One of her father's articles from the late sixties documents the feeling of the time: "While Astoria Chas does his duty in Vietnam, his friends carry on the race with his L-88." The dream of speed and youthful rebellion is overshadowed by an aftertaste of political reality and death. When the article is published, Snyder has already fallen.



Collier Schorr, Chas Posing For My Dad, 2007
Courtesy 303 Gallery, New York

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