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Pictures of the End of the American Dream - Philip-Lorca diCorcia in the Schirn Kunsthalle
It's Only a Step from a Miracle to a Disaster - Visiting the 55th Biennale di Venezia
Theaster Gates: Inner City Blues
Music as an Art Form - A Conversation between Anri Sala and Ari Benjamin Meyers
Deutsche Bank Opening New KunstHalle in Berlin
Violence and Creation: Imran Qureshi in the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle
Why drawing? Three questions for Victoria Noorthoorn
Question of Faith: Is There a Return of the Religious in Contemporary Art?
Searching for Pakistan - How Imran Qureshi is being celebrated as "Artist of the Year" in Lahore
City in Sight - The Deutsche Bank Collection at the Dortmunder U
"These are not Sunday painters" - Sophie von Olfers on MACHT KUNST
Make Art - The KunstHalle invites all Berlin artists to take part in a 24-hour exhibition
Barometer of the Art Scene - Preview of Frieze New York and Art Basel Hong Kong


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City in Sight
The Deutsche Bank Collection at the Dortmunder U

The age of cities: Not only urbanists deal with megacities. An exhibition of works from the Deutsche Bank Collection entitled City in Sight shows how artists perceive and think about cities. Art, says Kurt Wettengl, the director of the Dortmund museum showing the exhibition, not only helps us see cities differently, but also helps us to change them.

Change is a word that comes up again and again in a conversation with Kurt Wettengl, regardless of whether the topic is art or the city. “What appeals to me is perhaps being able to make a tiny contribution to changing the mentality in the Ruhr area,” says the director of the Museum Ostwall in Dortmund. He refers to his museum as a “power plant,” which, he says, should not only emit impulses, but also absorb them from the outside, from the reality of the region and the people who live there.

Stadt in Sicht. City in Sight is the programmatic title of a show from the Deutsche Bank Collection on view at the museum this spring. Museum Ostwall is the ideal venue for the exhibition, which, featuring around 280 works by some 70 artists, investigates artistic views of various aspects of urban life. It is the perfect place for the show not because the museum’s exhibition hall on the top floor of the Dortmunder U commands a view of the entire city but also because the institution and the director fervently promote dialog between art, architecture, and urban development. 

This is an extremely pressing issue in the Ruhr area, which has undergone major structural changes in recent decades, transforming from an industrial region to the home of a knowledge and service society. In the face of the demise of the coal mines and the closing of steelworks, the Ruhr area has had to say goodbye to its industrial monoculture and find a new identity. And this sense of self is nowhere near as clear as it used to be, when coal and iron coke ruled the day. Today, nearly 75% of the region’s employed work in commerce, transport, and research. The expansion of the infrastructure is drawing more and more companies. Still, the Ruhr area is struggling with shrinking cities, migration, a rising number of elderly people, and unemployment. By the same token, all of these problems are creating the opportunity to redefine what “city” means. It is not enough to attract high-tech firms and groups of companies. Another top priority is to develop a higher quality of living and new kinds of urban culture.
An emblem of the new orientation is the Dortmunder U, whose upper floors have housed the Museum Ostwall since 2010. The “U” stands for the union brewery that was built in the center of the city in the 1920s and long stood vacant. Once a dilapidated solitary building in an industrial wasteland, this fortress has been transformed into a lighthouse, an open house for art, culture, and science. The spectacular staircase reflects this open attitude. To bring more light and a greater sense of space to the building, architects removed parts of the ceilings of all of the floors on the east side. As a result, visitors on the ground floor now have a view through a vertical opening to the roof, around 64 meters high. The escalators leading up to the museum pass institutions such as the Hartware MedienKunstVerein (a platform for art and culture), a film club, and the Dortmund University of Applied Sciences and Arts. Taking the escalator to the top, you can, beneath glass, steel, and gleaming white, still feel the spirit of the brewery. “While the hall for temporary exhibitions on the top floor has a height of 6.5 meters, the rooms on the first floor are only 3.5 meters high,” says Wettengl. “This distinctive architecture is linked to the statics and production processes of the brewery, because at that time production was carried out from top to bottom. The storage halls were at the top of the building, and the lower floors contained the fermentation vats and filling equipment. At the very bottom, on the ground floor, we again have another impressively high ceiling. Back then, the draymen could ride in and load up the barrels here. The concrete brick-clad building was the first high-rise brewery in Germany.”
With City in Sight, Wettengl is not engaging with aspects of urban life for the first time. Even before the move into the Dortmunder U, when the museum was still located on the Ostwall, he continually ventured down unusual paths. Long before the Dortmund-based Gerber architectural office won the competition to rebuild the union brewery, Wettengl presented the architects in his museum. His condition for an exhibition was that the architects set up a functioning office in the exhibition space. “They actually ran an office in the museum for ten weeks, working on designs. Their projects were displayed on the walls, and they even won two competitions during the exhibition. The audience could see something being planned that would affect their own lives.”
In the framework of an exhibition about kiosks, or “Büdchen,” as they are called in the Ruhr region, the museum director even founded a club: the 1st Kiosk Club, which is devoted to researching and cultivating kiosk culture. On the club’s home page there is the “World Wide Kiosk Map” and information about regular tours. Like the excursions that the museum offers under the slogan Dortmund – A Place for Us! the tours serve to inspire people to come up with their own ideas. “The Dadaists offered strolls through cities, and later so did the Surrealists and the Situationists. The sociologist Lucius Burckhardt further developed this notion of dérive, or drifting around a city, into promenadology, the science of walking. You stroll through a part of a city you are not familiar with, or on the periphery, and vigilantly make observations, take notes, take photogaphs. In this way, you shift from an unconscious to a conscious perception of the city, urban space, and architecture. I’m very interested in this, because it is also something that trains the senses, not in a museum context, but outdoors.”
City in Sight transfers the principle of strolling back to the museum. Originally, the exhibition was to be based on urban sociological categories and urban-planning considerations, says Wettengl. But in the end they opted to devote the exhibition of works from the Deutsche Bank Collection to views of cities from diverse artistic perspectives. The oldest work in the show is close to home, as it were. Josef Albers, who was born in Bottrop, a city in the Ruhr area, became world famous for his paintings of squares. But in his series of lithographs from 1917, he realistically represents the workers’ housing so typical of the Ruhr. The most recent work in the exhibition, on the other hand, is a dystopian vision. Rob Voerman’s Thistlegarden #2 (2011), shows scenery reminiscent of New York, in which organic, parasitic anti-architecture sprawls amidst angular high-rises. It is nestled in the city’s only remaining green area like a gigantic foreign body, heralding the city’s downfall and thus a new era.
A century lies between these two works. “City” is not only a central motif for artists, but an experimental field in which people critique, archive, intervene, and think further. Fears and hopes are projected, utopias and prophecies of doom conjured up. The exhibition leads through the centuries of cities not only chronologically, but also based on certain themes. With Otto Dix and George Grosz, the excursion through city life leads to the nightclubs and cafes of 1920s Berlin, and with the Iranian photographer Shirin Aliabadi, to the streets of Teheran, where young women are partying in their cars. Whether Imi Knoebel projects crosses of light onto building walls, the Moroccan artist Yto Barrada photographs new buildings in Tangier as though they were sculptures, or Dayanita Singh makes illuminated streets look like neural pathways, the exhibition shows how artists distort, aestheticize, and intervene in the city.
At the end of the exhibition are visions and utopias “which send the audience home,” as Wettengl puts it. They include the futuristic designs of Buckminster Fuller, who in the era of the Cold War dreamed of a more social world, and of the young Dane, Jakob Kolding, who, like Alice in Wonderland, shows us a different reality behind modernist satellite cities. “City in Sight” not only means seeing the city from new perspectives. The title of the exhibition in the Dortmunder U also suggests that we are on a journey toward the future of cities. Where this journey is heading, the exhibition shows, depends not least on whether each individual seizes the opportunity to help shape the city of tomorrow.
Oliver Koerner von Gustorf

City in Sight - From Feininger to Gursky
Works from the Deutschen Bank Collection
Museum Ostwall at the Dortmunder U
April 20 – August 4, 2013

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