Deutsche Version

Hajo Schiff, Freelance journalist / Hamburg, Germany

ART HELPS COMMERCE (rather than the reverse)

Art in Hamburg has never had as much trouble with commerce as this past autumn. First the unspeakable "Grand Marché" was allowed to make an entrance in the Deichtorhalle, then a cigarette company launched one of its special campaigns in another art space, which until now had been recognized as such: applauded by over a thousand guests, the touring exhibition "BadArt" was opened in Halle K in Klosterwall in October. Aside from selected kitsch, exemplary found objects and superfluities like three-quarter nudes and Hitler pictures discovered on the floor, there was a mass of crude eyesores with labels libeling artists as their creators.

When the two art school graduates Florian Borkenhagen and Peter Gersinevor started working on their "First Aid for Bad Art" project over two years ago, their performative interventions in the art business raised much needed questions about criteria and provided a humorous opportunity for discussion. However, the spirits they invoked have overcome the artists under the banner of a brand of cigarettes and appropriated the original idea in an appalling mixture of the glorification of trash culture and the distanced forms of the high cultural exhibition business, altering it and degrading it to an offensive gag.

In the guest book of the unfortunately extremely successful exhibition, it says: "Everything hanging here could hang just as well in the `Galerie der Gegenwart' and vice versa ... I don't see any difference." And this, of course, is precisely the point. Yet the only text panel provided in the exhibition complains explicitly about "...unintelligible specialized terms and complex expositions by supposed experts. For this reason, westArt turns against the classical, traditional evaluation of art by a minority of opinion-makers." Not unreasonably, the question arises here, as to why such an expert as the president of the Hamburg College of Fine Arts was invited to present serious thoughts in the opening speech about the basis for making distinctions. The populist reproach of criticism is about as intelligent as complaining about car mechanics dominating cars or doctors having too much specialized knowledge. This shining example of anti-enlightenment PR destroys decades of serious hard work in arts education and makes arbitrary use, instead, of all the usual prejudices against art, garbed as spoof and labeled as freedom of taste.

Only a short time before that, the commercial business Grand Marché rented the large Deichtorhalle three days long for forty thousand DM and rented out stands jury-free to over 200 artists. Well, a market is a market. Reproaching a market because everyone involved wants to earn money, would be as nonsensical as complaining that candy boxes and boxer shorts are sold alongside one another. If it is an art market involved, however, then the matter becomes more critical. If it then even takes place under the patronage of the mayors of the partner cities Marseilles and Hamburg, in one of the most important exhibition locations for contemporary art, the Deichtorhalle in Hamburg, doubts become even more compelling. This is especially the case, since a patronage this significant has not previously been granted to any really important exhibition, neither here nor anywhere else.

Most of the visitors and artists are probably not aware that the French service company Grand Marché actually only rented the location; most people will simply regard it as an event in a famous place. Yet the business idea thus ennobled is only logical: artists should be able to proffer their wares to the final consumer directly, unencumbered by the juries, gallerists and curators regarded as annoying examiners of quality. And this attractive concept that is open to even the most trivial watercolor landscape paintings, has already been conducted twenty-five times by the sponsoring company, in Paris, once the art capital of the world, in Brussels, Belgium, in Berlin that is already open to any event (patronage: yes, Diepgen). For their first show in Hamburg, they managed to put nearly every available feather in their cap.

Everyone is an artist, Beuys said. This refers, however, to the artistic perspective of the respective activity and never meant that everyone should also do art within the system ART - certainly not just patching together silly junk commissioned by an advertising agency, like "Miró smokes West", "Bottle with Spots", a telephone with fur or foxes looking for a fuck for the cigarette company's BadArt collection, which has meanwhile grown to over a thousand objects. In a free country, every person must be allowed to create art without being deterred from it by any special criteria, and then be able to offer these goods to customers at a booth rental fee of 220 DM (the only thing that was at a professional level). There are roughly forty thousand artists in Germany, about three thousand just in Hamburg. The fact that only a fraction of these find a gallerist and even fewer are represented in major exhibitions may be regrettable, yet it does not happen purely arbitrarily and for no reason. Here at Grande Marché, though, the public is enticed with grand words and granted an opportunity, in the words of Senate Director Plagemann from the Office of Culture, to experience "the archaic adventure of the unmediated market." Over eight thousand visitors were willing to browse through the tangled mass of heavily laden booths offering, in addition to masses of mediocre paintings, such rarities as room fountains, jewelry from mammoth fossils or Hamburg trinkets neatly painted in the style of the last century.

The fact that shows like this exist is not new in itself. THE art as a standard has long ceased to exist, there have always been pictures for hanging up over the sofa. What is new, however, is the audacity, with which the boundaries between serious art and the field of hobbies and amusements are being blurred, that what has previously even been justifiably excluded now triumphs as genuine art. Having been dismissed by the state into the independence of the foundation model, museums and arts institutes, particularly in Hamburg, must now rely on sponsors. What happens, though, if now business, instead of doing its bit for art, prefers to organize its own events and ignore the criteria of serious art - and if many colleagues from the art business decide to join the parade in carelessly chosen irony?

©99, Hajo Schiff, Hamburg