By Dr. Phil. Lily Fürstenow-Khositashvili
With Marcel Broodthaer's “Musée d'Art Moderne” back in the 60-ies and its institutional critique, it has been long evident that gone are the days when museums used to function as spaces
for the cultural enlightenment of the bourgeois public sphere. The traditional “historical” museum invested with pedagogical and emancipatory functions relatively free from commercial interests turned instead into an institution of production of contemporary art. As elements of culture industry influenced by art markets, entertainment, spectacle, marketing, advertising, political intrigues and public relations museums and “kunsthallen” are likely to open up new spheres for artistic and curatorial practices.
Those attempting at defining the autonomous, artist-created spaces within the museum context are particularly dependent on the administrative and ideological powers represented by museums. Installations and direct intervention policies used by certain artists to separate themselves from the institutional powers of order and domination are as destined to failure as ever. Yet one hopes against hope.
It comes as no surprise that an artist's attempt to inscribe oneself into an institutional framework by a sign of void, a Hole for example (with the capital H as the author NatHalie Braun Barends puts it), would become an issue of a heated controversy. An opening penetrating all the levels of the building of the Kunsthalle Mannheim entitled “HHole for Mannheim” by Braun Barends literally breaks the frames, allegorical or real. Her artwork is an attempt to re-frame, a poetic aspiration to redefine the artist's space within the traditional white cube and, in NatHalie's case, an example perfectly showcasing the precariousness of artistic freedoms within contemporary cultural industry.
NatHalie Braun Barend's HHole in the Kunsthalle Mannheim as an artistic gesture of marking the space, re-directing our vision from the inside to the outside, opening up new horizons, reinterprets the old art historical metaphor of seeing, of creating a window towards the outside in order to better visualise what is to be seen. James Turrell seemingly inspired by HHole created a similar installation five years later in Bremen. The “Holei” Hole by NatHalie Braun Barends was the first of the permanent multimedia installations created by her for Kunsthalle Mannheim. Her other installation, PHaradise, at the cupola and side wings of the Kunsthalle Billing Bau, transformed the building's architecture and established a luminous artistic dialogue with the installation of James Turrell - Floating Windows - and the sculpture park.
The administrative changes within the Kunsthalle Mannheim, sadly enough, take their toll on the policies of what is being exhibited and what not, what stays and what disappears. Ironically it's the HHole, piercing all the levels of the central part of the Kunsthalle's Athene Trakt, that was initially celebrated but later, with the museum's administrative changes, suffered because of internal intrigues. What's the sense of a void, an opening within a society that would not see through? Evident is however that an artwork as well as the sign of its actual absence marked by the void is the liberating artistic gesture that is subject to arbitrary destruction, once again adding to the discourse about a museum as an institution of power, ideological influence and external determinacy.