Karin Schneider “The Milchhof Diagram” at Kunstverein Nürnberg
by María Inés Plaza Lazo
The spumous noise of waves arises from the darkness. It is connected obliquely to a projection on a black monochrome at the back of the white cube. Once the room has been crossed, the sea stroking the sand is recognizable as the moving image waiting to be discovered. The milky projection resembles the nature of the tide that, once revealed by the film, hides again behind its shimmering light. The cardboard darkening the main room of the Kunstverein Nürnberg, which formerly served as shipping boxes for Faber-Castell coloring pencils, does not seem related to the private beach being shown here, but rather to the hall outside. The cardboard barricade makes a clear separation of the room from the Milchhof, the building in which the Kunstverein shares exhibition and working spaces with doctors’ offices, coworking areas, and a café.
The cardboard, it seems, has the same function as the glass facade covered with a milky PVC film, creating a suggestive opacity to transparent surfaces that normally bring all the spaces together. The milky surface resembles, then again, the nature and body of the projection: the black monochrome illuminated by the film of a vanishing private beach is a white surface in the dark. The almost meditative form of exhibiting by Karin Schneider is an act in itself, which gives the visitor the chance to discover not only the artist’s procedural and architectural way of revealing truths, but also the many layers of what is to be understood as visibility.
Schneider defines her exhibitions as “diagrams”—symbolic representations of the exhibition space and its metaphysical attributes, according to the visualization technique she selects for every venture. Thus a diagram is the primary mode of intervention happening within the visual program of the artist. The German historian of architecture Immo Boyken once described the Milchhof as a prototype for industrial architecture, placing the building itself within the vocabulary of industrial production. The Milchhof’s history, which began as a modernist industrial complex developed for the distribution of dairy products in 1929 by the architect Otto Ernst Schweizer, inherits all the contradictions of modernity that Schneider deals with in her practice.
The Brazil-born, New York-based artist and filmmaker, cofounder of the artist-run experimental film company Union Gaucha Productions (UGP), carries out here interdisciplinary questionings by converting the given historical elements in the space into ornamental features of her work.
In this case, Schneider focuses in the aesthetic conflicts of the later 1930s at the Milchhof, between Carl Grossberg’s geometric abstraction and the milk maiden murals that would replace his work, produced in line with the aesthetic program of the National Socialist Party striking against the idealization of modernity. The relief of the latter is still visible on the white walls today, for now illuminated by neon tubes Schneider placed discretly. Hanging next to the reliefs, a monochrome photograph of waves about to break clashes soundlessly with our still-fresh memory of the private beach filling up the dark gallery. Does this association detour from the politics of aesthetics colliding, making visible the fragile features of a martial, industrial building like the Milchhof?
Milan Ther thus inaugurates with “The Milchhof Diagram,” his curatorial program at the Kunstverein—the longest-standing art association in Germany, with a centuries-old tradition—where he was appointed director earlier in 2018. Ther worked from 2015 to 2018 at the Kestner Gesellschaft in Hanover as a curatorial assistant, and realized exhibitions with such artists as Tobias Madison, Monika Baer, James Richards, and Marc Camille Chaimowicz. He already had a professional relationship with Schneider’s work thanks to a show organized around the practice of Studio for Propositional Cinema, led by Adam Harrison. Harrison invited Schneider to present a monochrome piece responding to an amalgam of works by thirty-one artists dealing with the notion of authorship, viewership, and dissemination.
Now and then, Schneider’s monochromes undress, with sophisticated intricacy, the combination of tradition and progress that the Albrecht Dürer Society of the Kunstverein Nürnberg has proudly emphasized over decades as its own strength. Anton Wolfgang Graf von Faber-Castell, who was honorary chair and sponsor of the place until his death in 2016, is now commemorated and dearly missed, as the Faber-Castell family is no longer involved in the development of the Kunstverein.
Is the wrapping on cardboard of the Kunstverein’s main room an act of political engagement? Preparing for an uncertain future? The exhibition proposes nevertheless a diagrammatic relationship between the building, the artwork, and the viewer. The monochrome and the invisible, the black and the white, take further shape in sculptural pieces like Marsupial (2018), a black folded ceramic confronted by two marsupials reproduced as photographs in lightboxes with frames that match the building’s anthracite architecture, and a film produced with Nicolás Guagnini called Phantom Limb (1997). Both installations, presented in the “cabinet” rooms of the Kunstverein, turn out to be a colophon to the narratives unfolded in the previous stages of the Milchhof. Apparently conventional as objects, the film and the sculptures break with the idea of the exhibition as a fixed frame, converting it into a conveyance of mass and vibration. Just like how waves propagate.
Here, the letter G from Schneider’s ongoing A–Z Lexicon consummates the symbolic purpose of the series of interventions in the architecture that let the invisible be visible, the immaterial be tangible, the abstract be specific, and so on. This lexicon, which reflects on the economic, social, and cultural history of black monochromes, brings Schneider’s formalist derivations and concrete modifications together, to be understood as a poetic and not just physical act made by the artist’s hand, but as an act that is hard to classify. G is, consequently, for “Grasping”.
at Kunstverein Nürnberg
until 27 January 2019