Koelnischer Kunstverein, Cologne
13 November 2022 – 5 March 2023
Games of No Games – Instructions for Walking in High Spirits presents 11 artists, whose work until recently was classified as ‘Outsider Art’. This now outdated category – also known as ‘Art Brut’, describes the art of psychiatric patients, prisoners or self-taught artists, who create work outside conventional structures of art training and art production.
The exhibition critically challenges these conventional markers of exclusion. The curators of this long overdue exhibition – Nikola Dietrich, Director of Kunstverein, and ex-gallerist Susanne Zander aim to make visible how the presented artists deliberately work with their dependencies and struggles caused by discrimination and disenfranchisement.
The title of the exhibition is inspired by a painting by Dietrich Orth (1956 – 1018) which is on display in the entrance area of the Kunstverein. Orth, who drew short texts such as ‘Games of No Games – Instructions for Walking in High Spirits‘ directly onto the canvas, was admitted to hospitals numerous times, due to a recurring psychosis, and found his distinct visual language through art therapy.
Albert Leo Peil’s (1946 – 2019) filigree geometric drawings reveal male protagonists emerging from futuristic, Arcadian landscapes. The figures are often depicted in exquisite, multi-piece robes with high collars, radiating a religious atmosphere.
Klaus Beyer (b. 1952) is mostly known for his unusual performances of Beatles songs which he deconstructs and covers with his own voice in German.
Lee Godie (1908-1994) who deliberately chose to live on the streets of Chicago, used found material as the source of her photographs and paintings. She also took numerous self-portraits in a photo booth in the 1970s which she overpainted with felt pen, pencil and watercolour, continuously reinvented herself with different costumes and make-up.
By leaving behind social conventions and dominant traditions, as well as undermining social or gender performances, the artists in the exhibition have frequently been met with a lack of understanding. This was certainly the case for Helga Sophia Goetze (1922 – 2008) who broke away from a traditional woman’s way of life in the 1970s to advocate for free love, sex, and female pleasure almost daily in front of the Memorial Church in Berlin. Radical roleplays were carried out by Manuela Margarethe Hahn (1956-1996), who renamed herself Rabe Perplexum. In both her works and in life she adopted a raven persona. Through her performances, actions and paintings that were inspired by the Punk movement she already questioned fixed gender identities in the 1980s.
Adelhyd von Bender (born as Harald Friedrich Bender, 1950 – 2014)) was expelled from the University of the Arts in Berlin in 1975. Challenging a deputyship in court for many years, he used the photocopied letters from the German authorities as background for his drawings that break the world into mathematical formulas, creating a new world order intertwined with biographical details in associative chains.
Margarethe Held (1894 – 1981) produced hundreds of portraits of imaginary prehistoric creatures in pencil and coloured pencil and documented her visions in her book ‘Uncontrollable Universe’ in 1977. Also August Walla (1936 – 2001) created his own universe inhabited by ghosts, devils. gods and invented symbols whilst the Australian Youtube artist Wendy Vainity continues to make homemade surreal and disturbing 3D animation that have repeatedly been blocked by the YouTube providers.
At the back wall of the exhibition space self-taught Afro-American artist William Scott’s (b. 1964) paintings render San Francisco as an imagined and fantastical utopian space, free from racism and marginalisation, featuring colourful portraits of African-American celebrities and community members from his church.
The participation of Project Art Works (an artist-led organisation in Hastings that collaborates with people who have complex support needs) at the landmark exhibition Documenta 15 in Kassel last year, reveals that conventional categories such as ‘Outsider Art’ or ‘Art Brut’ and the focus on the artists ‘Outsiderness’ are now considered obsolete. Today they must be critically challenged.
Games of No Games – Instructions for Walking in High Spirits does not place the exhibited artists and their artistic practices in the margins of society, instead it highlights how each artist deliberately worked or works with their dependencies and struggles. For me the exhibition provides powerful and thoughtful insights into the difficulties and institutional inclusions the invited artists were or are still facing today as artistic practitioners but most importantly they all offer suggestions for a better and fairer way of treating one another.
Hahnenstrasse 6, 50667 Cologne
Opening Times: Tuesday to Sunday 11am – 6pm
Exhibition open until 5 March 2023