smashing history

For the reason the Venice Biennale kicked off last week, I want to share one of my favourite pieces ever exhibited in the long history of the biennale. 

The Venice Biennale presents since 1893 pavilions in which artists represent their nation. Once the utopian and naïve concept was used for the Biennale: they used art as the ideal representation of national identities. This was soon infiltrated by national politics where the exhibited art is used to serve the self-interest of the countries. 

One of the pavilions is particularly interesting: the German pavilion. It characterises the current architecture on German pavilion as a typical Fascist architecture of Italy and Third Reich Germany. This design was an effect of a 1938 reconstruction, which was an expression of Hitler’s deployment of art as a self-representation of the Third Reich and vehicle for political promotion. The 1938 neoclassical makeover was carried out by Munich architect Ernst Haiger, who was closely linked to the Nazi regime. 

Surprisingly, the pavilion was not removed after the Second World War. The only minor adjustments of the exterior were the removal of the German Reich eagle and the swastika. After WWII,  the pavilion was used to represent West Germany and was used as a tool to demonstrate national values. German art critic Walter Grasskamp contradicts that West Germany tried to represent a part of Germany which was able to resist Nazism while it did not exhibit fled artists or Jewish artists.

Altogether, the pavilion is heavily charged with political complexities. Now let me turn to one of my favourite artists: Hans Haacke (one of his other works is mentioned in Fraser’s critique of institutional critique). Haacke has carried out several subversive and canny art projects, which were able to show underlying politico- cultural and economic power structures in art. Haacke is neither afraid to show sponsor’s influence on the autonomy of art nor the national socialist history of Germany. 

When Haacke was asked to represent Germany at the 1993 Venice Biennale, he decided to subvert the whole building. He scattered the marble floor and showed the once honourable used “Germania” sign outside. As a side note: the names of the countries the pavilion is representing is written in Italian but this was also the name Hitler had decided to be the new name for Berlin if they would have won the war. Haacke placed one Deutschmark coin at the place were once the eagle with the swastika was shown. He revealed so many disguised histories and thereby questioned everything embodied in the building. It is very interesting that the only thing Haacke does is honestly and straightforwardly showing information that is mostly, purposely or not, neglected. In Grasskamp’s words: “it is the local and general dissonances in the relationship between art, the economy and political representation.”

The information I used for this blog is extracted from Walter Grasskamp’s No-Man’s Land 1993. 

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