Museum für Moderne Kunst MMK 2

Staged by Ersan Mondtag 
23 September 2017–18 February 2018

It’s dark. In the glow of the spotlights that illuminate the artworks, a black and yellow synthetic surface shimmers. The walls, floor, and ceiling – everything is covered in a smooth, plastic film. It continues in the centre of the room, taking the shape of an enormous, blow-up worm. For the exhibition I AM A PROBLEM, director and set designer Ersan Mondtag has created a dark, yet tantalizing parallel universe. In his spectacular staging of the MMK 2’s exhibition spaces, Mondtag has set in motion a dialogue between works from the museum’s collection, making them the protagonists of the narrative. 

‘For this exhibition, I have completely redefined space in the MMK 2. I have created a narrative, an elaborate biography, for the space itself, by loading it with texts, with which the site speaks. It’s not an intervention that can be likened to ripping down walls; I hope it goes deeper than that. To a certain extent, I have reset the room to zero and overpainted it with a character, an atmosphere, a plot,’ says Ersan Mondtag of his handling of the architecture in the MMK 2’s TaunusTurm.

In a time of grotesque self-improvement and the constant pressure to succeed, the exhibition I AM A PROBLEM displays an array of identity types prevalent in contemporary society. The works selected from the MMK’s collection thereby confront visitors with the highs and lows of human existence. Mondtag has transformed the MMK 2 from a gallery space into a walk-on stage. As the title already suggests, the exhibition also thematizes the dark secret behind the ideology of self-improvement: many of the exhibited artworks examine the concept of the body as mere material, as a dynamic organism, which also happens to be a destructible object. 

The point of departure for Mondtag’s staging is a legend about Maria Callas (1923–1977). In order to achieve her dream body, the world-famous opera singer is said to have swallowed a tapeworm in a gulp of champagne. As the story has it, with the help of the parasite she lost a staggering 50 kilograms within a short period of time. Callas’s uncompromising endeavour to mould her appearance after her ideal image forms one of the exhibition’s primary themes. The downside of her efforts – the dissolution of her body – forms the other. 

Ersan Mondtag has traced gestures of resistance – sometimes timid, sometimes refractory – throughout the works selected from the MMK’s collection to become the modern anti-heroes of his narrative. Using texts from the author Thomaspeter Goergen – read by ensemble members of Hamburg’s renowned Thalia Theatre – Mondtag gives the artworks a voice and transforms them into performers of their own longings and fears. Their frequently conflicting dialogues revolve around existential topics inherent to human nature, like the transformative potential of identity, the striving for perfection, and the transience of organic material. Mondtag’s production reveals how corporeal metamorphoses can become symbols for private and societal disintegration. The search for perfection leads to extreme forms of aggression, fanaticism, and violence. 

Featured artists: 
Kader Attia, Vanessa Beecroft, Will Benedict, Bernhard Johannes Blume, Shannon Bool, Miriam Cahn, John De Andrea, Marlene Dumas, Robert Gober, Douglas Gordon, Ilja Clemens Hendel, Georg Herold, Martin Honert, Jonathan Horowitz, On Kawara, Teresa Margolles, Barry Le Va, Bruce McLean, Aernout Mik, Lutz Mommartz, Bruce Nauman, Steven Parrino, Arnulf Rainer, Bettina Rheims, Thomas Ruff, Taryn Simon, Dayanita Singh, Markus Sixay, Jack Smith, Elaine Sturtevant, Jürgen Teller, Oliviero Toscani, Rosemarie Trockel, Andy Warhol and a commissioned work from Plastique Fantastique 

Bettina Rheims: Karen Mulder with a very small Chanel bra, 1996 
Courtesy Bettina Rheims, Foto/photo: Axel Schneider

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Arnold Genthe - Lee Miller, 1927

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