What is crumbling in the fine arts

What is fantastic and how do you exhibit it? The first part of the question remains unclear. Does it consist in designing unrealistic counter-worlds? Does it arise through a rift in our familiar world through which the unknown and therefore the uncanny penetrates and presses us? [1] Has it become superfluous because psychoanalysis has brought its instinctual sources, repressed into the unconscious, to light and made them rationalizable? [2] Is it a symptom of an ongoing crisis of consciousness in modern man who is constantly confronted with the contingency of his world of experience and tries to cope with it, an expression of rebellion against the normalized and normative mainstream of history? [3]

Outside of comparatively small scientific circles, various artistic circles and, once again, larger fan communities, the term “fantastic” has little public presence, while the adjective “fantastic” seems very common as a characterization. This is precisely where the crux lies: “The fantastic” has so far mostly only appeared as an attributed property, but less as an aesthetic or cultural-theoretical category in its own right. The attitude of the various humanities disciplines to this problem differs considerably: While there is now much discussion in literary and media studies, the history of art, for example, has not yet recognized the fantasy as a topic. Apart from Wieland Schmied's story of fantastic painting, unfortunately nothing fundamental has happened here. [4]

This seems as strange as it is incomprehensible, since it makes sense in the discussion of Dutch painting of the 15th-17th centuries. Century, from Baroque and Rococo, Romanticism, Symbolism, Art Nouveau, New Objectivity, Surrealism and a number of positions of contemporary art to establish the concept of the fantastic.

A central reason for this can be seen in the still virulent suspicion of triviality to which a work that is apostrophized as “fantastic” is subjected. This is due to the fact that fantasy, science fiction and horror stories as well as films, comics, posters and illustrations are attributed to popular culture, with which cultural scholars and discourse-determining parts of the educated audience still have reservations. Fortunately, the fronts have been crumbling here for a long time.

Another moment is the subsumption of what is apostrophized as fantastic under common keywords such as “Imagination”, “Subjectivity” or “Perception”. Recent examples are the exhibitions “Grotesque! 130 years of art of cheek "in the Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt (March 27th-June 9th, 2003) and" Multiple Spaces (1): Soul. Constructions of the Inner in Art ”in the State Art Gallery Baden-Baden (14.2.-18.4.2004). As in the case of the fantastic, they deal in a comprehensive way with subjective-psychological constructions of the world that deviate from rational-logical models. Unfortunately, however, since these two exhibitions did not do justice to the complexity of their topics (the concept and conceptual basis remained too vague to be sustainable, and the selection of exhibits, especially in the case of "Grotesque", was remarkably arbitrary) and the fantastic is also a boundless area , the project of a comprehensive fantastic exhibition aroused not only hopes, but also a certain suspicion.

Up until now, the fantastic as a whole has hardly been the subject of exhibitions. The only exceptions are “Fantasticism at the End of Time” 2000 in the City Museum in Erlangen, the Maison d'Ailleurs in Yverdon-les-Bains, which specializes in fantastic subjects, the Panorama Museum in Bad Frankenhausen with a corresponding thematic focus and the permanent collections of the Château de Gruyères (Switzerland).

The recently closed exhibition “On the other hand: The fantastic. Imaginary Worlds in Art and Everyday Culture ”in the Castle Museum and the Landesgalerie Linz went a decisive step further. It represented the first large-scale attempt to present the fantastic as a thematically highly complex and multimedia phenomenon and to strike binding definitional and thematic pegs for future discourses. Already in the title she took a fundamental position: The fantasy, as the "other side" of what is commonly called "reality", represents the other side of the same coin, different from our world of experience, but inseparably linked like night to day. An opulent and richly illustrated catalog was published for the exhibition, which, along with a series of essays on theory and possible definitions of the fantastic, follows the system of the exhibition. In addition, from 20.-22. May 2004 a symposium entitled “Productive Unrest. On the value of the fantastic in contemporary culture ”, whereby the Linz company actually takes on the character of a“ major project ”which claims to play a decisive role in the discourse on the fantastic. [5]

The Linz exhibition countered the constitutive limitlessness of its subject with several strategies. On the one hand, it was extremely extensive and was spread over two buildings. On the other hand, she caught the topic with a wide range of topics and media. The catalog reflects this in its subdivision into three sections: The first section comprises a series of texts in which the fantastic is circled as a cultural-theoretical phenomenon and its various media manifestations are discussed in fundamental questions. For the question “What is fantastic?” The introductory essay by Hans Richard Brittnacher and Clemens Ruthner should be emphasized, [6] also the texts by Peter Assmann, Rainer Metzger and Wolfgang Müller-Funk are well-founded contributions. Other articles deal with fantasy in fine arts, literature, film and electronic media as well as scientific fantasy. The comprehensive claim of the catalog is underlined by a detailed bibliography in the appendix.

The second and third sections of the catalog follow the structure of the exhibition. Some of the texts present thematic overviews or historical outlines, but also illuminate certain aspects more deeply. The exhibition began in the castle museum. After an introduction, there was a presentation of numerous everyday and pop cultural manifestations of the fantastic as well as the greatest variety of media. The part in the state gallery was mainly dedicated to the fine arts.

The first departments in the castle museum were devoted to the fantastic as a phenomenon in a fundamental way. One began with the "course of things". In a series of curious objects and explanatory texts, not only the fundamentals of fantastic thought, but also some of its historical sources were presented in a funny way, such as the archaeological riddle "Sacrificial Stone"), private mythological constructions ("Nietzsche's mustache"), religious legends ( Relics, prophecy books), popular superstition (poor sinners fat) or occult and esoteric teachings (the mandrake or crystals). The unbiased visitor may have had great problems distinguishing which of these is based on facts, what goes back to real legends and what was invented especially for the exhibition: This blurring of the boundaries between reality and fiction, better: their negation and abolition in a mythologizing worldview, represents a constitutive element of fantastic thinking.

The next part ("Spiegelschrift") consisted of a collection of text quotations that thematically circle or try to define the fantastic. The spectrum ranged from literature to the humanities and psychoanalysis. Such an introduction is exhausting, but gave the patient visitor an idea of ​​what he was getting into. These first two parts are fully documented in the catalog.

The core of the third part was an experiment: the “white room”, a small room that can be reached through a winding corridor and is sealed off from the outside world, in which sensual stimuli are reduced to a minimum. He represented the - thoroughly functioning - simulation of a psychic interior space in which the subject is thrown back on himself and his imagination. The fact that the shoes should be taken off at the entrance not only supported the silence, but also had something ritual about it that underlined the change of space. The catalog text analyzes the symbolism and richness of connotations of the color white, based on the observation that it is "open to any projection". [7]

Only then did it become concrete in terms of content. In the “Creature Pool” department, mainly merchandising figures of well-known comic and film monsters and heroes were presented. This pointed to the enormous spread and popularity of fantastic figurations and at the same time showed their anchoring in the flourishing capitalist exploitation of fantasy. The culture industry was also up for debate in the following section. “Science Fiction” was presented according to the topic with a wide variety of media: books and magazines, film clips (again assembled into a fantastic whole), soundtracks, music videos and robots.

After the implantation of utopian-technical fantasies in the collective consciousness, the department “Other Views” dealt with perceptual irritations, the merging of contradicting motifs into a new whole. Different ways of image montage were presented with a variety of media, obviously like in the digital montages by Zazie or Jan Hathaway, or more hidden like in the pictures by Dagmar Höss. In addition, the installation of a camera obscura, which brought pictures from the outside world of Linz into the museum and turned them upside down, gave the visitor a principally fantastic viewing experience. The presentation of the “Cités obscures” by the Belgian graphic novel artists Schuiten and Peeters was irritating here, which would have fitted more into a “Fictional Worlds” section, but on the subject of “Outlooks” does not in principle say anything different than the “Science Fiction” section, for example. . The catalog text by Ursula Reber illuminates the context here and illustrates the interlinking of “other perspectives” with the construction of foreign worlds, but it cannot prevent the selection of objects in the exhibition from having a more associative effect at this point.

Under the title of a story by Borges, “The Library of Babel” presented an insight into the inventory of the Fantastic Library in Wetzlar, which can now boast of being the world's largest library of its kind. A thematically sorted library was set up here in a labyrinthine layout that invited people to read; a pleasant resting point within the exhibition. As in the merchandising and science fiction departments, it became evident here how much fantasy has become part of everyday culture. The catalog text by Bettina Twrsnick, head of the Fantastic Library, deals with the fantastic mythologist of the library as a world model, in order to then comment on the subdivision of the library on display.

This was followed by a documentation on the public impact of the Viennese School of Fantastic Realism, which was the only fantastic group of painters to achieve international recognition after 1945 and around which a real media hype was organized in Austria at times. This is an instructive approach, especially since the public dealings with fantastic art and its thoroughly ideological role in modern post-war Austria are at the center, which is further elaborated in the catalog text. Nevertheless, the non-Austrian reviewer would have liked to see a few originals here.

At the end of the castle museum there was an interactive section. In addition to a presentation of video games, which was unfortunately pushed into a small corner, it consisted of a computer-animated story of automatons and robots as well as a spacious room used for museum education.

The exhibition part in the castle museum was not only impressive with its thematic variety. She also developed a whole series of strategies to make it clear that the fantastic is to a large extent a phenomenon of perception, which was achieved not least by designing spaces to induce one's own perceptual experiences.

The exhibition in the Landesgalerie followed different standards. In addition to the above-mentioned orientation towards the visual (“high”) art, the structure followed criteria that claimed to outline central moments of fantastic representation. The selection of objects was mostly based on contemporary art. This thematization of the current state of fantasy appears to be a sensible measure to get a grip on the almost unmanageable variety of possible works, although this meant that historical stylistic phenomena such as Romanticism, Symbolism, Orientalism, Art Nouveau, Expressionism and Surrealism hardly or are not represented at all.

The first section, "Dodgy Spaces", presented various facets of fantastic room concepts with the irritating room photographs by Gregor Zivic, the fantastic architectural visions of Lebbeus Woods and the short films by Michael Langoth, which work with dreamlike parallel worlds. In addition, the selection of exhibits showed a randomness, which rather illustrated the contemporary, fashionable cheapness of the space metaphor: M.K. Ciurlionis and Mariko Mori construct spaces that are absolutely fantastic or that have been turned into the fantastic, but the reviewer could not see that the concept of space plays a central role in these works, more precisely: that they significantly illuminate the concept of space within the exhibition. In her catalog text, Ursula Reber creates the necessary connections and makes the spatial metaphor fruitful for the fantasy discussion in several ways. Precisely for this reason, however, it is noticeable that the exhibition part functions like a short version of the catalog text, because without it it falls apart. The reviewer is convinced that an exhibition must be fully accessible even without a catalog.

The following section "Girls and Monsters" thematized another topic, rightly apostrophized as an "archetypal" topic for fantasy. In his catalog article, curator Hans Richard Brittnacher unfolds the topic with the usual thoroughness, gives a historical derivation and also goes into the closely related topic of the (animated) doll. One of the highlights of the exhibition was undoubtedly located here: Patricia Piccinini's installation “Still Life with stem cells”, which was accompanied by thematically appropriate large-format photographs by Charlie White.

The “GeisterBahnen” succeeded in bridging the gap between ghosts and ghosts as a theme of fantastic art, illustrated with drawings by Kubin and some of their foundations in the 19th century, spiritism and quasi-scientific media ghost photography. In the catalog text, Clemens Ruthner also provides a cultural-historical outline of the “ghost” discourse.

“The Festival of the Apocalypse” was about the celebration of doom and the end of the world, the 'dancing on the volcano', which is particularly evident in the pictures from Ramacher & Einfalt's cycle “The Apocalyptic Journey” and Hans Weigand's mixed media installation “ Before and After the Last Judgment ”. However, the reviewer is of the opinion that in the exhibition as in the catalog text there is no carnival, in which the festival, the overthrow of historical orders and a change of identity are combined in a way that the interplay of festivals and the end of the world would not have gained unimportant facets - for the images cited From Bosch's circle, such connotations are quite authoritative.

"Metamorph" contained works on the transformation and manipulation of bodies and spanned the range from Hans Bellmer's jointed doll to Daniel Dee's hybrid creatures to the dream images of Brigitte Waldach's body fragments that merge with the wall or emerge from it. Brittnacher's catalog text provides the cultural-historical and mythological context of the thematized body utopias, which - even if the exhibits may give the impression - are not an invention of the 20th century, and illustrates the central importance of metamorphosis for the fantastic.

Next you entered the “Dream Worlds” section, which was subdivided into several sub-areas: Topics such as “Dream Interpretation”, “Surreal Dream Reality”, “Illusion and Reality” and “Nightmare” are each illustrated with one or two works; Here, with Magritte's “The Face of Genius” and Delvaux's “The School of Scholars”, works of surrealism, which the reviewer had sorely missed up to now, were found.

The conclusion was formed by “Ideologies / Heresies”, where further highlights of the exhibition could be discovered with “The Great World Theater” by Peter Weiss and H. R. Giger's “Passage Temple”. In the “Passage Temple” as in the photomontages J.-P.Wilkins and Immendorf's “Je vous salue Maria” was probably the most concise expression of the ideology-critical and heretical potential of fantastic art discussed here. Markus May's contribution to the catalog is dedicated to the figure of Medusa and the Christian image of the crucified, two fantastic dispositifs in which affirmation and subversion are closely linked: In the case of Perseus' killing of Medusa, if instrumental reason triumphs over myth, develops the In the period that followed, she murdered a mythical life of its own through the inherent ambivalent connection between horror and beauty; the crucified Christ stands for the Christian dogma of redemption and the commandment to love one's neighbor, growing from the image of the suffering, tortured body, culturally and historically influential sadomasochistic fantasies in which death and eroticism define each other.

What at first glance might fall behind was the close interweaving of the various areas with one another: however, it was implicitly tangible in the works and in the texts. This can be made particularly clear in Giger's “Passage Temple”, because although it was assigned to the heresies, it could also have been in any other department: It creates a temple-like space that is closed on all four sides and which can only be reached through an anthropomorphic, narrow passage Gets access. The four images inside are filled with metamorphic hybrid figures, half human, half horror or machine, in which sexuality and violence merge into a sadomasochistic unity; the sadistic dressing of human bodies and their fitting into seemingly senseless iron machines, which in turn carry scar tissue and abscesses as if they were made of flesh, creates a gruesome dystopia of the human being as a usable object and a store of spare parts; the assembled iconography of lust and horror, death, birth and decay evokes an apocalyptic nightmare vision that is second to none; the complex as a temple with a sarcophagus-like entrance and salvation set in the picture through the passage into a transcendental world feeds on religious, occult and esoteric ideas.

On the occasion of Giger, a short excursion into music is allowed, the fantastic potential of which is briefly addressed in the catalog (at least!), But not deepened. In a few lines from the piece “Godtech” by the group “Red Harvest”, the anti-human futuristic hell that Giger shows us is condensed: “Digital Life / Bio-mechanical Hell / Transhuman Express” [8] Red Harvest becomes the “Industrial Metal ”, which, like many heavy metal sub-genres, is not only defined by musical structures, but also by certain constituent mythologems. In this case it is primarily horror and science fiction visions of the consequences of the ubiquity of futuristic and digital technologies, presented as threat or redemption, as well as body dystopias of biomechanical hybrid beings and the associated disintegration of humans as human beings and individuals. It is therefore not surprising that many musicians and fans of the various metal and gothic scenes are giger fans; Here we just want to point out that the fantastic in music is an extraordinarily broad field that is worth exploring scientifically.

It would be absurd to expect even thematic completeness from a fantastic exhibition, even if it appeared with a fundamental claim like this one. If the reviewer missed the specific appraisal of architecture, of parallel worlds or of horror scenarios and doom fantasies (without festivities), this is only to be understood as a further thematic classification option, which could not be justified better or worse than the one given.

A not insignificant difference between the two parts of the exhibition was their obviously different addressing; In this respect, the organizational, spatial and content-related separation was a sensible measure. In the castle museum, the fantastic was presented to visitors without making any prior knowledge a condition of understanding. The Landesgalerie, on the other hand, turned, apart from the attractive exhibits, to those who are at least fundamentally familiar with the problem of the fantastic in theory.

The second part of the exhibition left a not entirely clear impression. Although the thematic structure was well thought out and conclusive, the selection of works can be regarded as successful overall. But in a number of cases the reviewer felt that works were chosen primarily to illustrate aspects of a subject rather than because they would evoke it on their own. In addition to the selection of works in “Vertrackte Raum” criticized above, this problem occurred in a different way with “Traumwelten”. The coherent but very close-knit internal structure in particular threatened to reduce the images to thematic illustrations, leaving them little room to “breathe”. You could also put it this way: the reviewer shares the maximalist understanding of the fantastic represented in the exhibition, but at the same time the associated theoretical and definition problems emerged: Where does the non-fantastic begin?

This may be due to the primarily historical approach and the fact that, despite the interdisciplinary approach, far more than half of the top-class team of curators were literary scholars and only two recognized art historians. The presence of art historians is of course no guarantee that the concept and selection of works will be coherently coordinated - “Grotesk” has shown how an exhibition can still fail. The Linz Fantastic Exhibition thus also reflected the different status of the scientific fantasy discussion mentioned at the beginning.

However, in view of the impressive performance of the major Linz project, such criticisms are irrelevant. The claim to present the fantastic in all its breadth and to offer definitional and thematic guidelines for its discussion was fully met with regard to what was feasible. The extensive and richly illustrated catalog adds an important contribution in a double sense to the number of standard works on fantasy, which are still very well-arranged at the moment. It is to be hoped that the humanities and cultural sciences will take up the suggestions made here.

[1] Roger Caillois: The image of the fantastic. From fairy tales to science fiction, in: Phaicon 1, Frankfurt / Main 1974, pp. 44-83, here pp. 46 and 71.
[2] Tzvetan Todorov: Introduction to fantastic literature, Munich 1972, p. 143.
[3] Wieland Schmied: Two hundred years of fantastic painting, two volumes, Volume 1, Munich 1980, pp. 19-22. Extended new edition from Munich 1973.
[4] Schmied 1980 (see note 3).
[5] The website http://www.phantastik.at/ (last accessed on September 24, 2004) provides comprehensive information on the exhibition and the extensive accompanying program.
[6] Hans Richard Brittnacher / Clemens Ruthner: On the other hand. Or: over it. A first guide through the worlds of the fantastic, in the exhibition cat., Pp. 14-22.
[7] Exhibition cat., P. 132. [8] Red Harvest: Godtech, in: Sick Transit Gloria Mundi, Nocturnal Art Productions, 2002.

State of Upper Austria / Upper Austrian State Museums (Ed.): On the other hand: the fantastic. Imaginary worlds in art and everyday culture; [Catalog for an exhibition project by the Upper Austrian State Museums in the Linz Castle Museum; in the Landesgalerie Linz] (= catalogs of the Upper Austrian regional museums; N.S. 15), Weitra: self-published 2003
ISBN-10: 3-902414-24-3, 404 S, EUR 49.00

Recommended Citation:
Rainer Zuch: [Review of:] On the other hand: The fantastic. Imaginary worlds in art and everyday culture (Schlossmuseum Linz and Landesgalerie Linz, May 1 – Aug 29, 2004). In: ArtHist.net, Sep 28, 2004 (accessed May 23, 2021), .

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