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Currents 107: Renata Stih & Frieder Schnock

"The German Connection – Raft With Stranded Objects"

Renata Stih and Frieder Schnock, German; The Reichstag?, 2013; Images courtesy Stih & Schnock © 2013 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn (click for larger version)
October 22, 2013
The Renata Stih and Frieder Schnock show at the Saint Louis Art Museum (SLAM) is not your typical all-in-one-gallery "Currents" exhibition. While several of the works are in the one gallery that displays their signature piece, "Der Reichstag?," the balance of this contemporary show is intentionally scattered in five other museum spaces.

Organized by Tricia Paik, SLAM associate curator of modern and contemporary art, this show takes what is called in curatorial-speak an "interventionist" strategy. It concentrates on disrupting expectations – in this case, by placing contemporary works in galleries that are exhibiting works from other art movements or time periods.

Although SLAM collections include works of art of exceptional quality, and from virtually every culture and period, there is particular strength in 20th-century German art. So it was a place of natural attraction for the Berlin-based team of Stih and Schnock, the Washington University 2012-13 Freund Fellows. Their fellowship experience resulted in the unique exhibit, currently on view.

Freund Fellowship

The Freund Fellowship was established in the 1970s by Natalie Freund, Washington University art school graduate, who saw a need for greater collaboration between the St. Louis Art Museum and Washington University.

The fellowship is a win-win opportunity for visiting artists, selected biennially, to not only teach and critique graduate students at the art school, but also exhibit at the St. Louis Art Museum in the "Currents" series. The Henry L. and Natalie E. Freund Endowment Fund supports this fellowship and provides funds for possible purchase of a piece of the selected fellow's work.

The fellowship selection committee was led by Paik and by Patricia Olynyk, director of the Graduate School of Art. Olynyk is also an artist exhibiting internationally, represented locally by Bruno David Gallery.

The committee recognized that Stih and Schnock would form a distinctive and unusual kind of fellowship. This artist team wants to investigate the process of memory and connect with the objects on display in a museum collection. They talked with Paik, who arranged for curators from other galleries to agree to an intervention by Stih and Schnock in those galleries.

Paik, Olynyk and Michael Freund – who continues the family Freund Fellowship with a largesse of support, as well as generous contributions of his time – reflect the behind-the-scenes importance of the various roles of curator, educator and supporter in mounting a significant exhibition.

Renata Stih and Frieder Schnock, German; The Voyage of the Katzenstein Madonna, 2013; Images courtesy Stih & Schnock © 2013 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn (click for larger version)
German Connections

Conceptual artists Stih and Schnock carefully researched compelling narratives of German connections with St. Louis, making cross-cultural connections. The artists were particularly intrigued with the story of the loss of a huge architectural model of Der Reichstag, which was exhibited in the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, and was then sent to St. Louis. At some time after 1917, the model was lost.

From an archival image of the model, Stih and Schnock created a wall-sized black and white banner using photography, tracing and drawing. They also created a small vitrine-encased model on a raft, representing the model's trip down the Mississippi. Like many contemporary artists, they used numerous mediums, including a video showing in the SLAM video room. Interestingly, this space was initially created at the museum to exhibit work by a former Freund Fellow.

A compelling narrative about the loss and subsequent recovery of a Virgin and Child Madonna, which was delivered to the museum in a hearse, is visualized by X-ray – and is on display next to the 15th-century sculpture.

Artists like Stih and Schnock are working in the area of social practices, public engagement and the use of the archive – accessing historical storytelling.

Cathy Gregory
Recollection about the loss of other monuments and the loss of identity recur in other works. The artists uncovered a story about the identity of Stiller, a fictional character from Max Frisch's novel, "I'm Not Stiller." Ich Bin Nicht Stiller investigates whether we can ever know what is real about a person.

With their signature Reichstag piece, the focus is not only on the Holocaust, but on the systematic marginalization that went into creating the Holocaust.

Contemporary artists like Stih and Schnock seek more and more to create immersive experiences and are no longer tied to a singular medium or approach. Questioning the identity of the artist's role as a change agent in culture and challenging definitions in our collective art memory, they seek new processes and conversations about who we are and can be in the 21st-century.

"Currents 107: Renata Stih & Frieder Schnock" will be on view through Jan. 5, 2014 at the Saint Louis Art Museum in Forest Park.

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