Imma looks for the money shot with its new exhibition

The gallery’s new group show is about cash and all the other currencies that are shaping European identity


I knOw yoU , says one of its curators Nikolaus Hirsch, is “an exhibition about currencies”. But he doesn’t stop there. “It’s about different kinds of currency, not just money. Everyone is very concentrated on the euro right now, and that relates to a debate about European identity. So we’re speculating about what other kinds of currency there might be that contribute to that identity, and to the idea of communities. Currencies that operate in the cultural field, connections and affinities.”

Yet, one might cavil, the source of I knOw yoU is at the heart of the ECB’s financial labyrinth: Frankfurt. Hirsch is director of Städelschule Frankfurt, one of the premier art schools in the world, where one of his co-curators, Tobias Rehberger, is professor of sculpture (the third curator is the Irish Museum of Modern Art’s Rachel Thomas).

“True,” Hirsch concurs. “But Frankfurt is a slightly abstract place.”

The Städelschule is, he might have added, a suitably international institution for Frankfurt. He reckons more than 70 per cent of its just-under 200 students (mostly art and about 40 architecture students) are from outside Germany, and many come from outside Europe.

Unofficially, the school’s lingua franca tends to be English. No fees are levied, but there is no student accommodation and Hirsch points out Frankfurt is relatively expensive, which can present a challenge.

School’s prestige

Most students are slightly older than the average third-level undergraduate. And, it should be pointed out, they won’t get a formal degree, or an MA, at the conclusion of their four to six years there, but that doesn’t matter. The school’s prestige is enough to make the lack of academic formalities irrelevant.

It stems from the bequest of a Frankfurt merchant, Johann Friedrich Städel, in 1817. He left funds for the establishment of an arts institute that would allow public access to his art collection and a school for young artists of promise.

Museum and school are now separate but directly adjacent to each other. It’s generally agreed, Hirsch says, that the arrival of the renowned curator Kasper König in the late 1980s put the Städelschule on the map. He also established the school’s own contemporary art space, the Portikus.

I knOw yoU began when Thomas approached Rehberger about organising an exhibition to coincide with Ireland’s EU presidency. He’d previously been close to taking part in two Imma projects but had been unable to do so.

An extraordinarily energetic artist and an ex-Städelschule student, Rehberger has an extensive track record embracing fields of activity from architecture to design and project management: he doesn’t see any dividing line between art and life and a great deal of what he does explores the boundaries.

Group and collaborative activities are at the heart of his approach. Knowing he is by reputation generous with his time and energy, Thomas thought he was the ideal person to go to.

Once Hirsch was behind the project they set about devising a theme and a form. Some 27 artists who had attended the Städelschule, some recently but others extending back into the 1990s, were invited to participate, including Timothy Furey – who is one of just a handful of Irish veterans of the school (Seán Lynch and Michelle Horrigan are two others). To make it an open rather than a closed process, though, they were each asked to invite one other person to take part.

The invitee needn’t be an artist and several participants reached further afield: one going as far as Queen Victoria, whose Pekinese dog puts in an appearance. Not so surprisingly, works by writers, theorists and philosophers appear, including the feminist Luce Irigaray in Michaela Meise’s installation. Aptly located in the lecture theatre, Marcus Steinweg’s Diagram: The Subject of Art is a big, blackboard-sized diagram exploring the interconnections between various aesthetic theories and theorists.

Haegue Yang’s Strange Fruit sculptures make up a brilliant installation: the trees are clothes rails on wheels, draped in coils of cable, lighted bulbs, fragments of mannequins and masses of found materials.

Simon Fujiwara documents a trip to Mexico, expanding on ideas of hospitality, co-operation and friendship. Sergej Jensen and Michael Calles, artist and gallerist, make a memorable installation that engages fruitfully with the setting.

Pertinent questions
Jeppe Hein’s fluorescent lighting asks: “Why do we all keep looking for greatness?” It’s a pertinent question in context, Hirsch suggests.

“Artists engage in collaborative projects, and they are always trying to find a model outside of the market model. Yet there is also this striving for individual success. It’s a political question.”

Contemporary group exhibitions often require unrealistic amounts of time on the part of viewers: more days than hours of video, for example. There are a few offenders in Earlsfort Terrace, but mostly you can get the point without investing endless time.

This is not so, perhaps, with one of the best pieces, Holger Wüst’s two hours-plus film. It proceeds at an hypnotically slow pace, but is genuinely hypnotic. It’s a long zoom-out from pages of printed text blowing around in a landscape. The texts are by Karl Marx and they relate to economic theory.

Gradually, the view expands to encompass vast areas of post-industrial decline and natural disaster: a panorama stitched together from multiple sources. The clean lines of theory, Wüst is saying, are bound to come to grief in the chaos of the world. Jana Euler’s sculpted figure, its head disappearing into the wall, turns out to be a portrait of the world, composed of a map of the globe.

I knOw yoU takes time, but not an unreasonable amount of time. It’s folded very effectively into the spaces of Earlsfort Terrace. The occasional huge piece punctuates what is generally a succession of tactfully placed interventions.

It’s a good way to get a sense of where contemporary art is right now. The Städelschule places an emphasis on theory and the positive result is that practically none of the artists here take anything for granted: they constantly rethink what they are doing and how it might be received.

I knOw yoU , curated by Tobias Rehberger, Nikolaus Hirsch and Rachael Thomas, is at Imma, NCH, Earlsfort Terrace, Dublin u ntil September 1st

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