“It was Strau, after all, who wrote a catalogue essay for the 2006 exhibition ‘Make Your Own Life: Artists In & Out of Cologne’ celebrating what he termed the ‘non-productive attitude’, the kind of social recognition that artists could attain without having to produce ‘art works’ to show for themselves.” (Elena Filipovic, Frieze 109, September 2007)This seems like an incredibly pertinent and interesting approach to an art making practice today. The very shift in terminology to “practice” as a catch all for whatever art things artists do is symptomatic of this. Or the way “work” rather than “artwork” or “art object” is being conceived of and deployed in discussions on art. Not to be confused with the older, post-everything politicized notion of everyone in the art world being a “cultural worker.”
The big questions now seem to be “who are the artists and what are they doing?” and “where is the art and who is making it?”
Josef Strau • Year in Review Lamp • 2003 • (image from Greene Naftali website, picture quite possibly taken in Strau's Galerie Meerrettich)
From 2002 to 2006 Josef Strau ran the Galerie Meerrettich, a glass pavilion inside the box office of what used to be an avant-garde theater in Berlin. As an artist-run space it was even paltry, no press information. Like most artist-run spaces it had no funding and no regular hours. Perhaps he did the favor of not posting any to begin with, because most alternative spaces claim to have hours they seldom keep. Maybe because it was in Berlin, or maybe it is the way Filipovic describes it, but Galerie Meerrettich’s pathetic qualities coupled with its cult status and well-attended events and openings seems more like a careful aesthetic gesture of art into art world rather than standard alternative art party fair. It is worth noting that “alternative space” now only means the well-established alternative to running a commercial, professional gallery. What’s the alternative to the alternative space? Running an apartment gallery like a commercial gallery with proper lighting and regular hours? What does the institutional critique of the “alternative space” look like?
Installation view of Josef Strau Don't Climb the Pyramids at Greene Naftali Gallery • 2006
“I reckon that the radar still hasn’t fully registered Strau, at least in part because his art works – he does occasionally produce things – are so curiously discreet, demanding and ungainly that they aren’t the easiest items for collectors to snap up, or for press releases to encapsulate (Ibid)." Indeed, the press release for Josef Strau’s show organized by Maxwell Graham at Rowley Kennerk, which opens Saturday, April 4 at 6pm doesn’t say any more then what I’ve just told you in this sentence. I’m interested to see what will be there. Will there be an art situation, or just a motion toward Josef Strau and his stature of influence in the form of an object or two? Either way, it will probably involve lamps.