I AM A PROBLEM at MMK Frankfurt am Main

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

Exhibition title: I AM A PROBLEM

Staged by: Ersan Mondtag

Venue: MMK Frankfurt am Main, Frankfurt am Main, Germany

Date: September 23, 2017 – February 18, 2018

Photography: all images copyright and courtesy of the artists and MMK Frankfurt am Main

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.

‘In the past years, the MMK has increasingly supported artistic disciplines beyond the field of fine art, for example fashion and choreography. I AM A PROBLEM is the first exhibition developed in cooperation with a theatre director. Staged by Ersan Mondtag, the exhibition deliberately shifts the focus to the realm between art and theatre,’ says Peter Gorschlüter, acting director of the MMK and curator of the exhibition.

Ersan Mondtag’s interdisciplinary work spans dance, music, performance, and installation. His productions unfold as associative chains of images and sounds, in which humankind – with its longings, emotional troughs, and passions – always takes centre stage. Mondtag’s interdisciplinary practice has numerous links to recent art history, making it perfectly suited – predestined, even – for a museum show. Thanks to his exuberant and vigorously debated productions, Mondtag is considered one of the most-watched young directors in the German-speaking world.

‘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.

A stylized, oversized tapeworm, made by the artist group Plastique Fantastique, takes visitors on a journey into the inner Maria Callas. On dark paths and along vermicular curves, the audience encounters border-crossers and doppelgängers, quiet rebels, failed existences, and bodies that have fallen prey to relentless self-improvement.

The works included range from Andy Warhol’s Kellogg’s Cornflakes Box to Rosemarie Trockel’s Frau ohne Unterleib and Markus Sixay’s ankle-deep confetti installation I am prepared for you, right up to a selection of the MMK’s most recent acquisitions, such as Will Benedict’s music video I AM A PROBLEM (T.O.D.D.). With an alien creature playing the main role, Benedict’s video – which has inspired the exhibition title – oscillates between offering a grotesque exaggeration and a grave diagnosis for the present time. Benedict’s work not only demonstrates some of the global crises of the 21st century; it simultaneously imagines a future in which humans see themselves faced with rival life forms, like aliens, avatars, and cyborgs.

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.

Kader Attia: Repair Analysis, 2013, Courtesy VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2017, photo: Axel Schneider

Will Benedict: Comparison Leads to Violence (poster), 2013, Courtesy of the artist and Neue Alte Brücke, Frankfurt

Will Benedict: Comparison Leads to Violence (poster), 2013, Courtesy of the artist and Neue Alte Brücke, Frankfurt

I AM A PROBLEM, 2017-2018, exhibition view: foreground: Bernhard Johannes Blume: Textbild aus „Anweisung zum seligen Leben“, 1969, Courtesy VG Bild-Kunst 2017, photo: Axel Schneider; background: Bernhard Johannes Blume: Stuhl, 1971, Courtesy VG Bild-Kunst 2017, photo: Axel Schneider

Elaine Sturtevant: Gonzalez Torres, Untitled (Go-Go Dancing Platform), 1995, Courtesy Sturtevant, photo: Axel Schneider

I AM A PROBLEM, 2017-2018, exhibition view, foreground: Teresa Margolles: Catafalco, 1997 Courtesy Teresa Margolles, photo: Axel Schneider

Jonathan Horowitz: Go Veggie (Pamela Anderson), 2003, © Jonathan Horowitz photo: Axel Schneider

Elaine Sturtevant: The Dark Threat of Absence Fragmented and Sliced, 2002, Courtesy Sturtevant, photo: Stefan Maurer

I AM A PROBLEM, 2017-2018, exhibition view, foreground: Rosemarie Trockel: Ohne Titel (Frau ohne Unterleib), 1988 Courtesy VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2017, photo: Axel Schneider

Dayanita Singh: Mona and Myself, 2013, Dayanita Singh: Mona and Myself, 2013 photo: Axel Schneider

I AM A PROBLEM, 2017-2018, exhibition view, foreground: Martin Honert: Foto, 1993 Courtesy VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2017, photo: Axel Schneider

Aernout Mik: Middlemen, 2001, Courtesy Aernout Mik, photo: Axel Schneider

Will Benedict: Comparison Leads to Violence (poster), 2013, Courtesy of the artist and Neue Alte Brücke, Frankfurt

Vanessa Beecroft: vb68, 2011, Courtesy Vanessa Beecroft, photo: Vanessa Beecroft

Vanessa Beecroft: vb68, 2011, Courtesy Vanessa Beecroft, photo: Vanessa Beecroft

Taryn Simon: Hymenoplasty Cosmetic Surgery, P.A. Fort Lauderdale, Florida, 2005-2007, Courtesy Taryn Simon, photo: Axel Schneider

Steven Parrino: Blob (for D. Crash), 1995, Courtesy Steven Parrino, the Steven Parrino Estate/Gagosian Gallery, photo: Axel Schneider

Robert Gober: Untitled, 1991-1993, Courtesy Robert Gober, photo: Axel Schneider

Marlene Dumas: Godess, 1997, Courtesy Marlene Dumas, photo: Axel Schneider

Juergen Teller: Kristen McMenamy 3, London 1996, 1996, Courtesy Juergen Teller, photo: Axel Schneider

Jack Smith: Ohne Titel, 1958-1962-2011, Courtesy Jack Smith Archive and Gladstone Gallery New York and Brussels

Douglas Gordon: going out, 2005, Courtesy Studio lost but found and VG Bild-Kunst 2017, photo: Axel Schneider

Bruce Nauman: Perfect Balance (Pink Andrew with Plug Hanging with T.V.), 1989, Courtesy VG Bild-Kunst 2017, photo: Axel Schneider

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

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