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Portikus Under Construction (3 DVD)
Helke Bayrle [tous les titres]
Sternberg Press [tous les titres] Audio / vidéo [tous les titres]
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Backstage


For many years now, Helke Bayrle—a film maker based in Frankfurt am Main—has documented the activities of the Portikus. The result is a unique collection of artist portraits. Here we present the last decade. This is backstage material, the kind of things that the viewer of the finished exhibitions never sees. Some of the artists really like talking about what they do and about the significance of what they present, others prefer to simply work with the installation team and the curator. Helke Bayrle’s unique material is very large and represents an important archive of contemporary exhibition making. These three discs present an edited version of the artist portraits. They give us a glimpse of each artist’s work at the Portikus, and at the same time they offer a unique behind the scenes view of the activities at one of Europe’s most lively experimental art institutions. Each chapter offers a version of the Portikus “under construction.”

The Portikus is an exhibitions space that is associated with the Städelschule in Frankfurt am Main. A production site rather than a traditional gallery, it is an institution willing to redefine its basic parameters with every new project. Since the late 1980s, some 160 exhibitions and innumerable other events have been staged there, and with each project the space has changed. Sometimes it is a factory, sometimes a kitchen or a stage for gatherings and performances. Sometimes it is a classical white museum space, sometimes a cinema, a green house or a swimming pool. How can one portray an institution like this?

This collection starts with Michael Elmgreen & Ingar Dragset’s “Powerless Structures, Fig. 111” in 2001. It was like a rite of passage, a white zone we all had to pass through before other things could start to evolve. This exhibition reminded us of the fundamental restrictions of the classical gallery space, and hinted at possibilities we weren’t yet aware of. The series of projects it initiated were to follow a logical route: steps of expansion leading up to the final blast that implied the deconstruction of the venue itself. “Spaced Out,” their second show, marked an end that was also a kind of beginning. It made the general rule of our activity clear: these exhibition projects were all, in different ways, about the active production of space. That continued after we left the original space behind the façade, and the characteristics of our second “container”— designed by Tobias Rehberger and Olafur Eliasson—triggered novel kinds of spatial exploration. In 2006 we moved into our new site at the Alte Brücke.

Left in its pure skeletal form, the interior of the building is not a normal white cube. Almost nine meters high, its space is very generous and allows for sculptural displays that very few galleries for art can handle. At the height of about six meters there is a balustrade from which further spots can illuminate the works on display. If the Portikus wants to show a large sculptural work by Paola Pivi or Michael Beutler, say, then the space should clearly be left the way it is. If the works on display need a spatial backdrop of a more modest kind, all that is required is that a few very basic devices be activated; they completely shift the perception of the gallery. A semi-transparent textile ceiling installed on the height of the balustrade creates the most basic of classical white cubes. The Portikus is a low-tech machine: for shows that require a dark space one only need to roll out a few large carpets that lie prepared in the attic above the inner glass ceiling. The Portikus is run by a very small group of people, assisted by young artists. Together with the curators Jochen Volz, Nikola Dietrich, and Melanie Ohnemus as well as the organization team Karin Sust, Julia Jung, and Dorothea Jendricke, I have had the pleasure and privilege to organize exhibitions with artists from all over the world in this unique institution. One thing has remained stable: the presence of Helke Bayrle during installation.

Prof. Dr. Daniel Birnbaum, 2009
 
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