Sven Lütticken

Modernist Memories On the Contemporaneity of Günther Förg

The forthcoming issue of Texte zur Kunst investigates the structures of authority and power that stand behind the most celebrated artists and the institutions that support them. An obvious point of reference for such inquiry might be the legacy of an outwardly transgressive artist, where rule breaking in art connects to other kinds of rule breaking, the kinds we’ve been reading about everyday, it seems.

But what about the work of someone whose practice is more subdued than salacious? In advance of our March release, we look back to a text from our current volume by Sven Lütticken on the institutional history of Günther Förg, written on the eve of the artist’s first retrospective (albeit posthumous). Where art, money, and institutional canonization are at stake, scandal is not far behind, even if there is seemingly nothing aesthetically scandalous at stake in Förg’s oeuvre.

“Contemporary art”: no need to say more. That one is speaking about what used to be called “visual art” is already implied, as is the fact that this contemporary (visual) art is ostensibly the “true” art of the now. But what is this contemporaneity of visual art, this designation of supposed nowness that has, in the postwar period, opened itself up as a container for all other arts and media? For Peter Osborne, this “contemporary” is that which has replaced the designation “postmodern,” which itself had been the 1980s’ “periodizing term of choice to mark the distance from a now historical modernism.” [1] In a 1984 article later expanded into a book, Fredric Jameson famously defined postmodernism as the manifestation of the “cultural logic of late capitalism”; in the late capitalist period, the relative autonomy of art was compromised by the integration of art into commodity production, and the historical specificity of modernist artistic idioms was replaced by a post-idiom of pastiche. [2]

And yet already by the mid-1990s, we have Hal Foster asking, “Whatever happened to postmodernism? Not long ago it seemed a grand notion.” [3] Though Jameson would be loath to concede the point, it appears that postmodernism as defined and practiced in the 1980s may have been something less grand than the overarching cultural manifestation of late capitalism per se. Perhaps one could rather see it as the cultural cognate of the glacial last stretch of the Cold War – specifically, that span between 1977 (as the year of punk and the “Deutscher Herbst,” or German Autumn) and 1989, during which the Wall came down, the World Wide Web was conceived, and Francis Fukuyama proclaimed the “end of history.” [4] Of course, this dawn of the posthistorical era was a corollary to the supposedly final triumph of US-led capitalism, which became an unopposed global force with the collapse of the Soviet Bloc. With this capitalist expansion into the ex-communist world in the 1990s came the triumph of “contemporary” as the favored periodizing term. The concept would thus stand for an era of market-driven global homogenization.

However, Osborne avers that any merely periodizing use of “contemporary” to describe recent (visual) art is problematic insofar as it glosses over what really matters about contemporaneity: con-temporaneity as a “coming together of different but equally ‘present’ temporalities or ‘times’, a temporal unity in disjunction, or a disjunctive unity of present times .” [5] This echoes art historian Terry Smith’s insistence that actual “contemporaneity” is the mode of existence attentive to the co-presence of different beings, cultures, temporalities; and that we can speak of truly “contemporary art” only insofar as that art springs from a heightened sense of con-temporaneity in a fractured yet globalizing world. [6] To what extent, though, is art up to the job? Does the art world’s enthusiastic embrace of the “Eurocentric eschatology of progress” promulgated by certain speculo-accelerationist theory merchants not signal a darker truth? [7] Is “contemporary art” not above all a force of value extraction, of gentrification, of wealth redistribution in favor of a global oligarchy?

I will deal with such questions here via a detour into the just-past: the anachronistic contemporaneity of 1980s postmodernism and the artist Günther Förg, whose work has often functioned as a kind of Rorschach test, leading to extremely divergent takes on its historical role and meaning. I will also discuss how these debates intensified during the mid- to late ’90s, when the idioms and practices we take to be “contemporary art” crystallized, and make a montage of the situation in the mid-’90s and the present by considering the “contemporaneity” of an institution with which Förg has long been closely affiliated: the Stedelijk in Amsterdam, with a view to the institution’s recent activity.

Günther Förg, from the series „Barcelona Pavillion“, 1988

1. After modernism

“Geschichte ist machbar” (History Can Be Made) is the title of a collection of writings by Rudi Dutschke, one of the key figures of Germany’s 1960s student movement. When the book was published (posthumously) in 1980, [8] its title’s voluntarist optimism must have seemed decidedly anachronistic. After all, this publication arrived three years after 1977, the year of the RAF leaders’ collective suicide in Stammheim. Franco Berardi would later declare 1977 as the “end of the future” – as punk’s “no future” indeed already had, thereby signaling the ebbing of the emancipatory/revolutionary wave of “1968” and heralding in the 1980s. [9] In retrospect, these “long 1980s” would come to appear as a kind of holiday from history: a long intermission between a period of left-wing and countercultural hopes on the one hand, and the post-1989 “end of history” in the guise of the neoliberal triumph under American (and British) auspices on the other. As with the Paris of the Second Empire, this holiday from history bred historicism.

When Günther Förg came into public view in the 1980s, his work often consisted of wall paintings supporting large photographs, or of combinations of abstract paintings and such photographic pictures, mostly architectural shots or portraits of women. Förg’s architectural photos suggest a strangely disembodied eye – the gaze of a kind of detached historical tourist (or disaster tourist). In his 1988 photo series of Mies van de Rohe’s reconstructed Barcelona Pavilion, some pictures show a woman, the painter Ika Huber (Förg’s wife), sitting on a Mies chaise, answering the camera’s gaze. The standing photographs stress the verticals in Mies’s architecture, creating a sense of the pavilion as a kind of rarified corridor, a space meant for traversing and looking rather than living. At first sight, Huber’s presence in the structure makes it seem lived-in, but the coats on the other chaise suggest that this is in fact a masquerade, the pose of a tourist couple briefly inhabiting the postcard view; a dream of an elegant, modernist life wrested from the storm of history.

Under the double aegis of Barthes and Baudrillard, the postmodern 1980s art world was in thrall to semiological reductionism. In his early work, Barthes had developed the Saussurean notion of the (linguistic) sign – wherein the duo of signifier and a signified maintain a codified relation devoid of any direct reference to a preexisting reality – into a powerful tool of cultural analysis. [10] Beginning around 1970, he focused increasingly on that which escapes the code: the open, polysemic text; the scribbled marks of Cy Twombly’s art; the sens obtus of the film frame; and the punctum of the photographic image. However, during the 1970s Baudrillard weaponized Barthes’s earlier semiology when he crafted a narrative about the signifier’s loss of the referent: throughout successive phases of modern culture, from the Renaissance via industrial capitalism to the postindustrial, the sign had progressively become pure code, pure difference and equivalence – liquidating reality, in turn. [11] This notion of the sign as pure code would become so much theoretical fuel for a postmodern idiom or post-idiom that could only speak about the loss of the referent. By the 1980s, many artists found the idea key to their practices or even, like Peter Halley, earnestly sought to create “simulationist” versions of modernist abstract art. [12]

Taking stock of postmodernism’s applied semiology, Craig Owens argued that “the avant-garde sought to transcend representation in favor of presence and immediacy; it proclaimed the autonomy of the signifier, its liberation from the ‘tyranny of the signified,’” whereas “postmodernists instead expose the tyranny of the signifier , the violence of its law.” [13] In these terms, Förg’s position can only be characterized as ambiguous. On the one hand, his paintings clearly reference historical idioms of abstract painting, such as Newman’s or Marden’s, and they are not coy about this; they are not ashamed to look like a repetition rather than an innovation. In this sense, they are modernism eating itself; a certain modernist notion of progression, of futurity, comes to an end. On the other hand, Förg is not interested in reducing everything to signifiers. He sides with surface, yes, but not as a celebration of code; not as pastiche. For Jameson, “pastiche” signaled a waning of affect and historicity in a culture of depthlessness, a culture of the simulacrum, a culture overflowing with free-floating signifiers and the multiple simultaneous “truths” they prove. Everything has become sign. Postmodern “historicism” (in architecture in particular) was symptomatic of a weakening historical consciousness, he argued; the effect of a past that had become a series of historical idioms to be repurposed for the set design of a “spatialized” present. [14]

Günther Förg, „Untitled“, 2008

Förg was fully aware of the historicity of color combinations as well as compositional schemata. For him, vermilion was linked to the Russian Constructivists with its signaletic intensity, while other colors or their combinations (e.g., ultramarine and orange) were associated with the 1960s. [15] Yet there is the sense that he mixes these historically coded colors with “impure” ones (for instance what he called Currywurstfarbe ). His compositional scaffolding, meanwhile, is just an excuse for what it would be rather grand to call an act of painting – but could plausibly stand as the activity of painting. It is in the faktura of Förg’s paintings that a sense of real life, of praxis, shows through: a matter-of-factish mode of painting that could look rather hurried and distracted. These series show no dialectical development à la Mondrian; nor are they as systematic as LeWitt’s permutations. They have a ritualistic side: art-work as habit, as habitus. [16] Nostalgia is kept at bay by siding with sign-making over signification, and by treating sign-making as an activity of marking , of making and leaving traces that need not necessarily belong to any particular language. In this respect, the more “painterly” turn in Förg’s work during the 1990s is consistent with his earlier work.

However, Förg’s increasing emphasis on painterly “handwriting” and thus on the indexicality of the painted trace stresses the bond between the painting and the originating artist-author – in this way curtailing the work’s openness. The combination of two other forms of indexicality in his work, that of the photograph and that of the mirror, points in a different direction. [17] Both photo and mirror function via contiguity by optical means, but with the mirror lacking the photochemical fixation of photography. Förg not only combined his photographs with actual mirrors but also put his photos behind reflective glass, thereby making the viewers both part of the image and locking them firmly out of the represented tableau. The reflections make the work contemporaneous with the viewing experience, yet this remains a temporal montage rather than a merger: the layering amplifies the disjunction between the present and the time-space of the architectural sites he references in his work, whether the Villa Malaparte, the IG Farben-Haus, or the Barcelona Pavilion (which had been perfectly reconstructed in the mid-’80s). The work is never fully present: it is a montage of memories and potential histories.

Not only did Förg often combine photographs with the murals, but these wall paintings were, themselves, also always potential photographic tableaus or film. As many of these murals were realized in galleries, the photos taken or appropriated by Förg frequently show them in relation to rather delicious office furniture. However, the photos rarely show the spaces being used, turning them into stage sets in which nothing ever seems to happen; frozen potentiality. [18] One exception is a snapshot of Förg’s 1984 striped mural in Munich, which is also part of one of the artist’s photo editions. This photo does indeed include people, but the man (who looks to be Förg himself) and woman appear less like active subjects than like extras in an afterimage of a half-forgotten Godard film. [19]

Günther Förg, „Wandmalerei mit 2 Fotografien“, 1981, Galerie Rudiger Schöttle, Munich.

2. Förg v. Förg

Günther Förg’s work is reticent about the histories associated with the buildings and sites his photographs depict. It is not always clear when allusion slides into elision; when evocation becomes evasion. Take his 1996 series of the empty IG Farben building, which the camera traverses like some kind of haunted surveillance device. Are the viewers meant to know all about the Nazi-era crimes of this chemical and pharmaceutical conglomerate, about which the work remains mute? Is the series of prints that shows photos of the iconic modernist structure in negative a response to the poverty of photography, of photography as a modernist medium, devoid of the captions that Benjamin considered crucial? [20] And, to invoke other frequent Förg motifs, what about the messy interrelations between modernist architecture and Italian fascism, or between modernism and Zionism? Mute on such questions, Förg’s work is an opera aperta . [21]

In Tom Holert’s words, the critics and art historians writing about an artist form a discursive society : even when they are not responding explicitly to each other’s texts, they are nonetheless in an implicit dialogue, knowing full well how and where they position themselves in the ongoing interpretive tug-of-war to which a major artist’s work is often subjected. [22] In Förg’s case, one could put a Thatcherite spin on this and say that there’s no such thing as a Günther Förg discursive society – just warring factions. This is especially true in the Netherlands, where Förg had a significant presence in the 1980s and 1990s, not least because of Wim van Krimpen’s art gallery and Paul Groot’s Museumjournaal.

During Groot’s tenure as Museum­journaal ’s editor, Förg featured prominently in the magazine. For Groot, it was Förg the photographer and installation artist who mattered, a view he directly articulated in a 1985 Artforum review in which he claimed that the artist’s photos “connect the Post-Modernist idiom with a strong, almost humanist, emotional concern.” “The only thing that really engrosses Förg,” Gross stressed, “is the filmlike character of his work,” which was situated “consciously outside any category of painting or photography,” thus providing an alternative to “the morass created by Clement Greenberg’s late critical writings.” [23] He further mentions that in “Le Mépris” – a film evoked by Förg’s photos of the Villa Malaparte – “Godard’s characters were exiles from modernism, children of the present time looking in vain for utopia.” [24] He could have added that with the Villa Malaparte photos, one is exiled even from Godard’s exile: postmodernism is a second-degree exile.

In the 1990s, a different “Förg” became dominant in the Netherlands. Rudi Fuchs, director of the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague and subsequently (from 1993) of the Stedelijk Museum, presented Förg as someone who made sure that “the center holds” (to quote Fuchs’s own reversal of Yeats’s “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold”). [25] The contrast between Förg’s 1985 show at the Stedelijk (concurrently with Jeff Wall) and his solo there in 1995 is telling: whereas the former consisted of an installation made up of a wall painting and photographs, the latter was essentially a conventional painting exhibition (save for one series of paintings being shown on a colored wall). While Fuchs was well aware of the historical distance that separates Förg from utopian modernism, he nonetheless insisted on the continuities by positing a certain Nordic-German Romantic-Expressionist genealogy that would connect Förg with Caspar David Friedrich, and even with Dürer, via Munch and Kirchner. [26]

View of Günther Förg exhibtion bei / at Galerie Max Hetzler, Cologne, 1986

In 1997, the curator Mark Kremer was commissioned to write an essay for a Stedelijk exhibition of proposals for municipal art acquisitions. He decided to use the opportunity to attack Fuchs’s take on Förg as symptomatic of all that had gone wrong with the Stedelijk in the 1990s – with Fuchs privileging Baselitz, Lüpertz, Merz, and Judd, and occasionally allowing the younger curators to show some art of the 1990s. The piece was rejected, but the newspaper Het Parool published an abbreviated version in January 1998. Similar to Groot’s reading of Förg’s practice, Kremer foregrounds the work’s cinematic elements. He also emphasizes the personal and intimate dimensions suggested by Förg’s inclusion of women in these photographs; Kremer reads Förg’s modernism as tragic precisely for its portrayal of life among the ruins of belief systems. As an impure art, it does not follow the modernist diktat of medium-specificity but, rather, constitutes installations or omgevingskunstwerken (environmental artworks). In this, Kremer considers Förg to be a precursor of younger artists such as Douglas Gordon, Pipilotti Rist, and Aernout Mik. [27]

I leave to one side the question of whether such a somewhat myopic and provincial genealogy is more convincing than that offered by Fuchs. More important in the context of this essay is the apparent indeterminacy of Förg’s practice; its openness to appropriation and incorporation into incompatible agendas. While Fuchs forged an alliance with a 1990s Förg who referenced Edvard Munch and cited Ezra Pound, Groot and Kremer sided with a different manifestation of the artist. Indeed, Kremer explicitly stated that, for him, it was Förg’s 1980s work – and not the artist’s contemporaneous (’90s) production, as filtered and perhaps influenced by Fuchs – that was the most relevant. [28] Though Kremer seems unwilling to acknowledge this, one might add that “’80s Förg” wasn’t exactly the height of radicalism either: in a cultural context marked by feminist and queer critiques of representation and the male gaze, Förg’s portraits of women seem purposefully lost in time – lost in the interstices between a problematic past and a seemingly blocked future as much as the architecture.

Günther Förg, „Untitled (mirror)“, 1990.

The question is thus one of Förg’s own contemporaneity: What was the status of his work in the 1990s, and what is it now? The post-1989 era amounted less to Fukuyama’s professed end of history and more to a new wave of capitalist appropriation in the former East – as well as new forms of mental extractivism leveled at subjectivities. With the disappearance of state socialism, the dismantling of the welfare state continued apace and citizens were expected to become perpetually improving and networking self-entrepreneurs. With 1990s relational aesthetics and project- and “service”-based practices, we have moved from Baudrillardian sign value to immaterial labor to cognitive and semiotic work. These related modes of working might be said to constitute the fundamental idiom of the period. Concretely, this often took more austere neo-Conceptual forms, though the reuse of elements from modernist art continued under a different aegis. When artists such as Jorge Pardo and Tobias Rehberger plundered the modernist past, the parole that was spoken with these formal phonemes was fundamentally different from Förg’s. Rather than staging a state of being locked out of history, these works signal and celebrate art’s integration into an economy in which affective ties create and maintain flexible networks of cultural labor. [29] The 1998 iMac, that ultimate design fetish of the period, seemed perfectly at home and in synch with Pardo’s work at Berlin’s Neugerriemschneider gallery.

The challenge, then, is not to make Förg truly “contemporary” (in the 1990s, in the 2010s …), but to ask what kind of contemporaneity his work inhabits or produces. In keeping with George Didi-Huberman’s attempts to go beyond a merely pejorative notion of anachronism, this contemporaneity is an anachronistic condition. [30] Förg’s “contemporaneity,” in spite of Kremer’s best efforts, was not quite that of 1990s practice; nor did it ever coincide with any particular moment. His architectural photographs show the obdurate and anachronistic presence of these structures while making sure that they fail to ever achieve full co-presence with the spectral, mirrored viewer. Being itself composed of a disjunctive unity of different times, Förg’s art has never fully been there, so to speak; it has always been scattered across moments, in a limbo of time zones.

3. Conflicted contemporaneity

With a major retrospective of Förg’s work opening at the Stedelijk Museum in 2018 (a coproduction with the Dallas Museum of Art), now would seem a good time to look at the contemporaneity of this institution. During Fuchs’s tenure, when Förg was a mainstay of the museum’s program, the museum also ran a project space, the Stedelijk Museum Bureau Amsterdam (SMBA), which programmed younger contemporary art in relative autonomy. One key SMBA exhibition was “Mothership Connection” (1996–97), which included the Black Audio Film Collective’s video essay “The Last Angel of History” – directed by John Akomfrah, written by Edward George, and informed by Kodwo Eshun’s writings on Afrofuturism and music. [31] This 1995 piece used the figure of a time-traveling Data Thief from the future, scavenging the desert of the present for technological relics to narratively string together interviews with the likes of George Clinton and Sun Ra, intercut with meditations on the drum – as the original Afrofuturistic technology – whose beats allow the scattered African diaspora to communicate both across space and time. As a counter-postmodern myth, the Data Thief stands for a tactical pilfering of the past that restores its betrayed potential and marginalized subjects. It is hard to imagine this piece being shown in the Stedelijk’s main building (the mothership, if you will) in 1997. Today, agendas in the art world (and beyond) have only become more incompatible.

Black Audio Film Collective, „The Last Angel of History,“ 1996, Videostill

In recent years, SMBA showed exhibitions such as “Bell Invites” (2016), which created a dialogue between the contemporaneity of Richard Bell’s post-Conceptual aboriginal artistic activism, the Black Panther aesthetic of Emory Douglas, and young Dutch Afro-Caribbean practices. But last year, the museum closed down SMBA – a move that to many seemed designed to prevent such projects from taking place under the Stedelijk’s flag. Following a debate instigated, in response, by black Dutch intellectuals, activists, and artists, the Stedelijk now feels compelled to dress up its core policy with exhibitions on migration and diversity – but this core itself is made up of artists such as Seth Price, Jon Rafman, and Jordan Wolfson, or painters like Avery Singer and Jana Euler – all of whom function in the Stedelijk Museum in a way that is structurally similar to Förg’s role in the 1990s: as bulwarks against many of the more relevant practices of the day. Pastiches of various pasts meet pastiches of speculative futures; a variety of overlapping idioms is acceptable, as long as they are collectable. The key form is ultimately the commodity form, but it comes in different flavors. If, starting in the 1990s, commodification has increasingly taken the shape of “project-based” art or artistic-performative “services,” we have also witnessed a resurgence of commodity-objects that are far more suitable for the storage of value. The 1980s have returned in the guise of post-internet objects and pseudo-digital paintings. At a museum such as the Stedelijk, these formats constitute the idiom of “contemporary art,” over and above specific formal decisions.

In the fall of 2017, a string of art/value-related scandals at the Stedelijk came into view: There was the case of the collector Thomas Borgmann “gifting” the museum some 600 hundred works, which turned out to be only a partial gift as the deal stipulated that the Stedelijk buy several of the works from him (a purchase of 1.5 million euros), while another “collector-friend” attempted to whitewash his fake Mondrian painting by having it exhibited at the museum, only for external experts to sound the alarm. Finally, the now former director Beatrix Ruf failed to list her own art consultancy side business in the Stedelijk’s annual report; the massive earnings of this business, which also advises collectors affiliated with the Stedelijk, far outstripped her Stedelijk salary. [32] From a Förgo-Fuchsian Poundland, the museum has morphed into a showroom and money-laundering operation for a class seeking to perpetuate and expand its privileges as the world slides into neo-feudal perpetual war. With Förg and Fuchs, there was at least a type of genuine late modernist Kulturkonservatismus (cultural conservatism) at play; with Price, a carefully crafted aura of post-internet relevance seems a convenient false flag under which to flog vacuum-formed tchotchkes to oligarchs. Intriguingly, however, one German colleague of Ruf’s sought to relativize the extent of her “side-business” earnings (430,000 euros) by stating that all it takes to make this paltry sum is successfully placing two Günther Förg paintings with collectors. Förg’s contemporaneity in 2017, it seems, is as currency. [33]

Contemporary art’s role as an asset class at the forefront of neoliberal wealth redistribution – with museums functioning as showrooms for the flipping collectocracy – has created new divisions and stimulated the elaboration of different ways of doing and living art. Beyond diagnosing or even celebrating a disjunctive unity of present times, one has to decide whose time one is on. If our contemporaneity is indeed an anachronistic montage, if it is a disjunctive synthesis of different temporalities, the question is with which temporality and which history one sides. [34] At such a moment of intensifying conflict, Förg’s work once more reveals its anachronistic contemporaneity in its ambiguous and compromised beauty. It cannot easily be claimed by this genealogy or that form of present practice. His work is structurally liminal, situated at the threshold; it is latency, potentiality. It was a way of biding time while the storm of history appeared to have abated. This appearance may have been an illusion, but it became the productive principle of a practice that continues to affect viewers long after the fact. Like a modernist ruin, or a postmodern reconstruction of a modernist ruin, it refuses to pass well and truly into the past.

An earlier version of this text was written as a catalogue essay for the Dallas Art Museum and the Stedelijk Museum’s 2018 Günther Förg retrospective. The author withdrew the text in response to certain edits demanded by the Stedelijk.

Titel image: Günther Förg, „Wandmalerei München (Richelstr.)“, 1984, installation view


[1]Peter Osborne, Anywhere or Not at All: Philosophy of Contemporary Art, London/New York 2013, p. 17.
[2]For the book version, see Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, Durham, NC 1991. Curiously, Jameson’s volume was published as part of a series titled “Post-Contemporary Interventions” (co-edited by Jameson himself).
[3]Hal Foster, The Return of the Real: The Avant-Garde at the End of the Century, Cambridge, Mass/London 1996, p. 205.
[4]Fukuyama expanded his 1989 article into the book The End of History and the Last Man, London et al. 1992.
[5]Osborne, Anywhere or Not at All, p. 22.
[6]See Terry Smith, What Is Contemporary Art?, Chicago/London 2009.
[7]Déborah Danowski/Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, The Ends of the World, trans. Rodrido Nunes, Cambridge, UK/Malden, UK, 2017, p. 114.
[8]Rudi Dutschke, Geschichte ist machbar: Texte über das herrschende Falsche und die Radikalität des Friedens, Berlin 1980.
[9]Franco “Bifo” Berardi, see After the Future, Oakland, CA/Edinburgh 2011, pp. 44–50.
[10]The culmination of this “classic” phase of Barthes’s work is the Éléments de semiologie (Paris 1964).
[11]The key work here is Jean Baudrillard’s L’Échange symbolique et la mort (Paris 1976). The section on “The Three Orders of Simulacra” was published with a separate text on “The Precession of Simulacra” in English by Semiotex(e) as Simulations (1983). This slender volume played a significant role in the Baudrillard craze in the Anglophone art world.
[12]Such art was disowned by Baudrillard; as everything was simulation, there was no point in making art “about” it.
[13]Craig Owens, “The Discourse of Others: Feminists and Postmodernism,” in: Hal Foster (ed.), The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture, Port Townsend, WA 1983, p. 59.
[14]For Jameson on pastiche, see “The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism,” in: Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, pp. 16–25. If I rely quite heavily on American authors for my discussion of postmodernism here, it is because these authors seem the most productive to me in their attempts to develop a critical account/version of postmodernism. In Germany, you had waffling anthologizers and synthesizers on the one hand (Wolfgang Welsch), and old New Left attacks on postmodernism on the other (Bürger, Habermas). Jürgen Habermas’s 1980 lecture “Die Moderne – ein unvollendetes Projekt” was influential in Germany and elsewhere (an English translation was included in Hal Foster’s The Anti-Aesthetic), but the text refused to consider the possibility that the notion of postmodernism might be anything other than hopelessly regressive.
[15]Wilfried Gohr, Günther Förg: Kunst Heute Nr. 18, Cologne 1997, pp. 31–33.
[16]It is perhaps this quality that provides the most fundamental connection between Förg’s paintings and those of Vivian Suter, as shown at Documenta 14, though there are also some striking formal similarities.
[17]See also Diedrich Diederichsen’s recent proposal for an aesthetics of indexicality in: Körpertreffer: Zur Ästhetik der nachpopulären Künste, Berlin 2017.
[18]Intriguingly, one 1985 mural is listed as a “Hintergrund für Fernsehen” (Backdrop/Set for Television); see Günther Förg, Wandmalerei/Wall Paintings 1978–2013, Cologne 2015, no. 45.
[19]The edition in question, “Ohne Titel” (1984), is on pp. 138–39 of Günther Förg: Gesamte Editionen/Complete Editions, Rotterdam/Graz 1989.
[20]Benjamin discusses captions in “A Short History of Photography” (1931) as well in “The Author as Producer” (1934) and “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (1935–39).
[21]The term opera aperta is of course Umberto Eco’s, and the title of his book by the same name (Milan 1962).
[22]See Tom Holert, “Interview with a Vampire: Subjectivity and Visuality in the Works of Jeff Wall,” in: Jeff Wall: Photographs, exh. cat., Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig, Vienna, 2003, pp. 128–39.
[23]Paul Groot, “Günther Förg. Galerie van Krimpen,” in: Artforum , November 1985, p. 117.
[24]ibid., p 117.
[25]“The Centre Holds: Report from the Dutch Art Scene” was a 1998 exhibition curated by Fuchs at Galerie Gmurzynska in Cologne. Before the 1995 Förg exhibition at the Stedelijk, Fuchs organized a fairly early major show of his work at the Gemeentemuseum in 1988. Oddly enough, a mural that Fuchs commissioned for one of the museum’s staircases is not listed in the 2015 Wall Paintings catalogue; only a different, yellow mural (no. 76). See
[26]Rudi Fuchs, “Abstract, Dialect, Förg,” in: Günther Förg, exh. cat., Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, 1995, p. 44.
[27]Mark Kremer, “Liever de spannende oom van vroeger dan Rudi Fuchs,” in: Het Parool , January 10, 1998.
[28]Kremer, ibid.
[29]The notion of immaterial labour was introduced in 1997 by Maurizio Lazzarato in the essay of that title:
[30]See Georges Didi-Huberman, Confronting Images: Questioning the Ends of a Certain History of Art, trans. John Goodman, University Park, PA 2005.
[31]On the Black Audio Film Collective in general, see Kodwo Eshun/Angelika Sagar/The Otolith Group, The Ghosts of Songs: The Film Art of the Black Audio Film Collective, Liverpool 2007; pp. 96–97 for Eshun on the Last Angel of History.
[32]See Arjen Ribbens, “Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam leende vervalste Mondriaan,”; Arjen Ribbens, “Eigenaar wist dat Mondriaan vals was,”; Daan van Lent /Arjen Ribbens, “Het Stedelijk schond afspraken en ethische codes,”; Michiel Kruijt/Rutger Pontzen, “Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam betaalde 1,5 miljoen voor ‘geschonken’ kunst,”; Daan van Lent/Arjen Ribbens, “Stedelijk onderzoekt nevenactiviteiten directeur Beatrix Ruf,”
[33]Catrin Lorch, “Die Autonomen,” in: Süddeutsche Zeitung , October 21/22, 2017.
[34]See also my piece on the Volksbühne occupation, “Art as Immoral Institution,”