Katharina Sieverding: Close Up

Oct 24, 2004–Jan 23, 2005


P.S.1 is proud to present Katharina Sieverding: Close Up. This is the first comprehensive survey in the United States of the Czech-born, German artist Katharina Sieverding (b.1944; Prague, Czechoslovakia), one of the most significant artists working today. With over three decades of highly influential artistic practice spanning photography, film, and installation, Katharina Sieverding: Close Up introduces her ground-breaking body of work to an unfamiliar American public and highlights the artist's life-long commitment to exploring the tenuous relationship between the individual and society.

Katharina Sieverding: Close Up focuses on the cinematic aspect of Sieverding's photographic work, notably her large-scale self-portraits, which compose a significant portion of her oeuvre. Employing the close-up to challenge conceptions of the relationship between photography and cinema, Sieverding explores areas where these interdependent forms of media coincide and diverge. The exhibition presents the full range of Sieverding's creative accomplishments, drawing a thread through her work from 1969 through the present. By concentrating on a selection of her most significant serial photographic installations, two films, and a group of monumental single photographs and archival material, it deepens the viewer's insight into the extreme political and social climate of the late 1960s and 1970s.

Sieverding firmly believes that the responsibility of the artist is to act as a politically engaged being, absorbing, synthesizing, and commenting on the rapid advancement of our technology-driven age. Sieverding's choice to focus on photography justifiably brings to light questions about the medium's attempt to document, reproduce, and represent. Her oeuvre includes monumental photographic portraits that appropriate the scale of movie screens and billboards, while their abstract forms—the result of manipulation during the developing process—create images that transcend race, gender, and age. Her photographic works are endowed with a symbolic sense of presence and the ability to command a space, and thus embody a simultaneous commitment to the observer and the observed.

Maton, one of the first photographic series, created between 1969 and 1972, comprises composite portraits of the artist staged in a photo booth. These portraits resurface in a series of 16 larger-than-life photographs of Sieverding in Stauffenberg-Block, from 1969, the title of which refers to German officer Claus Philip Schenk Von Stauffenberg, who made a failed attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler in 1944. Viewed in sequence, the expressions of the faces remain fixed-mouth closed, unsmiling, eyes tilted slightly upward. Experimenting with the medium, Sieverding solarized the silver gelatin originals and then used a red filter to tint the images. The Stauffenberg-Block faces, as in all of Sieverding's face imagery, reach both for an understanding of the self and for the fragmented nature of the Other.

Another work from this same period, Motorkamera (1973/1974) is comprised of 336 individual black and white portraits of Katharina Sieverding and Klaus Mettig engaged in a series of intimate postures. This is the departure point for another seminal series from this period, Transformer (1973), which features large format projections of multi-layered androgynous portraits. With this work, Sieverding concentrates fully on the systematic alteration and combination of male/female faces, birthing new faces and deconstructing the notion of the unified self and exploring the position of the Other.

Although Sieverding's early work explored her own female identity, she later expanded her discourse to include issues of the individual in society, creating large-scale, media-based works. During 1976-78, the artist traveled to China and America, accumulating visual propaganda to further explore the symbolic communications at play in mass-marketed imagery and text. One example is the monumental four-part photograph IX, taken on a New York City rooftop during Sieverding's one-year stay in the city in 1977 while she and Klaus Mettig took part in the Whitney Independent Study Program. In this photo, Sieverding is enveloped in a sea of black, one hand grasping a glass, and the other placed atop her head. Referencing the notorious blackout in New York on the summer night of July 13, 1977, the words "THE GREAT WHITE WAY GOES BLACK" are printed across her face.

As Sieverding experimented further with photography, intensifying her handling of light and performing technical manipulations with various new chemical processes, a shift toward material light occurred in her work. This is most apparent in XVII (1980), a monumental work that depicts the artist's full body as an impression reminiscent of an X-ray. Struggling to attain balance, Sieverding, in silhouette, is trapped in the precarious position of having to walk across (balance upon) a singular beam of light, while raising a staff over her head.

Sieverding's work addresses the power of the gaze and the comprehension of self through difference. This is most clearly evident in a 56-part series shown in 40 parts at P.S.1, Die Sonne um Mitternacht schauen (To Look at the Sun at Midnight), of 1973. This series of individual portraits of the artist's face painted in shimmering gold dust is tightly hung. Photography and the sun illuminate the face, which bounces the light back toward the viewer, filling the room with a warm, solar glow.

The focal point of the exhibition, Untitled (Ultramarine), 1993, is a series of eight self-portraits, comprised of three parts each, united by a vertical band of electric blue pigment. In this large-scale multi-media installation, Sieverding challenges the prescribed notion that a photograph represents a single "captured" moment, creating a cinematic flow that implicates the viewer and the object of his/her gaze in a dynamic eternal embrace.

Sieverding's early films convey a spiritual quality, evoking complex images that are charged with emotion, memory, and imagination of the self. In the 30-minute film Life-Death (1969), which was shown for the first time at Documenta V in 1972, film acts as a device for Sieverding's self-reflection, illustrating the desire for life and death, and maintaining a balance between the two. With her own striking presence, enhanced by dramatic makeup and attire, Sieverding confidently investigates the existential dimensions of her own identity. On view at P.S.1 is a 42-part photographic series from Life-Death.

In September and October of 1978, Katharina Sieverding and Klaus Mettig traveled to China on a 3-week official program to four cities. The result is a rarely shown 16 mm film Beijing, Yanan, Xian, Luoyang (1978), filmed by Klaus Mettig. Here Sieverding broadened her focus to include the iconography of documentary reportage, foregrounding global events, and divergent ideologies.

A silent film running slightly over two hours and 20 minutes, composed of almost untouched footage, presents us with a fleeting glimpse of everyday life after the end of the Cultural Revolution. Here Sieverding broadened her focus to include the iconography of documentary reportage, foregrounding global events and divergent ideologies.

While a Visiting Professor at the China Academy of Fine Arts in Hangzhou / Shanghai, Katharina Sieverding produced the film, Shanghai (2002-2003). Never before seen in the US, the film, comprised of two five-minute loops, document (extra)ordinary street life in and around Shanghai. The first loop, Hongmeilu, which was shot in slow motion in a postmodern Shanghai suburb, depicts two private security guards as they follow a man, throw him into a hedge, and remove and discard his shoes. Unmoving, the fallen man lies there while a white-gloved guard confiscates his papers. The second loop, Nanjing, Road, takes place at night in one of the most infamous shopping malls in all of Shanghai. It portrays a crowd of Chinese workers as they systematically dispose of a fashion boutique's entire inventory. The merchandise is piled high into the center of the store. The very next day the store is transformed into a clinic for cosmetic surgery.

Coinciding with the P.S.1 exhibition, Katharina Sieverding will be presented the Goslarer Kaiserring, Germany's most prestigious art-prize, on October 9, 2004.

Katharina Sieverding was born in Prague in 1944 and studied sculpture at the Staatliche Kunstakademie Dusseldorf (1967-72) with Joseph Beuys. Her solo exhibitions include: Deutsche Guggenheim, Berlin (1998); Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (1998); Kunstsammlung NRW, Düsseldorf (1997-8); German Pavilion, Biennale di Venezia (1997); KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin (1993); Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin (1992); Art Space, San Francisco (1988); Städlische Kunsthalle, Düsseldorf (1980); Van Abbe Museum, Eindhoven, The Netherlands (1979); Galleria L'Attico, Rome (1972). Her group exhibitions include Video Acts: Single Channel Works from the Collections of Pamela and Richard Kramlich and New Art Trust, P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center (2002); Rrose is a Rrose is a Rrose, Guggenheim Museum, New York, Warhol Museum Pittsburgh (1997); Augenhöhe – Van Abbe Museum 1936-1986, Van Abbe Museum, Eindhoven, The Netherlands (1987); Photography in Contemporary German Art: 1960 to the Present, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Documenta VII, Museum Fridericianum, Kassel, Germany (1982); Documenta VI, Museum Fridericianum, Kassel, Germany (1977); Documenta V, Museum Fridericianum, Kassel, Germany (1972). Sieverding lives and works in Berlin and Düsseldorf. She is a professor at the University of the Arts, Berlin.

A full-color, 500-page complete index/archive/compendium of the "close ups" in Katharina Sieverding's work will accompany this exhibition. The editor of the catalogue is P.S.1 Chief Curator and KW Institute for Contemporary Art Artistic Director Klaus Biesenbach and includes essays by curators and scholars Norman Bryson, Sabeth Buchmann, Katja Diefenbach, Alanna Heiss, Brian O'Doherty, Daniel Marzona, Amy Smith-Stewart and Abigail Solomon-Godeau.

The exhibition is organized by P.S.1 Director Alanna Heiss with P.S.1 Curators Amy Smith-Stewart and Daniel Marzona, and will travel to Kunst-Werke (KW) Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin in September, 2005.

The exhibition is co-organized by P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, a MoMA affiliate, and KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin and is made possible by Hauptstadtkulturfonds, Berlin and Kunststiftung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Duesseldorf. Additional support is provided by Rosa and Gilberto Sandretto, Agnes Gund and Daniel Shapiro, and Julia Stoschek. Special thanks to Galerie Grimm/Rosenfeld, Munich and Salon 94.


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