as of may 20 2003 8pm the show “mehr licht!” at the Goethe-Institut/InterNationes features the agressive absence of the “ny garbage flag profile.”
it was removed from the gallery entirely last tuesday on behalf of mr. blackburn and mr. uhlig, corporate executives of BrunelliNeri Productions Ltd, although the work was curated and part of the show at the opening.
BrunelliNeri Productions Ltd. were given permission to organize a high society reception in the gallery rooms of the Goethe-Institut on may 20. on the other hand the DAAD, represented by stefan altevogt, was given permission to set up an art show featuring current new york art fellows, which was opening on may 16 and planned to be up till may 23 (the show was eventually prolonged till may 28).
as it turned out mr. blackburn and mr. uhlig were willing to tolerate the show as a background for the high society reception not without substantial accomodations.
the terms of what was compatible/tolerable were out of question, “a matter of taste”.
because the “ny garbage flag profile” didn’t meet mr. uhlig’s and mr. blackburns standards, (which was mainly due to its material: accumulated, nationally uploaded garbage) its instant censorship and the entire removal of the spatial installation from the gallery space of the Goethe-Institut was found to be unavoidable.
excuses that were given were centered around the potential loss of actual and potential sponsors.
due to the time pressure and the lack of servants the ones responsible for the decision had to execute the exclusion themselves: it was the vice president of BrunelliNeri Productions Ltd. who removed the “ny garbage flag profile” from the gallery on second floor.
scruples regarding the integrity of an elaborated work and the integrity of a curated and ongoing show were considered irrelevant.
these incidents could be considered symptomatic side-effects as a highly reputated and traditionally state-funded cultural institution tries to restructure its financial revenue:
1) the actual operative budget of the Goethe-Institut New York provided by government funding (annually $ 80000) is by far not sufficient for the intended cultural activities. besides the capacity of the representative gallery rooms and of the auditorium is by far not fully utilized (20% estimated).
2) a promotion agency presents itself as a desirable partner for to optimize the acquisition of sponsors and to assist in the organization of hosted events.
3) compromises regarding its cultural independence are not so desirable.
chronologic description in detail
in november 2002 the DAAD decided to organize a show with the current recipients of an arts fellowship in New York.
both the exhibiting DAAD fellows and the New York office of the DAAD agreed upon, that the Goethe Institute as a non-for-profit-gallery and a highly respected institutional venue of German culture in New York would be a desirable location to set up a show. stefan altevogt showed interest in organizing the show as a project manager on behalf of the DAAD.
(participants at this meeting: claus withopf, christoph bangert, wolfgang may, stephen mueller, michalis pichler and danielle zimmermann as current scholars; brid schenkl on behalf of the DAAD; sabine weiss as cultural attachee on behalf of the german embassy.)
in february of 2003 stefan altevogt informed the participating artists, that the opening would be may16th (the opening date was eventually changed to may 15th) and that the show would be on display for a week and be taken down by may 26.
during several meetings in april and may the submission of the pieces was completed by the participants. their arrangement in the gallery space of the goethe institute was decided upon collectively.
in the morning of may 20th 2003 michalis pichler received a phonecall from stefan altevogt, who operated as a project manager on behalf of the DAAD and accompanied and supervised the set up of the show from the very beginning. michalis pichler was asked “reduce”, to move his “installation a little bit to the side” to give more space to a fundraising event that would take place in the same gallery that evening. problematically enough stefan altevogt had promised to “make the reception possible” in the gallery rooms and parallel to the show.
michalis pichler disagreed with that demand and requested to respect the integrity of his project and informed him that it was not an option for him to take down the spatial installation and put it up again the next day. yet he didn’t have a problem with an event taking place in the gallery space, while the show “mehr licht!” was set up.
stefan altevogt then asked him to be present at the time when the organizers of the other event would arrive so an agreement could be negotiated.
julian uhlig, an corporate executive of BrunelliNeri ProductionsLtd. appeared around 6pm together with the chef de cuisine. spontaneously they found the presence of the ny garbage profile disturbing and hardly acceptable in the context of a high society event.
7.00pm when stefan altevogt arrived, he engaged in a discussion with julian uhlig.
mr uhlig said that a high-end reception had to meet other demands than an art-show. for him the demands of an art show where secondary or even irrelevant insofar as they were in conflict with the demands for the reception.
the accumulated material was basically perceived as garbage regardless of the institutional context. in particular the spatial proximity of a high-end-pasta-buffet and empty pizza boxes was considered unacceptable.
mr uhlig said that the installation would interfere and be incompatible with the intended atmosphere and that in turn the artist michalis pichler probably wouldn’t be comfortable with the presence of three singers amidst his installation. he also pointed out that there where 120 people expected.
michalis pichler informed him that there were around 200 to 250 visitors at the opening night the week before. if they partly walked in and through the spatial set-up of the accumulated garbage, that was welcome and part of the concept. he also said that he would rather have the visitors deal with it and eventually step on it than to remove the material.
7.15pm mr david blackburn introduced himself as the business partner of julian uhlig.
“let’s keep art and business separated.” was mr. blackburns first proposal.
stefan altevogt then proposed to reduce the installation spatially, “so [that] we’d need as little space as possible but maintain the character of an installation rather then having it piled up as garbage”.
stefan altevogt said he didn’t want to “remove a piece from the exhibition entirely because of the content of the piece. this is i think a different bargain now. so if you can refrain from that to remove the piece from the exhibition my idea was to make the piece move within the space.”
michalis pichler said that he would not collaborate in the spatial reduction of the installation and offered to consider it an audience intervention if mr uhlig and mr blackburn moved the material themselves.
at that point they both categorically excluded this possibility.
mr. blackburn and mr. uhlig briefly elaborated that the ny garbage flag profile was inappropriate and incompatible with their reception.
they said that if it wasn’t real garbage but something more abstract they could eventually find an arrangement. the fact that it was garbage and that the garbage covered depictions of the american flag was inbearable both for the expected guests and the sponsoring restaurant company.
arguments: “we expect very old people”
“the first place we looked at for this was the Park Lane Hotel
people that go to the Park Lane Hotel are the people that love van Gogh. and that’s pretty much about it. and they usually own about ten of them.
that’s a completely different focus, it’s a different thing.”
the ongoing discussion focused on two topics: the contract of brunelliNeri with the Goethe Institute which guaranteed them the use of the gallery for the event and the potential loss of sponsors in the future.
“the problem is that we expect people that are coming tonight, the creme de la creme of the classic music world in New York and some extremely wealthy people who really appreciate art and actually sponsor it, and if they are not satisfied with the event tonight it will be difficult for the goethe institute to get their financial support in the future.”
“i see that out of experience. if we stay in here we will never be able to be sponsored for anything for the goethe institute from this restaurant company again. i can tell you that right now. the owner just walked in, he’s a very conservative italian guy, he said this is gonna be high class?”
the possibility of having the buffet in the landing area and the drinks in the gallery space was discussed briefly.
during the whole discussion a production team from the german television ARD/WDR was present, documenting the show and in particular the work of Danielle Zimmermann.
7.30pm mr uhlig and mr. blackburn asked to speak two minutes among themselves, after that asked stefan altevogt to come downstairs to speak with them.
7.33pm michalis pichler was asked to remove the ny garbage flag profile from the gallery entirely. he refused to do or participate in that.
david blackburn then presented him a hand-written contract and asked him to sign as follows: “i release BrunelliNeri Productions Ltd. and all of its employees from all liabilities from moving an art exhibition”
michalis pichler refused to sign that and asked for a copy of this paper.
stefan altevogt signed it. no copy was made.
david blackburn, vice president of BrunelliNeri, then started with the assistance of Stefan altevogt to remove the “ny garbage flag profile” from the gallery as quick as possible.
(it was eventually stored in a men’s restroom in the basement of the Goethe-Institut.)
michalis pichler documented the whole procedure with a digital camera, while david blackburn tried to forbid him to do that and threatened him with his lawyer, whom he called twice. he also threatened the cameraman from ARD/WDR to withhold from documenting this incident.
7.50pm the lawyer arrived.
8.01pm michalis pichler was agressively asked by david blackburn to leave the gallery space. he was told that BrunelliNeri had rented the gallery space to hold this high society event beginning 8pm and that he was not invited to participate.
the following documenting text was put on the wall beyond the title “ny garbage flag profile” by michalis pichler:
“as of may 20 2003 7pm the show “mehr licht!” at the inter nationes/goethe institute features the agressive absence of the ny garbage flag profile.
the work ny garbage flag profile was removed on behalf of mr. Blackburn and mr. Uhlig, corporate executives of BrunelliNeri Productions Ltd., who were given permission to organize a fundraising event in the gallery rooms of the Goethe Institute which was to take place at may 20 2003 and initially planned to take place parallel to the exhibition in the same rooms.
the presence of the flagged 'garbage' and in particular the material and societal dimension of the accumulated nationally uploaded garbage was found to be unacceptable and incompatible with the intended “high class environment”.
the instant censorship and entire removal of the spatial installation from the gallery space of the Goethe-Institut was found to be not avoidable.
he also put up quotes from the discussion which had taken place the day before.
when michalis pichler arrived, the documenting text on the wall had been removed. (BrunelliNeri had removed the catalogues from Wolfgang May to use this table as temporary office which they placed in the Landing Area of the first floor in front of the work “elective affinities” of the same artist.
all the video works had been unplugged, there were bags placed on the “ny times flag profile”. when michalis pichler entered the main Gallery Room, which has no doorknobs from inside, the door was shut from outside.
when he could open the door and informed them that the exhibition was open to the public, mr. blackburn asked him with a grin, if anything was missing from the gallery.
michalis pichler then informed the guard lee of the new incidents. on request of the guard, mr. Blackburn and mr. uhlig admitted that they had removed the documenting statement from the wall in the gallery. they then were informed that they had no right to do so. nevertheless they refused to give it back and again threatened michalis pichler with their lawyer saying that he had no right to use their personal, neither their company’s names.
they further said that they recognized the quotes as their but were comfortable with them as long as they remained anonymous.
11am michalis pichler wrote an email to stefan altevogt which included the statement and asked for eventual legal support.
4.30pm reached on telephone, stefan altevogt informed him that BrunelliNeri had no right to forbid the use of their names in that context- in any case their negotiation partner would have to be the Goethe-Institut. michalis pichler asked for and telephonically was given a promise of legal support by the DAAD, if necessary.
the statement on the gallery wall then was replaced by michalis pichler.
mr.blackburn immediately walked into the gallery room and called his lawyer two or three times from his cellphone.
nevertheless the documentation remained on the wall.
may23 BrunelliNeri were holding Opera Auditions 10am-6pm on the same floor, while the exhibition was ongoing. every once in a while mr. blackburn used the gallery space to make his phonecalls.
2pm mr. soetje, director of the Goethe-Institut, had a meeting with michalis pichler, apologized for the unpleasant incidents and explained that the Goethe-Institut had commited liabilities to both BrunelliNeri Production and the DAAD, which was known to stefan altevogt when the show was scheduled.
he explicitely gave his permission, that a documentation regarding the removal of the “ny garbage flag profile” may be put up on the gallery wall.
the Goethe-Institut is rethinking its professional relationship with BrunelliNeri Productions Ltd., which is currently negotiated.
(michalis pichler, May 20 and May 22 2003, New York)