Stories — Narrative Structures in Contemporary Art

EXHIBITION 28.03 – 23.06.02

People learn through stories, define themselves through stories and think in stories. Telling stories through pictures has been one of art's most important tasks for centuries.  In the age of antiquity, stories were told of the classical sagas of gods and heroes, of Greek and Roman history, and, later, from the Old and New Testaments and of numerous legends of the saints. In genre painting since the 17th century, paintings have been used to depict everyday events, and, more particularly since the beginning of the 19th century, historical events. 

At the beginning of the 20th century, stories disappeared from art parallel to the development of abstract painting. For a short period, the narrative aspect once again was a focal interest in art with the Pop Art of the 1960s and the so-called Narrative Art and Story Art of the 1970s, but these tendencies had no sustainable resonation.

Only since the early 1990s have artists again begun to explore the possibilities associated with the use of narrative elements in art. In so doing, they do not fall back on complete stories; their narrative structures are not linear, chronological or logical, but rather deal with space and time in a completely casual manner. Their goal is to communicate with the viewer, who must often create temporal and causal structures on his own, thereby assuming the role of the author.  

The exhibition provides insight into the faceted richness of narrative methods and the diversity of the genres and media in contemporary art. The range of subject matter is broad: Some artists report on their own lives (Calle, Emin, Grigely, Kentridge, Scurti); some on the experiences of others (Harrison, Loktèv, Mik, Siekmann, Taylor-Wood); others on historical events (Green, Merkel, Ohanian) or on fictitious ones (Ahtila, Arrhenius, Brenner, Heisenberg, Henning, Hershman, M+M, Parreno, Tschäpe), while others are inspired by a story in film or literature (Gaskell, O'Brien, Pettibon). From a technical point of view, there is a differentiation between multi-scene single pictures and mono-scene series of images. Written texts often serve as narrative mediums and are combined with drawings and photographs. Video art is a particularly appropriate narrative medium, because it links narrative structures with temporal development; and the room installation, as a narrative space, increases the immediacy of the experienced event.  

The artists play with the deep human desire for stories. The viewer is summoned to participate because – in addition to that of the counterpart – he is also assigned the role of reader, as well as that of director, detective or author. For all the works, however, one thing applies: Without the viewer, there is no story.

Rachel Harrison, Untitled (from the Perth Amboy series), 2001, Courtesy Grenne Naftali Gallery, New York
Rachel Harrison, Untitled (from the Perth Amboy series), 2001, Courtesy Grenne Naftali Gallery, New York
M + M, From Ear to Ear – Straight Through (Braincrossing), 2002, Courtesy M + M
M + M, From Ear to Ear – Straight Through (Braincrossing), 2002, Courtesy M + M
Florian Merkel, Fame and Beauty, 2002, Courtesy Gallery Wohnmaschine, Berlin
Florian Merkel, Fame and Beauty, 2002, Courtesy Gallery Wohnmaschine, Berlin
Franck Scurti, Insert, 2001, Courtesy Galerie Anne de Villepoix, Paris © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, 2002
Franck Scurti, Insert, 2001, Courtesy Galerie Anne de Villepoix, Paris © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, 2002
Lars Arrhenius, The Man without Qualities, 2001, detail, Courtesy Gallery Magnus Karlson, Stockholm
Lars Arrhenius, The Man without Qualities, 2001, detail, Courtesy Gallery Magnus Karlson, Stockholm
Tracey Emin, Feeling Pregnant, 2000, detail, private collection, Courtesy carlier/gebauer, Berlin © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, 2002, photo Wilfied Petzi
Tracey Emin, Feeling Pregnant, 2000, detail, private collection, Courtesy carlier/gebauer, Berlin © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, 2002, photo Wilfied Petzi
Anna Gaskell, Untitled #49 (sally salt says), 1999, Collection Tony Podesta, Washington D.C. © Courtesy Casey Kaplan 10-6, New York
Anna Gaskell, Untitled #49 (sally salt says), 1999, Collection Tony Podesta, Washington D.C. © Courtesy Casey Kaplan 10-6, New York
Julia Loktev, Said in Passing, 2001, Courtesy Galerie griedervonputtkamer, Berlin, photo Wilfried Petzi
Julia Loktev, Said in Passing, 2001, Courtesy Galerie griedervonputtkamer, Berlin, photo Wilfried Petzi

Stretch your view


Stretch your view


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