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Before The Law: Post-War sculptures and spaces of contemporary art at Museum Ludwig
Wilhelm Lehmbruck, Sitzender Jüngling, 1916/17. Bronze, Höhe 104 cm. Stiftung Lehmbruck Museum, Duisburg. Foto: Jürgen Diemer.

COLOGNE.- The question of the fundamental conditions of human existence is of timeless importance as well as contemporary urgency. Human rights violations and assaults on human dignity can be observed every day – the media seeming to allow us to examine these with increasing thoroughness. The exhibition Before the Law is dedicated in both a focused and comprehensive manner to the central theme of the human condition and its fragility. The sculptures of the postwar era and spaces of contemporary art visualize with great immediacy how the various artists come to terms with the conditio humana.

This show, organized in collaboration with Siemens Stiftung, is the last programmatic exhibition curated by Kasper König at Museum Ludwig.

The parable and metaphor providing the topic for the exhibition is the eponymous short story by Kafka. It tells of a man from the countryside seeking to gain entry to the law. The doorkeeper denies him admission, while repeatedly assuring him of the possibility of entering at a later date. The country man remains waiting at the gates his entire life, excluded from the law. And the same doorkeeper mans his post year after year, representing the eternal, statue-like counter-figure to the aging individual embodied by the country man.

Noteworthy in comparison to other definitions is Kafka’s concept of the law as a space that is tangible and finite, to which there is an entrance and from which one can be excluded. The exhibition takes up this mental image and creates an interior that encompasses the entire third floor, where 24 artistic positions resolutely define their own setting.

Before the Law combines figurative sculptures from the post-war era with contemporary positions, spanning an arc across the last sixty years. The catastrophe of World War II constitutes a fundamental break with human rights and human dignity that has been determinative of our contemporary understanding of these values, as reflected for example in the first article of the German constitution. Against this backdrop, the works of the post-war years – which portray with great directness the oppressed, wounded and threatened human being - form the argumentative core of the exhibition. Statues by Germaine Richier, Gerhard Marcks, and Alberto Giacometti give the traumatized human a face and a body, finding artistic forms with which to express the speechlessness of that time. They form the starting point for the viewer’s contemplation of contemporary installations by artists such as Phyllida Barlow, Paul Chan, and Zoe Leonard. In contrast to their historical “role models” these works have largely abandoned figurative portrayal, approaching the ever more complex and splintered conditions of present-day human existence by way of spatial dimensions and diverse materials.

The exhibition Before the Law not only demonstrates the persistent topicality and expressiveness of post-war figurative sculpture, but through its historical context also puts into focus the humanistic potential of contemporary art. In times of increasing insecurity and fast-paced living, it seems necessary to address a type of art that insists on earnestly coming to terms with the human condition.

An extensive catalogue will be published by Buchhandlung Walther König to accompany the exhibition, with contributions by Penelope Curtis, Friedrich Wilhelm Graf, Kasper König, Thomas Macho, and Thomas D. Trummer.

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