Gregor Schneider’s fascination with darkened, asphyxiation rooms has become an art genre in itself. His works allude to fear, death and suffering, exemplifying the tricks that the human mind can play when stretched far beyond the normal. Schneider wants his work to help us to reflect upon and overcome our worst nightmares. That these fetid rooms have become highly sought after by collectors and museums certainly reveals how compelling we find the most disquieting aspects of the human condition.
Schneider’s ‘German Angst’, exhibited at Dominik Mersch Gallery in 2014, was a photographic and video-based survey of some of the controversial artist’s most significant work of the last 30 years. It featured photographic documentation of Schneider’s structure Haus u r, 1985–, and a video installation of Weisse folter, 2007, which takes viewers on a tour through the building. Haus u r is an ongoing project, having begun in 1985 when Schneider inherited his family home. Since then, the artist has inserted extra walls to create rooms within rooms, turning the structure into a labyrinth of corridors and passageways, windowless and soundproof chambers, blocked doors and inaccessible areas. Visitors have reported experiencing disturbing phenomena within the structure since its opening.
The provocative artist is well known for the sensory aspects of his work as his spatial incursions create a sense of claustrophobia and unease. Such sensations are heightened when the artist includes in the work lifeless, sculptural bodies covered in plastic or real people repeatedly performing everyday tasks. His work consistently features hollow rooms, haunting spaces and dark mausoleums.
In 2007, Schneider built the confronting Kaldor Public Art Project 21 beach cells, which created a dominating presence on Bondi Beach, Sydney. He also installed ‘Basement Keller Haus u r’ 1985 – 2012 at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. The eleven-by-four-metre room shipped from Rheydt was carefully inserted into the architectural fabric of the Gallery.
In 2008, Schneider became embroiled in controversy after saying he wanted to create a space in a museum in which people could die. His argument was that society’s horror of death was so acute that we prefer to ignore it, leaving people to die in the clinical impersonality of a hospital rather than somewhere beautiful. His impassioned response reflected on the endemic cruelty in our society that leads us to blatantly disregard our final act.
His works have been described by The Museum of Recent Art, Bucharest, as “either as sculptures, environments or conceptual contrivances. Or better beyond all of these, as [triggers for] anxious experiences uncommon in current art. As any major artist, Schneider has shocked, annoyed and excited the public, he has produced disputes and he has dislocated, at a conceptual and public level, the perception of limits of what we used to call ‘art’. He changed the way art today is made, shown, and experienced.”
Winner of the Golden Lion award for his work in the German Pavilion in Venice in 2001, ‘Totes Haus u r’, Schneider has earned a reputation as an outstanding artist and as the creator of an utterly baffling oeuvre. He is also the author of the book Mein Erster Brockhaus (2012), subject of five documentary films, and Professor in most of the prominent German Art Schools, from Berlin to Munich and Hamburg. He is now Professor at Kunstakademie Düsseldorf.
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