Gropius Bau exhibition promises a great deal but delivers small pleasures

Miss the Mark

Gropius Bau exhibition promises a great deal but delivers small pleasures

Larry Bell, "6 x 8: An Improvisation”, 1994 (Mathias Völzke/ Courtesy Larry Bell and White Cube)

The exhibition Immersive Spaces Since the 1960s (Welt Ohne Außen) at Berlin’s Martin-Gropius-Bau promises a great deal but delivers only a few small pleasures. The gallery suggests it will show “a wide range of art forms and disciplines that mark a transition from object to spatial situation.” But if you go to the Gropius Bau expecting to see a survey of immersive environments you will be disappointed.

Curated by Thomas Oberender and Tino Sehgal, it does include two California light, surface, and space experiments by Larry Bell and Doug Wheeler, along with a precedent-setting installation by Lucio Fontana and Nanda Vega. These sparse servings set up the real reason for the show: to act as precedents for installations by Sehgal. Further, the show posits that immersive environments have usually operated within a format of an “almost opposed modality: the exhibition.” But there it is in the Martin without any attempt to move outside the museum. The venue excludes outdoor experiments like Dan Graham’s mirrored pavilions let alone a James Turrell in situ light room. Sadly, the Gropius Bau’s walled spaces do not allow for any casual flow or unknown engagement with a work. With super-efficient Gropius Bau guards placed in front of the installation rooms there is little chance to even walk unprepared into an installation.

Carsten Höller, „Light Wall” (Attilio Maranzano /Courtesy the artist and Henie Onstad Kunstsenter, Hovikudden)

In fact, the sort of immersive light rooms featured in the show require a museum exhibition space with sealed off perimeter walls. This not to say that there are not small pleasures to be gained in this exhibit, like Isabel Lewis and Dambi Kim’s tasty and fragrant Tea Room “live work” scheduled through the run of the show. The opening presented only a few of the live performances or workshops that will take place at the Martin, and perhaps these small discreet ‘happenings’ will enliven the show, just don’t expect anything approaching a complete or scholarly examination of the topic.

The exhibition at the Martin Gropius Bau runs through August 5.

Lucio Fontana in collaboration with Nanda Vigo, Ambiente spaziale: “Utopie”, nella XIII Triennale di Milano, 1964/2017, installation view at Pirelli HangarBicocca (opening), Milan, 2017. (Lorenzo Palmieri/ Courtesy Pirelli HangarBicocca, Milan)