A marquee for art
by Christian Holl | Jul 1, 2016

The “Small-Scale Sculpture Triennial” has enjoyed a strong reputation ever since its foundation in 1980. The names of those who have curated it is more than proof. Among them, for example, are Manfred Schneckenburger, Jean-Christophe Ammann and Catherine David. After twice guesting in Stuttgart in 2001, the Triennial returned to where it had lived up until 1992, namely in Fellbach, bordering on Stuttgart to the east. There it has since taken place in the Alte Kelter, which was thoroughly refurbished in 2000. The 1906 building is quite impressive, and at 97 meters long and 30 meters wide it is one of the largest communal wine-press houses in Germany. Especially stunning are the wooden mullions of the massive roof, reinforced by steel tensioning straps and all carefully restored. The few facilities inside, namely a restaurant as well as ancillary and storage rooms, do not distract from the brilliant overall spatial impression – which actually risks vying with the artworks for attention.

A tent as a house inside a house

Susanne Gaensheimer, Director of Frankfurt’s Museum für Moderne Kunst and curator of this year’s Triennial, did not, however, have to contend much with competition from the interior thanks to support from Berlin’s Kuehn Malvezzi Architekten. The architects deployed an idea that is as simple as it is ingenious to fulfill the contradictory expectations – namely to calm the eye without banishing the existing building to the sidelines. The impressive load-bearing structure is held by two rows of struts and into this space the architects have hung a tent made of white, translucent fabric to create a basic footprint of about 15 x 68 meters for an internal white square – where the building around it largely disappears from sight. By contrast, in the surrounds of the tent (and the area is likewise part of the exhibition zone) the load-bearing structure is forever present; the tent is thus recognizably a house within a house. Here, the curator ensures the exhibits have sufficient space to avoid and impression of the inside being the privileged location. The focus is clearly on the art: Neither on the inside nor the outside do the panel walls exaggerate the geometry of the space and the artworks thus retain their very own presence.

The fabric panels are fastened to steel cables; they run seamlessly the entire length of the artificial house, emphasizing the longitudinal thrust of the space, and by extension the generous dimensions of the existing building. They have only been sewn at the points where the tent walls abut horizontally: While the panels can be produced in almost any length, their width is limited. Sewn-in squared timber ensures ground-level stability; the entrances are plain openings cut into the fabric, with a seam added right round. At the connection points between the panels, the tensioning strips intrude, the only visible element of the load-bearing structure visible on the inside. As regards the luminaires, only those along the ridge of the roof continue inside, all others illuminate the tent from the outside.

On balance, the tent remains a decidedly simple structure. At the points where the individual textile panels meet, now and then a little extra fabric overlaps or is pragmatically gathered in, something that hardly has any bearing given the sheer size. In this way, no sacred feel created by perfection is imposed on the place, which for all its impressive size and staggering structure was one for artisans and work – the tent is clearly not a “White Cube” with a hipped roof, but an intervention, destined to maintain the harmony between calming framework for the art and appropriate response to the site. And as an image it skillfully alludes to the history of the place – one needs think only of the marque at village wine festivals.

Food, nature, nomads

As does the topic of the show, incidentally. “Food – Ecologies of the Everyday” addresses how we handle foodstuffs. It explores both the mechanisms of industrialized food production and our often very rudimentary knowledge of food and its preservation. For example, Arpad Dobriban presents the different ways milk can be conserved and expressly lets visitors lift the lids of his jam jars that contain the exhibits – to sniff them; the strong smells are often not pleasant for our noses, accustomed to the food industry’s sterile products. Valentin Beck and Adrian Rast offer preserved foods to swap – that in supermarkets are ejected from the shelves as they are bruised or irregular. Moreover, the exhibition also reflects on our often all too romantically rosy image of nature – it forgets human influence and thus prevents us from appropriately assessing it. Visitors stand unsettled before nests built by zebra finches from materials that artist Björn Braun gave them: Paper strips, plastic fibers, plant surrogates – the birds didn’t care whether it was all of natural, biological origin. In this setting, one could also read the image of the tent as a reference to the life of nomadic herdsmen – which relies on a far more direct relationship to the environment than does our current stable homes and lives.

13th Small-Scale Sculpture Triennial
Food – Ecologies of the Everyday
Alte Kelter, Untertürkheimer Strasse 33, 70734 Fellbach
Thru October 2, 2016

Food – Ecologies of the Everyday
ed. Susanne Gaensheimer, Anna Goetz, & Christa Linsenmaier-Wolf
216 pages., hard cover, German & English, 63 color plates
Kerber Verlag, Bielefeld 2016
ISBN 978-3-7356-0229-9
in the exhibition for EUR 24.