Ata Macias, Dj, Clubowner, cook and creative entrepreneur – not as a man of action but as an object of an exhibition at Museum Angewandte Kunst. Photo © Martina Metzner, Stylepark
by Martina Metzner
The man at the center of things remains visibly relaxed: In Frankfurt’s Museum Angewandte Kunst (MAK) an essentially small man sits, he’s got a flowing beard, a white cap pulled down deep, both hands stuffed in the pockets of checked tracksuit bottoms, quite a droll appearance: It’s DJ and restaurant buff Ata Macias. He’s not here as the man who made the show, but as the man at the heart of the show.
The curtain rises. Onto the stage steps Matthias Wagner K, Director of the MAK, along with curators Mahret Kupka and Eva Linhart – and in the middle Ata “himself”, whom everyone only knows by his first name. And of course the question is: How did it happen that a living DJ and creative busy bee, a man with his roots in good food and good night life, a man who over the last decades has helped shape Frankfurt’s face more than most others – with his “Robert Johnson” music club, with his “Delirium” record store, his “Bergman” concept store, his “Plank” bar, and his open-kitchen series called “Club Michel” – is now the subject of a complete exhibition? In a museum of applied art, at that? Matthias Wagner K explains: As part of the restructuring, the museum has bid farewell to a good 90 percent of the permanent exhibition to make space for transformation. The goal: the museum as a space for potentiality, where things get opened up, and cultural processes unleashed. And what Ata does, he continues, is applied art, although the way he pronounces the word DJ reveals him to not be the most frequent of clubbers.
Ataversum as art
Curator Mahret Kupka delves deeper into the reasoning. Granted, Ata is not an artist by traditional standards, and yet with his “Ataversum” he has set up a network, creating hubs, atmospheres and spaces that spawn new processes and forms of collaboration, she argues. But does not quite succeed in stopping the rumor that Ata himself took some persuasion to believe that what he does is art. Then, finally, it’s Ata’s turn to speak and he confesses that ‘Come On In My kitchen’, the name of the Robert Johnson book, is his own motto in life. Which, according to the newly named artist, mostly takes place in his kitchen, the place where he meets his friends, whether they be DJs like Heiko M/S/O, Ricardo Villalobos, Sven Väth, and Roman Flügel, or artists like Tobias Rehberger, Carsten Fock, and Michael Riedel. Not to forget his club companions Sebastian Kahrs and Heiner Blum of course. Much of what he does happens “quite intuitively” and “comes from the heart”, he says. Ata is a man of simple, clear words: “Originally I wanted to become an interior designer, but I soon found out that I felt more at home with my record player than with the drawing board.”
Those who have never laid eyes on the “Ataversum” proper now get a chance to walk through it in the exhibition at MAK. Room 1 is the brainchild of Ata’s friend, artist Michael Riedel, who initially planned a rendition of his original work “Johnson Robert” (2004, the club, upside down!). Yet the rooms at hand were not suitable. Instead we get to see the “Robert Johnson assembly kit” – all parts have been neatly arranged for visitors to put together their own individual club. The following room is dedicated to Ata Macia’s audiovisual archive, complete with posters, album covers, T-shirts and nightlife photographs; visitors use the joystick in the center of the room to “scroll” through the various items. Next stop: the picture wallpaper by photographer Daniel Herrmann, a documentary spanning seven years of club life in the Robert Johnson and previously on display there. We see the faces of people partying, in black-and-white, soaked with sweat, exhausted, ecstatic, yet not so far gone like the rave crowds in the 1990s.
Sadly the music to match can only be heard via headphones from a jukebox designed by Heiner Blum, Professor at Offenbach’s Academy of Art and Design and co-initiator of the Robert Johnson. Featuring tracks “made by” Ata and his partners, from his record labels Playhouse, Klang Elektronik, Ongaku, and Live at Robert Johnson. And we continue past film documentaries from Frankfurt’s Bahnhofsviertel district, where Ata set up his Club Michel and Plank – and where he himself lives.
Life is a concept store
The tour then progresses past Carsten Fock’s wallpaper, a replica of an installation on show in the Robert Johnson in 2008, and arrive at the concept store. Here Ata is in his element; it is here that all the different strands of his life and work come together: music, fashion, art, and cooking. And the best thing is: All these items are for sale. For despite his laissez-faire attitude Ata is a pretty hard-nosed businessman indeed. There are 30 special editions, objects by his artist and producer friends, and by Ata himself, all purpose-designed for “Give Love Back”. Take for example the circular, square and triangular luminaires by Nordlicht, Ata’s homage to the Bauhaus. Or the letter luminaire “Yes No” by his mate Tobias Rehberger, with whom he co-founded the cooking events at Club Michel, where the pair are often spotted at the hobs themselves. Further offerings include “Höchster Porzellan” tableware, shoes by Adidas and Camper, kitchen utensils by “Menu” and “Normann Copenhagen”, bags by “Early” and “Tsatsas”, and “Lampe-Gras” luminaires by DCW éditions. Not to forget “Blank” liqueur, whose maker and friend of Ata’s, Christoph Keller from the Stählemühle distillery on Lake Constance, has been devoted an additional exhibition space complete with a copper distillery made by Arnold Holstein. Right next to it Ata is displaying his record collection – and he plans to sell it. “I’m 46 now. I don’t need it anymore,” he says. “There comes a time when you should part with things that are dear and close to you.” A young DJ has already expressed interest. Oh, and yes, the floor of the Robert Johnson is also up for sale. “Give Love Back.”
It all comes back
Ata is already an icon. He certainly didn’t need the show for reasons of promotion – he is an institution on the international electronic music scene. Since 1999 Ata’s club with the minimalist design on the border between Offenbach and Frankfurt has been one of the hottest electronic music venues the world over, destined to steer the legacy of Frankfurt’s techno scene with Sven Väth in the 1990s safely into the future. The Frankfurters on the other hand regard Ata as a cult restaurateur who dreamed up eateries like the Plank and catapulted the Bahnhofsviertel back on the map of happening locations. Other projects, such as “Delirium” club-wear store established in 1991 and the “Bergmann”, Germany’s first ever concept store opened in 1999, which also sold e15 furniture, are sadly no longer around.
“Give Love Back” is the order of the day. The exhibition has sparked new friendships, the Frankfurt multi-talent of Greek extraction is pleased to say. His network never sleeps and effortlessly expands into the museum world, too. Which also means that Ata is getting older and wiser, while the MAK is getting younger and cooler. But Ata “applied”? Perhaps a simple answer will suffice: The exhibition party proper did not take place at the MAK, but in the Robert Johnson.
Give Love Back. Ata Macias und Partner
Recommended reading on the exhibition:
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Floor-plates, ceiling suspensions, loudspeaker – artist Michael Riedel sets up Ata’s Robert Johnson Club for DIY. Photo © Martina Metzner, Stylepark
Part of the Robert Johnson myth are also the well-designed posters (Design: Doeller & Satter). Photo © Ata Macias/ Museum Angewandte Kunst
“Johnson Robert“ Installation by Michael Riedel, Galerie Michael Neff, Frankfurt M., 2004.
Photo © Wolfgang Guenzel
The essence of a club: The minimal design of the Robert Johnson hasn’t changed since the opening in 1999. Photo © Julia Katharina Ziegler, 2008
Dj Ricardo Villalobos at Robert Johnson, 2004. Photo © Daniel Herrmann
The picture wallpaper by photographer Daniel Herrmann as a documentary of the club life in black-and-white. Photo © Martina Metzner, Stylepark
Club Michel – offspace-dinner-concept created by Tobias Rehberger and Ata located in the area around the central station. Foto © Timothy Schaumburg