25 August 2016

Exhibition Review:
“Capital. Debt – Territory – Utopia”

Text: Anja Neidhardt


Joseph Beuys created the installation “The Capital Space 1970–1977” for the Venice Biennale in 1980.A new definition for “capital” had formed in his thinking in the 1970s. Beuys released the word from the world of financial terminology and moved the creative potential of human beings to the centre of economic thought. His idea is described by “Art = Capital”.

“The Capital Space 1970–1977” is now on show in Berlin for the first time. However, it is not displayed in a kind of white cube or on its own, but is embedded in a multilayered exhibition that brings elements from different epochs, disciplines and media into a dialogue, thus creating a rich context in which both the work obtains a new meaning and also the view of all the other exhibits can be changed. The exhibition “Capital. Debt – Territory – Utopia” curated by Eugen Blume and Catherine Nichols questions and discusses what “capital” once was, is now, – and what it could be in the future.


Capital in the Context of Debt, Territory and Utopia


The exhibition is divided into three areas: debt, territory and utopia. First, the argument is put forward that debts – material and moral – are older and more fundamental than money: our financial relationship with our fellow humans, but also with the world begins at birth. This form of original sin that features in almost every religion forms both the requirement and the basis of all giving and taking. In the second section – territory – the spotlight is, above all, on the early modern period’s developing interrelationship of capital with conquering and transforming global space. The third part – utopia – questions Joseph Beuys’ positive capital term founded in creativity. The exhibition concludes with “The Capital Space 1970–1977”. As the visitor has to turn around and pass through the exhibition again to get to the entrance respectively the exit, Beuys’ work can be described as the crux, as a turning point and the centre of this spatial discourse.



In Dialogue


For the curators, the form of dialogue played an essential role in the design as Catherine Nichols explained in her speech at the opening of the exhibition in the Hamburger Bahnhof on 1 July 2016. “What we mean by dialogue involves the tradition of humanistic intellectual conversation for centuries to the extent that we examine even contradictory opinions on the subject of capital and question why under no circumstances we speak only with the dead,” according to Nichols. These voices appear in the exhibition in the form of quotations around which small configurations of two to five objects are arranged. The quotations do not have an explanatory function but play much more of a questioning, seeking, stimulating role. In all, the exhibition comprises 130 exhibits, many of which come from the collections of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. (The oldest object is an ancient Babylonian purchase agreement for a female slave, written in cuneiform two thousand years before Christ.)

The curators use the term “dialogue” however in the “sense of André Malraux’s imaginary museum” according to Nichols’ speech. They have “brought together artworks and artefacts from different eras and places that talk to one another, objects from all areas of culture, that produce thought-images through their togetherness, their juxtaposition and opposition and which illuminate the dimension of capital, above all, however, the role of mankind in this very complex bustle of late-capitalist society,” says Nichols.


Jan Sanders van Hemessen Meets Rihanna


Specifically this method means that in the first section that looks at debt settlement, the following combination emerged whereby“Woman Weighing Gold”, a painting from the 16th century by the Flemish artist, Jan Sanders van Hemessen, and the Sermon on the Mount scene from Pasolini’s “The Gospel According to Matthew” find themselves in the company of the trap music song “Bitch Better Have My Money” sung by Rihanna and a quotation by the Canadian author, Margaret Atwood, which says: “As we sow, so shall we reap, or that’s what we’d like to believe; and not only that, but someone or something is in charge of evening up the scores.” Various cultures, epochs, world views and media collide with each other here – successfully, because there is actually a rich and multilayered conversation that revolves around the economics of debt and the ideal of balance.



Open Areas


The creative implementation of individual conversations are arranged like islands in space, based on empty glass display cases that come from the museums in Dahlem (that are about to move into the Humboldt-Forum currently under construction). Working with Raumlabor Berlin, the curators have created a space in which “open areas” (as they describe them themselves) exist: the empty display cases can be seen as question marks and projection surfaces; they function as walls and windows, as well as frameworks and mirrors. In this respect, they also stand as a symbol of this interesting and rich dialogue about capital and the attempt to define capital and even of the search for answers for the many questions arising from this – a search that has only just begun and will continue for some time to come.




Nº 284
Region of Design

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