Urbanstraße 100, Berlin-Kreuzberg, rear courtyard. I let my gaze wander along the red and white bricks of the facade. Somehow, the building is a good match for the sausages on the invitation. I come across a crooked sheet of paper with the word “nationalmuseum” and, next to it, the entrance to the stairwell. After walking up the dark stairs to the first floor, I see the invitation hanging on a heavy metal door. “To see the show, please call—“ is written on it in pencil. This is Berlin, where everything is possible. They are only open Saturdays and by appointment – pretty meager for a national museum. However, since I would like to know what is hidden behind the door, I call one of the numbers indicated.
Raaf Van der Sman opens the door. This Dutch artist, together with Edward David Allen, founded the “nationalmuseum” in April and has also curated “Laws and Sausage.”
This very interesting title is part of a quote attributed to Otto von Bismarck: “The less the people know how sausages and laws are made, the better they’ll sleep!” At that time, Bismarck already recognized that politics sometimes resemble the meat industry. It’s no coincidence that the curators of the show chose this title so close to the upcoming elections. We would be only too pleased to know the contents of this mixed casserole; we try to recognize the structures, but it’s just not that clear to us. In fact, we’re in constant doubt as to whether or not we’re being cheated.
Precisely this need for clarity seems to be one of the subject matters of the exhibition. The works on display deal with structure, simplification, and the search for essence and enlightenment with humor and a touch of irony. Eveline van de Griend’s engraving on a golden plate, where she compares the World Cup in South Africa with the colonial history of Holland, brings a smile to my lips. Likewise Marc Bijl’s symbolist installation of a fake electric guitar, Sonja Osterman’s Polaroids covered with black squares and Paul McDevitt’s still lifes painted on black beer coasters in the style of an Old Master.
Suddenly, I realize that I am actually being tricked here too, because almost nothing in this exhibition is what it purports to be. This becomes particularly evident as I contemplate the installation Spinal Column by Daniel Segerberg. A row of spine-like stones hangs from the ceiling, as if they were supporting the room. They appear to be the backbone of the „nationalmuseum“, which, due to the artists’ different nationalities, doesn’t seem to be a national museum at all. Another case of false advertising? Not at all! Berlin is a melting pot of mixed nationalities, and anyone who wants to can open a space for art. This is the city’s identity, reflected in the exhibition. In art, everything is allowed, and isn’t it nice that we can still sleep knowing this?
text: Constanze M. Korb