The opening evening of the double-exhibition “Teil 18. Die Welt gibt es nicht!” and “Teil 33. Nachlass zur Lebzeiten” by Michael Müller at Galerie Thomas Schulte merged different worlds and their associated modes of experience and perception: To begin with, one moved casually between the performers and the space as a visitor of a classical exhibition. The performers carried out recurring patterns of movements between the installed works, not only physically measuring the exhibition space but also forging relationships with the objects. These exercises, carried out simultaneously in different locations, were gradually interrupted by the clicking of camera shutters, which announced the beginning of the fashion show and gathered the scattered focal points to suddenly coalesce into a runway. 24 looks, created in collaboration with the Berlinbased designer Valdimir Karaleev, were presented by 12 performers as a collection entitled “Garten der Freundschaft”, and thereby initiated a repurposing of the front exhibition space. Disregarding the surrounding art objects and accompanied by an icy rattling blanket of sound, the performers, now acting as models, made their way into the imposing glass corner space of the gallery and stepped onto a mirrored pedestal. There, two performers took on the role of salespeople, aiding the models in disrobing the multiple layers of their outfits in public so that they could return to the runway nude and (since Marina Abramović and Ulay) in the manner of the stereotypically displayed body of the performer. Successively, this ceremony of exposure and transformation created a comprehensive display of clothed mannequins, clothes hangers, display cabinets, and shelves in the windows, completing the setting of a concept store.
At the starting point of this site-specific simulation and the accompanying inquiry into art in regards to its importance in society and the private life of the artist as well as collector and recipient, lies the history and the original function of the space many years before Müller‘s exhibition-cycle. The building at the intersection of Charlottenstraße and Leipzigerstraße in Berlin’s city center had hosted a department store, lead by the Jewish clothing store Kersten & Tuteur at the beginning of the 20th century.
Now, almost 100 years later, passersby are offered a different and yet similar sight in the generous windows of the corner space: futuristic, chrome mannequins clad in (visibly) worn articles of clothing, characterized by an extreme mix of material and multiple semitransparent layers that cannot be assigned to any particular season. In the form of a textile assemblage, these hybrids, in which artistic methods and principles have been shifted and translated into the realm of fashion, unfolds an ahierarchical juxtaposition of materials and their traditionally attributed values: In line with Duchamp‘s concept of the ready-made, a variety of supply sources – from wholesalers, global fashion discounters, designer boutiques, and the wardrobe of the artist himself – were synchronized with one another. This subtle transfer can be read as an ironic commentary on the currently observable phenomena of the fetishization of the artist and the associated marketing strategies.
The dressing room, centrally positioned in the corner space, which consists of a mirrored pedestal and a colorful fabric column descending from the ceiling into the space, allows the visitor to fulfill the desire to slip into the artist‘s clothes, or at least those of the performers. In an inverted analogy to the public acts of disrobing in the fashion show, the visitor is less concealed behind the curtain than they are exposed by the mirrored surface when they step onto the pedestal in front of other visitors to try on the desired article of the collection. Art is similar to fashion in the sense that their distinction mechanisms always serve self-design and the constitution of a community. This points to the literal understanding of functional clothing, satirized by the design of the alienated beekeeper‘s suit and shaman‘s robe.
This notion is again exaggerated by the ‚campaign‘ marketed at a counter near the entrance, offering a cosmetic line with the label “Garten der Freunschaft”, fluctuating between fashion and art. Here one can purchase products such as soap (L‘Impression d‘Artiste), a perfume (L‘Odeur d‘Artiste), as well as a hand and nail cream (Blaumann and Working Class Heroine). The soaps and flacons are shaped by Müller‘s handprints and the perfume is ‚refined‘ with a drop of the artist‘s sweat, which makes it possible, as a collector, to take the material trace of the artist home and ultimately even merge with them as a consumer – as advertised in the product description of “Performance Soap”. For those who prefer the creative role of the artist rather than the archiving collector, they may choose the solvent-based hand cream, which appeals to the myth of the artist‘s scent of acetone, or the sulfur- containing nail cream, which applies a black line beneath the fingernails of the consumer to simulate the index of physical labor (if only temporarily).