this issue contains
>> Immaculate White: Art and Winter
>> True North: Isaac Julien
>> Frozen Sculptures: Marc Quinn
>> Felt and Fat: Joseph Beuys

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Immaculate White: Art and the Drama of Winter

Their allure is here again: the ski slope, the glacier landscape, the charm of the little mountain huts. Brilliant sunshine, deep blue sky, pristine slopes, and powdery snow - that's how we're used to seeing the winter presented in the pamphlets and brochures of the tourist industry. Artists are also fascinated by the chilly season, albeit usually in very different ways. For them, winter can be a period of threat and harsh contrast, a time of drama, loneliness, and the passing of life. An essay exploring the icy regions of photography, painting, and video art by Ulrich Clewing

Tobias Rehberger: Untitled, 1992,
Deutsche Bank Collection

February 14 2005, an urgent report issued by dpa: according to the German Press Agency, the Arlberg Pass, the Lechtal Pass, and the entrance to the Tyrolean Lechtal are closed to traffic. Around 15,000 people were stranded in the winter sport locations of Stuben, Zürs, and Lech on the Arlberg. Due to further snowfall, a rapid improvement in the situation was not to be expected. There it was again: for a few days, normal rules were suspended, the smooth functioning of things was interrupted, and the winter had shown itself from its more ruthless side.

Gert Rappenecker: Untitled (notes), 1992,
Deutsche Bank Collection

News reports of this kind don't tend to make much of an impression on Walter Niedermayr. Niedermayr, born 1952 in Bolzano in Southern Tyrol, knows the mountains well; he lives there year round, beyond the winter holiday season. And he's photographed them, the first time more than 17 years ago, and repeatedly ever since. He's made hundreds of pictures of them, combined them in series, shown them in galleries and museums, and published them in books. The sun seldom shines in his photographs, and when it does, it can't be seen; nor can a deep blue sky.

Walter Niedermayr: Jungfraujoch II, 1998,
Deutsche Bank Collection

When people do appear in his pictures, then they're usually very small, not much larger than ants. What can often be seen in Niedermayr's photographs are what people have left behind, the things they've build into the landscape to make their stay there more comfortable: chair lifts, self-service restaurants, and viewing platforms, for instance. The artist tends to use a frontal or close-up view, which might not have the beauty of a panorama, but offers a clearer portrayal of the details, all the lost perspectives, empty corners, and other absurd constellations resulting from the collision between architecture and nature in the high mountain landscape.

Sometimes, Niedermayr depicts the mountains without the accompanying infrastructure. Then they seem huge and uninviting, rugged and karstic. At the same time, they possess a breathtaking natural magnificence. The snow-covered mountain cliffs, the deeply cleft and fissured glaciers are completely covered in patterns, none of which is like another, as unique as fingerprints. The light that shines there is usually diffuse, but always bright. Sometimes it's so bright that it hurts the eyes.

William Wegman: Dusted, from the series
"Elephant, Bad Dog & Dusted" , 1988,
Deutsche Bank Collection

This domination of the color white most aptly, perhaps, illustrates the ambivalence in Niedermayr's images - as a symbol, it is multifaceted. In western cultures, the color is mainly associated with positive properties and states such as purity, virginity, joy, and elegance.

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