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Freeway Balconies
Collier Schorr's Exhibition Project at the Deutsche Guggenheim



In "Freeway Balconies" at the Deutsche Guggenheim, Collier Schorr offers a subjective insight into the contemporary American scene that, like herself, works with performative means and strategies of reference. Her work enters into dialogue with the works of newcomers as well as with Bruce Nauman and appropriation artists such as Richard Prince. "Freeway Balconies" shows an image of American reality that is as seductive as it is disturbing; at the same time, it creates an associative self-portrait of one of the most outstanding artists of the present day. Tim Ackermann introduces the exhibition.




Ryan Trecartin, I-Be Area (video still), 2007
© Ryan Trecartin


Apart from the notorious Woodstock mudbath, the year 1969 in the U.S. has remained in memory in light of two incidents: one is the march on Washington, during which opponents of the Vietnam War made their protest abundantly clear. And the other is a small lane in New York called Christopher Street, where drag queens and homosexuals defended themselves for the first time against incessant discrimination at the hands of the police-and did this so successfully that they virtually chased the uniformed men away. A strong symbolical power radiates from these two political events: 1969 was the year when a young and politicized America took over the streets. But it also heralded the struggle for a self-determined personal identity beyond mainstream culture.




Collier Schorr, US Soldier, 2004
Courtesy 303 Gallery, New York


The exhibition Freeway Balconies at the Deutsche Guggenheim, curated by the New York artist Collier Schorr, owes its title to a line in a poem by the Beat poet Allen Ginsberg: it feels like a road trip through American counterculture. The balconies along the freeway that Ginsberg celebrates constitute milestones along a journey in time back to the rebellious spirit of the late sixties. At the Berlin exhibition hall, however, this journey takes place on a street crossing filled with contemporary artists. The invocation of the urban protest movements of the '60s and '70s often crops up in connection with the question as to which possibilities political and artistic resistance have today. Yet Freeway Balconies also leads to a commercialized society in which radical gestures and subcultural codes are recycled in the Internet at the speed of light and have become subsumed as a part of the gigantic entertainment industry.




Matt Saunders, Couples (Joe and Holly), 2004
© Matt Saunders


In her works, Collier Schorr not only investigates her own Jewish identity and the collective German past, but also the possibility of slipping into other roles, of absorbing foreign cultures. For a number of years, the Brooklyn-based artist has been regularly photographing adolescents in a small south German city. Her images oscillate between historical research, staged arrangement, and performance action. Schorr dresses her teenagers with old uniforms from the police, the Nazi Wehrmacht, and the U.S. Army and has them pose in front of her camera. She often disrupts the motif by placing essentially feminine accessories in the hands of the young men-a steel helmet full of apples, for instance, or a feather boa winding around their necks. In Freeway Balconies, Schorr's photos demonstrate the discrepancy between the image and the image of self. Rather than portraits, they are documents of youths in uncertain search of their own identity.


Adam Pendleton, Black Liberation Front, 2007
© Adam Pendleton;
courtesy of Rhona Hoffman Gallery, Chicago
and Yvon Lambert, New York/Paris

One of the young men in uniform, Dominik, is portrayed wearing heavy black makeup. At first sight, the photo seems like a rehashing of the racist black minstrel show of 19th-century America; actually, it aims at the exact opposite. Dominik is an obsessive Hip Hop fan. The feminist philosopher Judith Butler already demonstrated in 1990 that gender and sexuality are constructed through a person's own ongoing performance. Logically, this aspect of construct also extends to all other parameters of identity-hence Dominik is black because he thinks and acts black.



Sharon Hayes, In the Near Future, 6 November 2005
Once a day, from 1 November to 9 November 2005,
the artist stood on the street with a sign at nine different locations throughout New York City.
Courtesy the artist

People today create themselves through their roles. Freeway Balconies is mainly dedicated to subversive role-playing that questions sexual and social norms and cites art history. A reference point for Schorr's black Dominik is Bruce Nauman's film Art Make-up, in which the artist paints his face white, pink, green, and black in succession; another are the works of performance artist Adrian Piper-who in her Mythic Being Series dressed as a male Afro-American in the early '70s to act out stereotyped "black" mannerisms of behavior in public space. Piper's goal was to hold up a mirror to New Yorkers' everyday racism. A series of photographs shows the artist gradually transform into the cliché of a formidable ghetto inhabitant complete with afro, goatee, and pilot's glasses. Sharon Hayes plays a similarly confusing game by having herself photographed on a New York street with a sign reading "I AM A MAN". If you begin to ponder on Hayes' performative gender, you've already fallen for the artist's trick: for her one-woman demonstration, the artist adopted the slogan the black sanitation workers of Memphis used during their 1968 strike.



Sara Gilbert, Mexico City #9, 1995
Courtesy the artist


Which brings us to the second main theme of the exhibition: appropriation. Part of every successful performance is always its reference to a famous role model. "I think everybody's an appropriation, and so what we do is also an appropriation," says the artist Adam Pendleton, who copies posters of the Black Liberation Front, album covers from The Jam, and photos of Patti Smith in black acrylic paint. The global pop culture, which finds wider dissemination through the media, provides the material from which fans choose the behavior and ideas they need to perfect their personalities. It's also the place where many artists in Freeway Balconies find their material. Some of the works shown reflect the glamour, body cult, and youth craze of pop culture by presenting it in a version that is just as glamorous: for instance, Sara Gilbert's photo series Mexico City from 1995 shows her friend Leonardo diCaprio on a film set shortly before his final breakthrough as a superstar. Her high-gloss pictures seem to better serve the image of the charismatic actor than any authorized press photo could do.

At the same time, Di Caprio's smile or Collier Schorr's photos of the teenager band Tokyo Hotel seem to illuminate the power potential of youth culture implicit in the exhibition title. Because the stars are young, the world is still open to them and they still have the chance to change it according to their own ideas. Yet the attitude towards the rebellious sixties has changed palpably.


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