An exhibition organized by Birgit Rathsmann in collaboration with Michele Abeles, Erica Baum, Neil Bender, Becket Bowes, Tania Cross, Grayson Cox, Anthony Lepore, David Lukowski, Oliver Kossack, Jessica Mein, Filip Noterdaeme, Dominic Nurre, Jochen Plogsties, Claudia Pena Salinas, Daniel Rich, Siebren Versteeg, Jenny Vogel, Kristof Wickman and Jeff Williams.
New York, NY April 18, 2013 -- On a single night, three terrorists in a high-security prison die, allegedly by their own hands; a fourth is hospitalized with allegedly self-inflicted stab wounds to the chest. Ever since, the events of the “Death Night” of the members of the Baader-Meinhof group have reverberated through German society and culture.
But what might those events mean to artists in another country gripped by fear of radical terrorists, albeit a generation removed and an ocean away? How might today’s artists respond to iconic pieces that addressed the events in their immediate aftermath?
Those are the questions that guided Brooklyn artist Birgit Rathsmann as she worked with 20 other artists from the U.S. and Europe to develop October 18, 1977. The exhibition is a meditation on that infamous night when Andreas Baader and three others were found dead or wounded in their prison cells -- as well as on the images that earlier artists created in response to the events of that night.
Rathsmann "commissioned" new pieces and collaborated to varying degrees with the participants in the exhibition. This created a dialog among artists who share Rathsmann’s interest in the questions raised by the events of October 18, 1977 and those raised by earlier artworks that address those events. In other words, Rathsmann didn’t curate this show; she served as its catalyst.
Many of the questions she and the exhibition’s other artists examine have lingered for 36 years: Did the terrorists have a suicide pact? Was it set into motion when they learned that a hijacking intended to win their freedom had failed? If so, how did Andreas Baader and another terrorist manage to get guns into the isolated, high-security cells where they were held in solitary confinement? How did Baader manage to shoot himself in the back of his head? Why were there no fingerprints on either of the guns? How was the sole survivor of that night able to stab herself in the chest four times? Is there evidence to support her allegation that the deaths were summary executions rather than suicides? Those and other questions about that night encapsulate the dramatic relationship between the state and violent non-conformists -- a relationship that becomes more relevant with each new act of mass violence.
A number of works in October 18, 1977 respond directly to the eponymous cycle of 15 paintings by Gerhard Richter which depict the dead terrorists and the prison where they died. The paintings are in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art (169.1995), far from the location of their creation and the events that inspired them. Other works in this exhibition directly address specific aspects of the deaths and their cultural setting: the psychological effects of prolonged solitary confinement, the aesthetics of mid-twentieth century German institutional architecture, and the era’s proliferation of ‘zine-like publications that openly expressed sympathy for terrorist organizations. Some works even go so far as to imagine alternative histories. Taken together, the works in the exhibition present a multifaceted examination of that confounding historical moment in the Germany of 1977 and its lingering cultural influence -- an examination that’s especially relevant in New York City of 2013.