Gregor Schneider: death as a work of art
By The Art Newspaper. Comment, Issue 191, May 2008
Published online: 01 May 2008
Following our publication, in our April issue and on our website, of a report about German artist Gregor Schneider’s intention to “exhibit” a dying person in a museum, a number of readers have left comments on our website. Here is a selection and the artist’s response.
Frankly, I don’t see the difference between an actor willing to do something on stage in the name of aesthetics and a dying person accepting to end his/her journey under
public scrutiny. Art is about emotions, not always about the pretty ones. We’re not supposed to be merely enlightened or uplifted by art. Disgust, fear and anger are also emotions, and the fact that some people reject them, doesn’t actually diminish the intrinsic value of an artistic challenge.
Modern culture is as pathological about death as sex—we either hide from it or display it, both excessively. Death at home with family and friends is not the same as in a sterile “displayed” setting. Schneider is making a mannequin of a human being.
Whatever happened to metaphor? This is art as Reality TV.
This isn’t about the beauty of death. This is about an artist trying to get in the spotlight.
How come I am not surprised? I predicted acts like this years ago. I am very sad he is a German artist. Is he used to seeing dying people with no empathy? Is it something he inherited from his parents and grandparents, seeing people dying in the name of race, colour, religion, and now art? Many German artists sacrificed their careers in the past to fight against such arrogance. I think we should all oppose this work loudly.
This is beautiful and very profound. I hope he has the opportunity to realise this piece. My guess is that those humans who are in denial about their own eventuality will try very hard not to let it happen.
Brooklyn, New York
I am not trying to get the sort of publicity that detracts from the people involved and the subject of dying. I’ve been thinking about exhibiting a dying person since 1996. In Germany, the reality of dying in clinics, in intensive care units and operating theatres is horrible. That is what is shocking. The body gets taken over by the undertakers. Death and what leads up to it is suffering, unfortunately. Dealing with death my way can help dispel the fear. For my project, the room from the Museum Haus Lange in Krefeld seems to me to be ideal. Designed by Mies van der Rohe to be a private living room, it is flooded with light. It stands dismantled in my studio, is moveable and immediately available.
I reckon that an artist can build humane rooms for death, where people can die in a dignified way—a room that creates dignity and protection. As a sculptor I build rooms. The room is the art. For me, rooms are a second skin. I’ve been building real rooms in museums for a long time now, such as the Rheydt Bedroom (1986). Among them are rooms that relate to various aspects of real life. Museum rooms get altered and adapted to other purposes. Death needs a place and needs to be handled in a certain manner. This presupposes a different concept of a museum: I have built this room for a dead person, not inanimate objects.
I would like the reader to consider that the dying person would say beforehand what he or she wanted. The dying person would be central. Everything would be discussed with his or her family as well. Every human should be able to choose where they die, and whether or not they make the rituals associated with dying public.
The sort of person I imagine who would want to die publicly would have to be someone with whom I have a lot in common, who understands my intentions. He or she would have to find my rooms accessible. I’m looking for someone who is mortally ill. Someone who will die naturally. Because the dying person can determine everything, it could also be someone who has just died.
Death is a very private and intimate occurrence that is usually not “beautiful”. I would be happy to die in a room chosen by me, in a private part of the museum, surrounded by art. Not in a side room. I hope to die beautifully and fulfilled. Perhaps we shall manage to liberate death from its taboo, to make it a positive experience, like the birth of a child.
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