Migros Museum

Henrik Olesen

02 Jun - 12 Aug 2007



davantage ni moins

indifféremment mais autant

2nd June – 12th August 2007
Press Conference: Friday, 1st June 2007, 11.30am
Opening: Friday, 1st June 2007, 6pm

Since the mid-1990s, Henrik Olesen (born 1967 in Denmark, lives and works in Berlin) has used media such as collage, sculpture and minimalistic spatial intervention to investigate the societal constitution and construction of identity and historiography. Through the appropriation of image sources and contextual shifting of apparent implicitness, Olesen probes the associations between homosexuality and its criminalisation in the past as well as in the present. His archival work sheds light on the enduring existence of other homosexual spaces and inscribes homosexual subculture once more into the history of art and culture.

In his works, Henrik Olesen visualises the gender-political implications of everyday conventions, as described by Michel Foucault in his concept of the discourse, which produce inclusion and exclusion. Pressure to conform, and measures taken against those deviating from the norm, veiling and forcing them to the margins, or obstructing them through the distortion of historical documents, leaving them unable to find expression. Through illuminating work and strategies such as détournement, “deflection” or alienation this gay/lesbian culture and image history can be liberated from its marginal position; the insertion of positive examples of functioning homosexual spaces and cultures into the hegemonic discourse enriches this reading.

In 2001, in the Kunstverein Braunschweig, Henrik Olesen divided the exhibition space into two parts, the first resembled an empty abandoned White Cube, referring to the modernist fiction of autonomy. Through a scaled down “back door” observers gained access to the threshold of an adjoining room. Here they were informed via pictures and small texts about the legal handling of homosexuality. Olesen tackled the paragraphs of penal codes again in the Sprengel Museum in Hannover in 2003, when he inscribed Paragraph 175 of the German penal code into reproductions of engravings by the surrealist artist Max Ernst. The interiors in Olesen’s versions are no longer peopled with men and bird-headed women reduced to their bodies, but show homosexual situations. In 2004, the artist continued the method of transcribing and inscribing a parallel history into historical documents in the Vienna Secession – a key location, being one of the first exhibition spaces to offer White Cube conditions. As he integrated homosexual subjects into paintings in these rooms – here in reference to Paragraph 209 of the Austrian penal code, only abolished in 2002, which had different regulations for homosexuals and heterosexuals – he demonstrated the implicit mechanisms of exclusion and the covert historical sounding board of an institution such as the Secession.

In the migros museum für gegenwartskunst, Henrik Olesen presents a whole-room installation of illustrations, which are the result of his two-year-long research, and range from images from the Middle Ages through to the 20th century. The images recall the Mnemosyne series by the art historian Aby M. Warburg (1866-1929), whose goal was to develop a Bildwissenschaft mindful of its societal embedding and production, in contradistinction to the excesses of sheer art enthusiasm and pure formal Aestheticism. Henrik Olesen works for and against this intellectual father, compiling a different art history, which finds space for the work of same-sex-communities – painters of homoerotic subjects such as Jean-Frédéric Bazille (1841-1870) encounter iconic, heterosexual modernist painters like Édouard Manet (1832-1893), whose favourite model was Victorine Meurent (1844-1927), a lesbian artist. Grouped under headings such as “the appearance of the sodomite in visual culture” or “sex in America”, he opens up the didactic appearance of image collages into a new space for thought, and illuminates the political function of power-wielding through historiography and representation.

In this traversing of collective memory, of stored genealogy, Henrik Olesen not only makes the concealed image cultures of gay and lesbian cultural history visible, he also works on their existence and connections in the sphere of the cultural production of common sense. The alliance of image and innovative thinking recalls the continually political and acquiring gestures of Bildwissenschaft, shaping its argument by means of sources, and through them discovering the ability to develop alternatives to the all too “naturally appearing” or ideologically produced paradigms of thought and history.

A project by Judith Hopf and Henrik Olesen will be on view at the same time.

For further information please contact the exhibition curator, Heike Munder.

Tags: Max Ernst, Judith Hopf, Édouard Manet, Heike Munder, Heike Munder, Henrik Olesen