Stephen Friedman

Thomas Hirschhorn

02 - 08 Jun 2008

© Hotel Democracy
Thomas Hirschhorn, 2003

Stephen Friedman Gallery presents Thomas Hirschhorn’s Hotel Democracy at Art Unlimited in Art 39 Basel this June. This will be the first time that the Swiss artist, widely regarded as one of the leading artists of his generation, will show a major work in Switzerland since his self-imposed ban on exhibiting in the country in 2003.

Hotel Democracy questions and celebrates the ongoing struggle for democracy with all its inherent confusions and contradictions. The idea of Democracy is of particular importance to Hirschhorn, one that he has explored in more than eight works since 1990.

This challenging and monumental sculptural work was commissioned in 2003 for ‘Common Wealth’, Tate Modern’s first contemporary thematic show. The two-storey structure, 50 feet (16 metres) in length and handmade in its aesthetic, contains 44 hotel rooms almost identical in layout. Each room is individually decorated with dramatic images culled from the mass media, each relating to a particular model of democracy. The idea of the hotel, a neutral and egalitarian space, presents the perfect environment for fictional guests to engage with, and fight for, their chosen version of democracy.

Hirschhorn says ‘Hotel Democracy is a sculpture of an uncertain building embodying different concepts, realisations, misunderstandings, perversions, hopes, dreams and disasters of democracy....I want to present this confusion without judgement, without hierarchy’.

As in his other work Hirschhorn uses everyday and found materials such as plastic sheeting, cardboard, aluminium, packing tape and magazine images to create a dystopian reality. The process of making remains visible and becomes a visual metaphor for the individual and collective struggle to establish democracy.

The viewer is invited to walk around the structure but, unable to physically cross its threshold, is left to act as witness to a succession of real and recent events. Implicated in the work, the viewer is obliged to consume and reflect upon that which they may have hitherto been able to ignore in their daily life. But, the disparity between the viewer and the bombardment of blown-up imagery, also reminds us of how distant and removed we can feel when confronted with such images.

His decision to show this seminal work at Basel is particularly significant and potent. It raises important questions about the ideal of Democracy at a time when global events such as the elections in Zimbabwe and the recent Kosovan declaration of independence, have brought into focus the difficulties, complexities and cultural divergence involved in its reality. The resonance of this work speaks to us all.

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