Michael Kunze’s “Eine Welt” from 1990

—zdenek felix

Grundriss Installation Kunstverein München, 1990 Twenty-three years ago, in 1990, the Munich Kunstverein put on a remarkable exhibition.1 It was the first public appearance of the young painter Michael Kunze, whose wall and floor paintings transformed the two rooms on the top story of the building at the Hofgarten into an accessible stage dominated by the colors blue and yellow. Hermetic pictures and curious cosmic symbols emerged as protagonists on this stage, whose forms derived from sunbeams and planets indeed conveyed, in conformity with the predominating color of the sky, the impression that an imaginary cosmos was being evoked here. The title of the show selected by the artist— “Eine Welt” [One World]—contributed to the fact that one did not think initially about the concrete, perceptible world, but rather about another entity. The Munich public as well as the critics largely responded to this draft with incomprehension and disinterest, which is not surprising when one takes into consideration that Kunze’s ideas stood diametrically opposed to the post-conceptual and contextual positions that were widely disseminated at that time.
Installation Kunstverein München, 1990, Foto: Marc Berger        But the fact that the installation’s partly gloomy, partly hermetic atmosphere was not intended to convey some occult doctrine and that Kunze’s imaginary worldview did, by all means, assume concrete forms, was clear to any viewer who was conscious of the strong presence of the space defined by the two colors and the complexity of the images and symbols. Incidentally, the artist made a statement in the publication accompanying the exhibition that contains several clues to an understanding of the title of his staging, albeit in an encrypted manner: “For those who speak of one world in the sense of one of many possible worlds, the case seems to be clear. He indeed believes that he knows the borders of this one world to the extent that he can differentiate them from other possible worlds. But, by contrast, those who speak of one world in the sense of a unique and unsurpassable ultimate world easily enmesh themselves in contradictions that soon become the dominating theme involved in this speaking, to the extent that the thesis of the ultimateness and comprehensiveness of one world poses the question regarding the path to such a concept of totality.”2
That which sounds like a philosophical tractate is in reality a complex indication of the artist’s aspirations to differentiate his intellectual world from an unbounded and consequently likewise arbitrarily interpretable “residual world.” “It is the openly acknowledged ignorance about the borders of that ostensibly comprehensive world that first makes speaking about it meaningful again and cuts the ground from under its feet at the same time.”3 At this point at the latest, Kunze’s references to German idealism and romanticism become visible—this can be substantiated when viewing the paintings exhibited for the first time twenty-three years ago at the Munich Kunstverein. One feels reminded of certain emblematic compositions by Philipp Otto Runge, for example “The Small Morning” (1808), in which the poetic-symbolic figurations implanted into an animated nature convey the artist’s pantheistic worldview. A romantic topoi is also evoked by the strongly accentuated blue in the installation. Runge and other romantic artists took the symbolic significance of the vision of the “Blue Flower,” introduced to literature around 1800 by Novalis, as an expression of longing and remoteness, but also as the symbol of womankind par excellence. The other color that likewise has a strong presence in Kunze’s work, the complementary yellow, assumed the role of symbolizing cosmic radiation and gravitational forces in the Munich staging.

the construction of “one world”

Installation Kunstverein München, 1990, Foto: Marc Berger

What was on show in the exhibition? Climbing the stairs from the ground floor to the first floor of the Kunstverein, the visitor was initially confronted with a lush blue wall. To the left of the passageway leading to the central hall, which was reserved for another show, one saw the virtual opening of an archway, from which yellow rays were emitted in all directions. The false opening corresponded in size and form to the actual passageway leading to the second hall on the other side of the space, where another part of Kunze’s installation was to be found. This hall, including the floor, was painted completely blue, whereby the yellow rays that were applied here too were inverted, in a manner of speaking, from the wall to the floor. In addition two oil paintings, a wall painting suggestive of strict geometry and a tripod, the upper part of which consisted of a glass fan, could also be seen in this room. Walking back to the middle room, the visitor faced a series of small pictures affixed to wood panels that were painted blue and depicted compositions of radiant dots and lines suggestive of mannerism.
      All the sections of the installation referenced each other, and the more one viewed the whole, the more it became evident that it involved a well-considered construction. Michael Kunze predetermined the parameters of the construction in a ground plan that he published in the catalog, thus revealing its rational structure. The spaces appear like two alternative drafts, the combination of which resulted in a spatial connection. Even the staircase leading up to the exhibition was entered into the draft by way of the geometrical wall painting. Vertically and horizontally arranged yellow rays ultimately united the two sections to form an imaginary entity. Where there are constructions, there must first be measuring devices. This function was assumed by the tripod that was set up as a “sculpture” in the rear space of the Kunstverein. The tripod as a device on which one can place different instruments thus becomes a symbolic carrier of the total draft in Kunze’s work and has regularly appeared in his work since the Munich show.
Installation Kunstverein München, 1990, Foto: Marc Berger       A statement by the artist explains the function of the “tripod”: “It ultimately still concerns a playfully exacting (paradoxical or not) ascertainment of a (probably permanent) imaginary center of a space, naturally as an allusion to that which the surveyor does before a structure is built, namely finally finding a fixed point where one can ideally construct a world. The preparatory measurement as well as the real construction broaches the theme of an approach that in any case is first possible in infinity. (Hence impossible?).”4 Seen from today’s perspective, the 1990 exhibition appears to be a construct pushed to the extreme within the postmodernist theories on the end of all utopias that were discussed at that time. This end has now become a reality, thus again opening up the possibility for art to look at the big picture, to search out opposing approaches in order to connect them to each other and construct coded structures from the amalgamation of the historical and current material. The polished construction of postmodernism has now lost its appeal. It has been replaced by a complex, less ideological, but also simultaneously ambivalent understanding of history, philosophy, art and culture from which one can imagine a new “construction of the world.”
      Michael Kunze’s “Eine Welt,” which was realized as a programmatic statement during its first institutional exhibition in 1990 at the Munich Kunstverein, is one of the most sustainable attempts to determine a new and frequently also disturbing genealogy of modernism, devoid of any illusion.

Halcyon Days, Cologne 2013, p. 139

[1] At my invitation, Michael Kunze presented the exhibition “Eine Welt” at the Munich Kunstverein from April 20 to May 13,1990. The exhibition “Nina Hoffmann – Performance und Installation” was on show at the same time. Two catalogs were published. The publication for Kunze’s exhibition features an introduction by Zdenek Felix, an interview with the artist by Daniela Goldmann and a statement written by Michael Kunze.

[2] Michael Kunze, “Zum Gang der Ausstellung,” in “Wandmalerei und Bilder,” exh. cat. Munich Kunstverein (1990) p. 11.

[3] Ibid., 11.

[4]Translated from an e-mail written to the author by Michael Kunze, dated February 10, 2013.

Abb. 1, 3, 4:
Installation Munich Kunstverein, 1990, Photo: Marc Berger

Abb. 2:
Ground plan Installation Munich Kunstverein, Michael Kunze, 1990