Exhibition

World Exhibition

16 May 2019 - 3 Nov 2019

Let us begin with a mysterious painting. It depicts a massive “wigwam” (an “Indian tent”) within a glade cradled by the surrounding forest. People, some of them probably Turks and Arabs, are seated at coffee tables in front of the tent. They are served by black waiters in white livery.

Adolf Menzel painted this picture at the 1873 World Exhibition in Vienna. It depicts an innocuous café with which the nascent United States chose to represent itself to a global audience. The café seems anything but harmless to us today. With its entangled display of Native American material culture (yet no Native Americans) and African American service; the scene offers a clear view into the abysses of the 19th century – abysses like genocide (as the systematic extermination of indigenous peoples might be called) or the nascent nation’s already long history of slavery.

The major world exhibitions in London, Paris, Vienna and Chicago aspired to be both microcosm and total work of art. Like mass media today, these exhibitions shaped and restructured the views of their millions of visiting spectators. In these exhibitions the world was subjected to unreserved stereotyping, dressed up and marketed as a commodity – in other words – arranged, classified and presented according to Western standards.

As the powers that have fueled a Eurocentric perspective of the world dwindle, a dull sense of loss and threat emerges. And yet, the cultural stereotypes that grew out of the imperialist and colonial structures of the 19th century prevail, independent of any apparently antagonistic realities.

These stereotypes and structures, or social forms seemingly have lives of their own, which continue to resonate to this day. World Exhibition is an attempt to capture these forms and their uncanny lives through the means of art – a medium which knows how to handle form.

Rather than draw on identical notions of “nations”, “epochs” and “cultures”, the Johann Jacobs Museum’s World Exhibition aims to bring into focus the interspaces and interdependencies at the heart of historical and contemporary objects, films and works of art – as well as a number of things that actually elude identification altogether.

 

Title image: Work detail of Adolf Menzel, Indian-Café at the 1873 World Exhibition in Vienna, Gouache on Paper, 1873. Collection of Johann Jacobs Museum.

Events

World Exhibition

I. The World Upside-Down

Who on earth comes up with the idea of exhibiting the world? – Well, there was an Italian artist by the name of Piero Manzoni. He had a metal plinth cast in 1961, inscribing it with the words “Socle du Monde” (Pedestal of the World). Then he placed the rectangular plinth on the ground – upside down, of course. The whole world was thus placed on display.

Piero Manzoni, Socle du Monde, plinth made of iron, 1961. Collection HEART – Herning Museum of Contemporary Art, Denmark. Photo: Ole Bagger

But it was just a trick, a joke that Manzoni allowed himself in his quest for the absolute work of art. Presenting the world was already quite a trick – though less in jest – in the 19th century when the format of the World Exhibition was born. It was a particularly European, and then, once the United States joined, a Western format. To astonished audiences in London, Vienna, Paris and Chicago, it presented the technical and cultural innovations of the Industrial Age. Concomitantly, it invited people to consume the non-Western world either literally or at least with their gaze. World Exhibitions were exhibitions of achievements, but they were also sales exhibitions whose range of goods (Chinese porcelain, for example) were to form the foundation of the first European museums devoted to design and the applied arts.

The “World Exhibition” at the Johann Jacobs Museum, to say this up front, is not an approximation: It is not a cultural-historical reconstruction of the exhibition format that once attracted millions of people and shaped their Weltanschauung. It’s a fact that World Exhibitions were enormous apparatuses that gave Europeans, then witnessing the height of their continent’s global projects of expansionism, a feeling of superiority, of being the civilizing force in the world. Today, by contrast, the global influence of the West is waning and a sense of loss is spreading in many countries: a come-down in face of the loss of all those privileges which had protected Westerners through the epoch of unequal trade relations, imperialism and colonialism up to the present day. In our current circumstances, a cultural-historical reconstruction of the power fantasy of the “World as exhibition” would certainly find a receptive audience.

Okimono (Fellah Woman), ivory, Japan, late 19th century. Collection Johann Jacobs Museum.

 

Nevertheless, we have chosen a different approach. We demonstrate a type of parallel exhibition: a view of the world that moves beyond a Western centered perspective. The Johann Jacobs Museum’s own “World Exhibition” is immersed in a network of rhizomatic relationships that do not obey any sort of world order and certainly not any ascribed “cultural identity”. The patterns of relationships we have mapped out follow only the mobility of people and materials, practices and ideas, objects, subjects and artworks – as well as creative (or even destructive) happenstance.

II. The Fire of Modernity

A small painting in opaque watercolours is not the centre but rather the starting point of the “World Exhibition”. This gouache by the German painter Adolf Menzel (1815–1905) belongs to the historical holdings of the Johann Jacobs Museum and was first acquired because its subject matter was related to coffee. Indeed, the archetypical furniture of a Viennese coffee house can be recognized in the depicted scene: a small cast-iron table with its marble top; the slender Thonet bentwood chairs.

Adolf Menzel, Indian-Café at the 1873 World Exhibition in Vienna, Gouache on Paper, 1873. Collection of Johann Jacobs Museum. Installation View, Johann Jacobs Museum.

But rather than painting a comfortably elegant interior populated by newspaper readers, Menzel has provided us with an outdoor scene. The tables stand in front of a huge “Indian tent” (if one accepts the description given on the reverse of the painting), from which a colourful crowd of guests is served. Hustle and bustle predominate. Waiters, identifiable by their white livery, bring drinks or clear away dishes. One hurriedly wipes a table surface so he can seat the next guests.

Although it was not part of the official program, the “Indian tent” was one of the most popular attractions at the Vienna World Exhibition of 1873. It was exoticism exemplified – thanks to its allusion to the Wild West, its black-skinned waiters and its menu that proffered the latest cocktail creations from New York. Menzel recorded every detail with journalistic powers of observation: the cigar held in a guest’s hand; the headwear on display, including fezzes and turbans; the gesticulations of conversation and, despite the sheltered forest setting, a noticeable restlessness that points to the busy commotion of the World Exhibition a few hundred meters away.

Adolf Menzel, (Work Detail) Indian-Café at the 1873 World Exhibition in Vienna, gouache on paper, 1873. Collection of Johann Jacobs Museum.

One detail catches the eye, though it is impossible to say exactly what it is: from the tent, it radiates a glowing red. Its glow is reflected on the café’s polished metal surfaces, perhaps the champagne coupes or cocktail shakers on the bar, but what is its source? An open fire? The impressionistic brushstroke leaves this to the imagination. The key to the riddle lies in another painting of Menzel’s from the same period: “Eisenwalzwerk” (Iron Rolling Mill, 1875). The large-format oil painting, an icon of the Industrial Revolution, depicts a factory hall where workers use tongs to grapple with the glowing iron on the rolling mill. Their bodies and extremely strenous efforts make plain the unbearable heat and danger. We can nearly feel the violence roiling in the sparking material. The Vienna World Exhibition did in fact intend to showcase such iron violence, albeit of a colder kind, in the form of cannons manufactured by Krupp. The fire of modernity, however, blazes inside the “Indian tent”.

Adolf Menzel, (Work Detail) The Iron Rolling Mill, oil on canvas, 1875. Collection Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin.
III. Transformations

The West had the world at its disposal: territories and people, natural resources and cultural assets. This is what the curatorial concept of the World Exhibition espoused. Alongside the will to power, absolute power of disposal was a matter of technology. This triumphed in constructions such as the Crystal Palace (London, 1851) and the Eiffel Tower (Paris, 1889). In 1889, Thomas A. Edison, the most famous inventor of his time, displayed his electrical apparatuses on an exhibition area of no less than 4,000 square metres.

Grand Coulee Dam, Cement. Installation View, Johann Jacobs Museum.

After his stay in Paris, which had introduced him to French photography and film experiments, Edison pursued a plan to establish a film studio in the United States. At the beginning of the 1890s, the time had come. One of the first film documents of the period (barely 40 seconds long) shows a “ghost dance”, probably performed by members of the Sioux nation, which is comprised of several indigenous tribes and which had fiercely resisted the US army for decades. These indigenous dancers belonged to a travelling troupe of showpersons who toured with Buffalo Bill. Buffalo Bill had created his own extremely successful show, much in the style of World Exhibitions’ display of far-away cultures: It promised to bring his audience closer to the reality of life in the Wild West, but from a safe distance.

Postcards. Installation View, Johann Jacobs Museum.

The ghost dance of the Sioux originally had a political-spiritual function. It was intended to mobilize ancestors in the afterlife into an alliance with the living in order to chase the white invaders out of Sioux lands. We know today that this tactic would not succeed. Yet it serves as a good example of the magical process that transforms reality into representations (either portrayed or imagined).

At the same time, the ghost dance reminds us that this transformation was (and is) inherently violent. Behind the spectacular backdrops of the World Exhibition, wars raged: not only the “Indian Wars” but also the “Opium Wars”, through which Western powers forced the Chinese Empire into “free trade”. These were also concurrent with numerous colonial campaigns on the African continent, which culminated in the Berlin Congo Conference (1884/5).

A Walk through the Exhibition

Ordering the World?

Lidwien van de Ven, Untitled (Sigmund Freud’s desk in London), photograph, 2010. Collection Johann Jacobs Museum. Installation View, Johann Jacobs Museum.

To the right, we see Sigmund Freud’s desk. The scene suggests that Freud might, at any moment, take his seat at it, put on his glasses, and fill the empty pages of the notebook left on it with perceptive remarks. Figurines or  more precisely, mediators (between hither and yonder, life and death, consciousness and unconscious) cover his workplace. They came from ancient Egypt or from Asia and, in conjunction with the carpet, turn the room into something like a miniature World Exhibition. But notice the absence of Christian figures! Freud emigrated in 1938, and his desk accompanied him from Vienna to Hampstead, London, where it still sits. His selection of figurines reveals his deep scepticism of the West.

Wilhelm Weimar, (Work Detail of) Sword accessories and Tsuba, glass negative, ca. 1902. Collection Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg (MKG Hamburg).

On the left is a glass negative made by Wilhelm Weimar around 1900. It documents a possible method of arranging Japanese sword accessories for display. After the samurai were forced to lay down their swords during the Meiji Restoration (the modernization of Japan), an outright run on Japanese handicrafts, fuelled by the World Exhibitions, ensued in Europe. Justus Brinckmann, director of the Hamburg Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe (from whose collection this negative comes), acquired over 300 Japanese objects at the Vienna World Exhibition in 1873 alone. Brinckmann sought expert advice from Shinkichi Hara, who at the time acted as a sort of curator for all things Japanese at the Hamburg museum. Whereas Brinckmann sought to categorize the tsuba (finely ornamented iron sword guards) according to formal criteria (with a Darwinian tendency that propounded an evolution from simple to complex forms), Hara pleaded for a division into schools, in that he favoured tracing lines of tradition.

Interdependencies

The first vitrine is dedicated to cultural anomalies and idiosyncrasies. This can be seen in the ivory inlay on a baroque plucked instrument depicting the goddess of the hunt, and how we have placed an elephant hunter made of porcelain at her side. Both objects are of German origin. Next to them is an ivory Madonna who turns out to be an Egyptian peasant but actually comes from Japan, as well as a Protestant missionary from the Congo wearing pointe-style European shoes. And so forth. Some museums attempt to fulfil their educational mission by ascribing an order to the world, but in actuality, such ordering principles are unworldly. Our small museum, on the other hand, believes that its visitors can bear the truth: the world is complex and there is much about it we do not understand.

Joachim Tielke, Hamburg Cithrinchen with inlaid ivory and ebony, Hamburg, 1688. Collection MKG Hamburg.

Here we stand in front of the first of two large vitrines. The plucked instrument is a “Hamburg Cithrinchen”, a type of lute, but the quality of its sound isn’t what we find fascinating. The instrument was built in northern Germany in the mid-17th century and is remarkable for its fine inlays of ivory and ebony, which at that time were extremely rare materials! Its virtuoso instrument maker, Joachim Tielke, masterfully combined foliate arabesque scrolls with a figurative scene: Diana, the goddess of the hunt, riding her stag-driven chariot. But Diana was also the goddess of the lunar cycle and of childbirth, thus we infer that the Cithrinchen was plucked by women.

 

Okimono (Fellah Woman), ivory, Japan, late 19th century. Collection Johann Jacobs Museum.

The “Hamburg Cithrinchen” is protected by an ivory Madonna carved in Japan at the end of the 19th century. But on closer inspection, she turns out to be a fellah, an Egyptian peasant. Japan, Madonna and Egypt – how do they go together? The World Exhibitions provide the answer. In the course of the Meiji Restoration (the modernization of Japan), not only did the samurai lose their swords. Ivory carvers (of netsuke and similar objects) also lost much of their traditional business after the emperor instituted a revolutionary new dress code. The artists then found a new customer base on the international stage.

Was this fellah figure, with her characteristic face veil, created for the Arab market? Or was it intended for Europeans, to embody an orientalist fantasy?

 

Rechaud in the Form of an Oriental Woman, (several pieces), porcelain, 19th century. Collection MKG Hamburg.

The world of the 19th-century imagination is teeming with figures of subservient women, preferably from the Orient. Such objects responded to the anxieties held by the (self-styled) lords of creation, who were confronted with the early phases of bourgeois emancipation inspired by the French Revolution and its principle of equality.

Anomalies, Idiosyncracies, and white Gold
Johann Joachim Kändler, "Indian Lovers", porcelain, Meissen, mid-18th century. Collection Johann Jacobs Museum.

The manufacture of European porcelain first began in the early 18th century in Saxony (Meissen). Working out the formula for porcelain had been a centuries-long challenge for Europeans, and doing so was thus a major aesthetic and economic feat. Economic because the ruling houses and trading companies of Europe had nearly brought themselves to financial ruin in their greed for the “white gold” from China. Aesthetic because the formal language of Kändler (1706–75) reveals a playful cosmopolitanism: The robes of these two figures feature East Asian elements, with the woman’s kimono adorned with the same flowers (chrysanthemums) found on Japanese porcelain. Her delicate foot rests on a chessboard which, like the lute held by the man, has its origins in the Arab world. The parrot is at home in South America, and the coffee (at that time) has come from Africa. Now one might ask: What is actually “Indian” about this couple? Or would such a question be too pedantic and risk disturbing the magic of the scene? For Kändler, “Indian” denoted all of those things whose origins lie wheresoever, as long as they lie beyond India.

Wedgwood Gedenkschale, grüne und schwarze Jasperware, England, 2007. Privatsammlung Berlin.

 

Whereas Meissen was oriented towards single pieces, England’s  Wedgwood manufactory strove to create mass-produced goods for the bourgeoisie. Josiah Wedgwood (1730–95) had studied the watercolours the Jesuits had made in Jingdezhen, the capital of Chinese porcelain, that documented the division of labour in its production processes (today, one might call this industrial espionage). The small plate portraying an African in chains actually gives testimony to Wedgwood’s campaign towards the abolition of slavery.

 

 

Milk Pot in the Form of a Sphinx, porcelain, Naples, early 19th century. Collection Johann Jacobs Museum.

 

This bizarre object owes its existence to a combination of neoclassicism and Egyptomania, garnished with a dash of commedia dell’arte. At the time of its creation, the excavations of ancient items in Pompeii and Herculaneum were inspiring a new canon of forms; yet the canon here is connected with the echo (that is, the message is heard, but not understood) of Napoleon’s Egypt campaign. Nobody would know how to decipher these hieroglyphs; the sphinx sits upright in a markedly Greek, rather than Egyptian, pose; and the face comes from Pantaloon, the popular Italian commedia figure who personified money or wealth.

 

 

“Moor”, porcelain, Meissen, mid-18th century. Collection MKG Hamburg.

 

 

Here we meet an ivory hunter, but not one of the bad types. He carries the elephant hide casually – like a blanket under his arm. The trunk end, in front, calls to mind the snout of a pig. Did the Meissen sculptors of these miniatures have any firsthand knowledge of elephants? Had they ever encountered a person from Africa? The hunter wears a costume one would usually associate with the Americas: a crown and skirt made of colourful feathers.

 

 

Figure of a Protestant Missionary, ivory, Congo, 19th century. Collection Johann Jacobs Museum.

 

With sharpened teeth, this African bearer of the message of Christianity wears a European-style hat, under which plaited hair, braided in a Portuguese manner, peeks out. Most conspicuous, however, are his dapper shoes. The Christian god may not have been tangible enough for the Congolese artists to physically depict for proselytising. So the missionary himself had to stand in.

 

Residues: War, Trade and Time

The second display case is primarily about war and time. Time plays a role in the Italian embroidery and lace sampler that a certain Marta Costa left us. Months of Marta’s life certainly went into this work. Then there is time more precisely: watches and watch components played a key role in trade between China and the West. The historical interest of the Chinese in European goods, which could potentially be exchanged for porcelain, tea or silk, was essentially zero. Hence the monstrous trade deficits of the West, which were only eliminated by the Opium Wars of the 19th century. Watches, however, and automata, were two things the Chinese could be tempted by. Considering the current trade wars that the United States is waging, and the Chinese signage included in the window displays of the watch shops that line Zurich’s Bahnhofstrasse, the history touched upon here has obviously not yet ended.

Coffee Pot from the Kangxi Era, porcelain, China, ca. 1700. Collection Johann Jacobs Museum.

 

This pot shows the connections that once existed between Chinese exports and European influences. Coffee, tea and chocolate were introduced to Europe in the 17th century and were delicacies primed to be consumed from accordingly magnificent vessels. The design of this pot, depicting baroque engravings of the “Rape of Europa”, comes from Delft, from a potter who had studied Chinese originals and was also visibly inspired by Kashmir fabrics. The cobalt for blue-and-white porcelain had been brought to China from the Middle East.

 

Wedgwood Plate with Palmette Rim, basaltware, England, 18th century. Fragment of an ancient Vessel with Palmette, clay, 4th century BCE. Collection MKG Hamburg.

While Meissen porcelain expressed its admiration for China, English porcelain chose to model itself on European antiquity. Wedgwood purposefully made use of the forms found on ancient Greek and Roman artefacts, and in doing so, declared the English Empire the successor of the great empires of yore. In the course of England’s imperial expansion in the 19th century, its image of China underwent a fundamental shift: what was formerly seen as a proud trading partner and leader in technology was turned into a decadent empire just waiting to be taken over and reformed by the West. Again and again, headlines recite the latest attempts by the Greek government to recover the Parthenon frieze stolen by the 7th Earl of Elgin from the Athenian Acropolis at the beginning of the 19th century. This frieze is now in the British Museum, London. Less known is that Elgin’s son, the 8th Lord Elgin and British commander in the Second Opium War, had ordered the storming, destruction and plundering of the Old Summer Palace (Yuanmingyuan) of the Chinese emperor in Beijing. The sublime objects from the palace are now scattered all over the world.

Zheng Maler, Work Detail of Watch Parts, porcelain with various glazes, 2015. Collection Johann Jacobs Museum.

The stylized watch components are part of an installation titled “Mutual Aid”, which was shown at the Johann Jacobs Museum in 2016. Roughly speaking, it deals with the influence that Swiss watchmakers in the Jura had on the politics of the Communist Party of China. This is no joke. The Russian prince Peter Kropotkin, founder of the anarchist movement, had studied the lifestyles and working methods of the watchmaker families in the Jura. He was impressed by the solidarity conveyed in its horizontal labour structures, largely free of hierarchies, and he set this in contrast to the principle of capitalist competition. Kropotkin’s book Mutual Aid landed in the hands of exiled communist intellectuals in Paris and was translated into Chinese at the beginning of the 20th century.

Behind the Scenes?
(Work Detail of) Melanie Smith, Fordlandia, freeze frame, HD, colour, sound, single channel, 29:42 minutes, 2014. Courtesy of the artist and Galery Peter Kilchmann, Zurich.

Bronze Head of a Queen Mother (Iyoba Idia), plaster cast, Kingdom of Benin, 19th century. Collection Johann Jacobs Museum.

Bronze sculptures of this type, cast using the “lost wax” technique, served as memorials to deceased potentates. Successors to the throne commissioned these effigies in the course of their coronation ceremonies, and the sculptures were placed on ancestral altars in the Benin royal palace. During a deliberately punitive expedition, British troops destroyed and plundered Benin City (in today’s Nigeria) in 1897. Several hundred bronze objects were stolen, ending up in various European museums, including the British Museum, London. Today, the Benin bronzes are at the centre of the debate about the return of stolen cultural assets.

(Work Detail of) Melanie Smith, Fordlandia, HD, colour, sound, single channel, 29:42 minutes, 2014. Courtesy of the artist and Galery Peter Kilchmann, Zurich. Installation View, Johann Jacobs Museum.

Melanie Smith’s camera reassesses Henry Ford’s pioneering work. In the 1920s, Ford came up with the idea of bringing the factory to the materials instead of the other way around. In order to circumvent the British rubber monopoly in Ceylon (what is now Sri Lanka), he planned a model city with factory facilities for tire production in the Brazilian state of Parà. For this, he acquired an enormous tract of land (about 145 km2) at a tributary of the Amazon. Construction of the model city was completed at the end of the 1930s but turned out to be a disaster for several reasons. The rubber tree plantations were destroyed by pests, and the class conflict between Brazilians and white Americans was explosive.

Denise Bertschi, “Helvécia, Brazil”, St. Gallen Embroidery, 2017. Collection Johann Jacobs Museum.

The lace cloth addresses a chapter in Swiss history: emigration to Brazil in the 19th century. The original patterns for the monograms, seals and numbers come from perforated documents from the Brazilian state of Bahia. They recorded the number of enslaved people owned per household.

Postcards. Installation View, Johann Jacobs Museum.

While the World Exhibitions seemed to make the world shrink, the inventions and constructions profiled in them grew ever-larger. The Grand Coulee Dam, for instance, easily dwarfs the Pyramids of Gaza. It was part of the U.S. “New Deal” and diverted the Columbia River into the Grand Coulee Canyon – with the help of millions of tons of concrete. Without special engineering skills, including a dense network of pipes carrying refrigerated water, the concrete in the dam, the largest hydroelectric power plant in the United States, would have taken 200 years to cure. However, no wonder is free of costs. Grand Coulee’s reservoir flooded out the surrounding Spokane Reservation: the towns, fields and ranches of the Spokane tribe. The seasonal migration of salmon, from which many native peoples lived, was also blocked.

Grand Coulee Dam (late 1930s, early 1940s). Installation View, Johann Jacobs Museum.

The American actor Marlon Brando refused to accept the Oscar he won in 1973 (Best Actor Award for his role in “The Godfather”). At his invitation, the Apache activist Sacheen Littlefeather, born Marie Louise Cruz, took the podium in his place and demanded rights for indigenous people. Brando mounted this protest to denounce how indigenous people (so-called “Indians”) were represented in Hollywood and to bring attention to the occupation of the Pine Ridge Reservation by the AIM (American Indian Movement) and members of the Oglala Lakota. The occupation challenged the indirect colonialism evident in one of the poorest regions of the United States. The centre of these 1973 protests was the town of Wounded Knee. Its name became associated with a massacre the US army committed against indigenous people in the winter of 1890. White people at that time feared that the Ghost Dance movement, a political-religious resistance against white settlers, would gain momentum in the reservation. A few months prior, Sitting Bull, the leader of the Lakota, had been killed by authorities trying to arrest him. The same Sitting Bull had performed some years earlier with great success in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West – a show that brought the “Wild West” closer to audiences in cities across the United States and Europe, though still at a safe distance.

 

“Black Maria”, Thomas A. Edison’s film studio in West Orange, USA, 1893.

Probably the first film studio: a glorified hut covered in tar paper. The entire studio was built on a revolving base so sunlight could illuminate the scenes inside throughout the day. Here, in 1894, the Sioux Ghost Dance was recorded, becoming some of the very earliest film footage.

Ernst Ohlmer, Yuanmingyuan (Old Summer Palace of the Chinese Emperor) after its destruction, photograph, 1875. Private Collection, Berlin.

During the second Opium War, English and French troops advanced to Beijing and, in 1860, destroyed the Old Summer Palace, a vast complex of gardens, ponds and buildings spread over 3000 m2 at the gates of the city. The rampage lasted three days and three nights, and even the European-style buildings which Emperor Qianlong had built by Italian Jesuits in the 18th century, fell victim to its onslaught. The treasures from the palace are now scattered all over the world: alongside those in private collections, UNESCO names 47 museums possessing objects from the Yuanmingyuan. Legend has it that the emperor vomited blood when he learned of the destruction.

Ellen Gallagher "Kapsalon Wonder"

by Roger M. Buergel
Ellen Gallagher, "Kapsalon Wonder", enamel, rubber, ink and paper on canvas, 2015. Collection Hauser & Wirth, Zurich

The high-gloss black stands out immediately. Its sheen is closer to industrial coatings than to the sophisticated shadings of oil painting. Automotive paints once had this same gloss, in the early 20th century, when mass production began and the finishes on vehicles like the Ford Model T had to be especially quick-drying. “Japan black” was the industrial paint that met this demand; its name was derived from Japanese lacquerware which had come to be known to the West over the course of the World Exhibitions. The black facilitates invisibility. One cannot see much – and sees even less when sunlight strikes the painting frontally in the evening. Yet this glare, in return, offers a chance to pick up on details of the relief-like textures on the picture surface. Through its physicality, the image can be felt with the eyes.

These textures are the result of stratification. The artist has affixed sheets of paper and thin rubber matting onto her canvases, then carved into these layers with a scalpel, making incisions or scraping out entire sections. Newspaper or magazine clippings have also been inserted, collage-like, at various places. Though difficult to read, these scraps of paper transmit meaning: the word “wonder”, for example.

The papers glued to the canvas, the edges of which overlap, create an animated grid. This dynamic arrangement forms the background to a dance of vertical forms. The artist finds her inspiration for some of these forms in marine biology, coral reefs and sponges. Vertebrae-like shapes can also be identified (though the type of creature they belong to is an open question), as well as a gigantic, plait-like tangle in the centre of the picture. This “plait” can be linked with the title of the picture: in Dutch, “kapsalon” (the artist lives in Rotterdam) means “barber shop” or “hair salon”.

The “wonder” in the title can also be readily explained: in 2003, Nathaniël Gomes, a hairdresser in Rotterdam originally from Cape Verde, went to the shawarma take-away next to his shop and concocted his own special order – a layer of French fries, topped with meat, baked with Gouda, crowned with a layer of salad, and served with sambal, a hot relish native to the former Dutch colony of Indonesia. Pleased with his creation, Gomes requested the dish again and again. And because it was Nathaniël from the “kapsalon” who ordered it, the dish itself became known in the take-away as “kapsalon”. Others soon copied the hairdresser’s special order, the creation spread throughout Rotterdam, and then throughout the Netherlands, and is now considered a national dish.

Gallagher, whose family roots go back to Cape Verde, was delighted by the story of this dynamic culinary creation. But her painting is not an illustration of this story. Rather, Gallagher’s pictorial language draws a more diffuse inspiration from it, for the artist also works with arbitrary associations: with painterly forms that migrate across the picture’s surface, changing shape, sometimes imitating the vertebrae of a living being, then appearing as a plait of hair, turning these elements into abstract ornaments.

Gallagher’s painterly programme – and this is why we show “Kapsalon Wonder” as part of “World Exhibition” – stands in contrast to the world of fixed identities and clichés that Menzel’s “Indian tent” represents.

ARK – Drum Machine Chorus

by Roger M. Buergel

Sound Installation by the ARK collective. Installation View, Johann Jacobs Museum.

They are electrically-powered technical devices that spit out sounds – or rhythms, rather – at the push of a button: “Samba”, “Mambo”, or “Latin” and “Afro”. How do these rhythms get into the machines? Using special circuitry or programming, of course, but how do you get to “Bossa Nova”, for example? Rhythm doesn’t wait around to be picked like fruit on a tree. Added to this is the fact that there are not just one, but countless variations of this rhythm.

Sound Installation by the ARK collective. Installation View, Johann Jacobs Museum.

The Drum Machine Chorus is no lamentation choir. With names like “Side Man” and “Rhythm Mate”, these devices no longer sing the praises of machines as the “precise equivalent of slave labor”. They form the crew of an ark on rhythmic trips around the globe. The self-proclaimed “Rhythm Kings” and “Rhythm Aces” are a chorus of insurgents who have loaded the stereotyping of rhythmic patterns, but never moor them anywhere.

The chorus invites users to play along and operate the brightly-colored samplers. Prod-users are invited to ignore the catchy tunes and leave their own audio tracks – tracks’n’treks. The world map of beats is not based on discovery; it celebrates the invention of phantom islands.