Of the 36 or so public sculptures on view in the Skulptur Projekte Munster, only a handful really shine, but the scenery of the city of Munster, and the way the works interact with the local history, landscape and architecture make the stop on this grand tour well worthwhile. Munster is a much more picturesque and lively city than Kassel, and the one day we spent walking around it hunting for sculpture didn’t seem nearly long enough. There’s unpredictable weather to contend with when visiting the sculpture fair, because everything is outdoors. It’s much more pleasant to undertake this treasure hunt on a sunny day than in the rain. The day we were scheduled to depart was sunny (as opposed to rain on the day we arrived) and I wished that I could have stayed and spent more time exploring the city and its outlying areas on bicycle.
Just a little south of the center of town, there’s a man-made lake surrounded by greenery and trees. The lake has kind of a strange name - Aasee. Who knows, maybe that means “little sea” in German. Polluted, man made sea would be a more apt name because the water’s pretty grimy and toxic from all the pesticides that flow in from the agricultural runoff. One of the artists in the sculpture fair, Tue Greenfort, has taken this environmental degradation as a point of inspiration and decided to try and filter out the toxins by running the lake water through a special filtration truck that mixes it with iron chloride, a compound that neutralizes the toxins. It’s a futile act, of course. The lake is huge, and no matter how much iron chloride you pour into it, it won’t get clean because the pesticides keep flowing into it. Nonetheless, Aasee provides a very scenic setting with a footpath that encircling the lake, willow and linden trees, fields of purple, white and red wildflowers and bandtailed pigeons that nest in the trees.
A little further out in the middle of the lake, we saw what looked like another work of public art (btw, it’s very hard to try and decipher what in Munster has been erected for the sculpture fair, and what was a pre-existing element of the urban architecture, because some of the projects blended so seamlessly with their surroundings). This work (or what we thought was an artwork) looked like a floating raft shaped like a giant swan. We asked one of the guides who was stationed at each sculpture project, if this swan/raft was part of Tue Greenfort’s piece, and she said it wasn’t but was glad we asked. She proceeded to tell us the story of why this raft was tied down in the middle of the lake. She pointed at a real swan that was swimming beside the raft and said that this swan had fallen in love with it’s Amazonian, fiberglass counterpart, and wouldn’t leave its side. The swan was so attracted to the raft, that when it was taken to the zoo to live there during the winter months, they had to bring its fiberglass mate along so that it wouldn’t get lonely. The guide explained that everyone in Germany knew the story of this swan because it had been in all of the papers and on tv, and seemed to take great pride in this local celebrity.
Another project on the banks of Lake Aasee was made by German artist Rosemarie Trockel. Trockel has become one of my favorite living artists. She works is so many different types of media, yet each of her projects is so intelligent, witty and well executed. “Less Sauvage Than Others” looked like maybe 20 or so pine trees (about the size of large Christmas trees) planted up close to one another and trimmed to resemble a rectangular, high modernist brick. It was situated close to, and undoubtedly referenced, a permanent concrete sculpture erected by Donald Judd for the inaugural 1977 Sculptur Projekte. Unlike Judd’s high minimalist work, however, with its perfect angles and measurements and its smooth surfaces, Trockel’s minimalist hedge was clipped unevenly. The rectangle wasn’t straight, but kind of bowed, and there were choppy parts all around it, so that it looked like it had received a really bad haircut. The cheerful guide in attendance told us that this was Trockel’s comment on German society, with its strict rules and it’s emphasis on perfection. It was Trockel’s way of inserting some irregularity into its midst. Maybe Trockel can do a project with the Documenta guards for the next Documenta exhibition. I found their strict adherence to rules and their countless reprimands quite oppressive and distracting as I was trying to look at and comprehend the works on view there. They could have learned a thing or two from the helpful art guides at Skulptur Projekte Munster.
There was another project on banks Lake Aasee by artist Pawel Althamer that I regret not to have experienced in full. We walked around in circles trying to find it in the middle of a grassy field, then bumped into the Canadian sculptor Lucy Pullen (who, btw, is very talented sculptor in her own right) who tipped us off. She explained that the project is a footpath worn into the grass, the beginning of which is marked by two bicycles locked to a pole. I looked down the path, and it seemed to stretch on for quite a ways, and disappeared behind a hill. It was starting to rain harder, and it was getting to be near dinner time. Plus we weren’t on bikes, so the thought of navigating this path on foot in the rain as the sun was starting to set was a little daunting. Building up the mystery and suspense of the piece, Lucy said we had to see it, and made us promise to return to the path with bikes the next day. We never made it back, unfortunately. So if anyone reading this goes to Munster and follows Althamer’s path to the end, would you be so kind as to tell me what’s there?