A collaboration between the Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus and Munich Re on the matter of work

Ausstellungsansicht Playtime 2014 Kunstbau Innenansicht

Work is half our life, or more. It is the pivot around which our lives revolve. The history of work is as long as the history of humankind itself. Humans must labor to earn their livelihood. Today, however, we no longer work only to secure the material conditions of our existence—work is also a source of our identity. With the shift from the industrial to the knowledge-based society, if not even earlier, lifelong learning and self-optimization have become norms that govern the subjects. Creativity, flexibility, and autonomy are seen as key qualifications on which professional and social success depends. That is especially true for artists, who are regarded as prototypical embodiments of the new subject: thoroughly flexible and conditioned to engage in self-exploitation.

Work not only promises individual fulfillment, it is also where we hope to find social recognition and participation. That is a primary reason behind the virtual effacement of the boundaries between work and private life in recent decades. The paradoxical nature of work today is epitomized by the simultaneity of two trends: growing automation and technologization seem to make the working human being increasingly redundant, and yet everything is becoming a kind of work.

The reach of economic objectives and neoliberal thinking extends into all domains of life, including even formerly sheltered sectors such as education and social services. At the same time, our society is in many ways defined by increasingly precarious employment relationships and declining solidarity with people whose daily labor is no longer enough to secure the basis of their existence. Those who are out of work, it seems, are out of a future.

The exhibition PLAYTIME takes up the subtle critique aimed at the modern working environment by Jacques Tati in his eponymous film, and raises a variety of questions: How do artists from different generations and backgrounds engage with issues around work? What does it mean to work as an artist today? And how is the artist’s work different from other forms of work? The artists we have invited contribute a wide range of perspectives and methods. They not only address labor as such, but also the norms and behavioral precepts of a society defined by work. They examine existing power relations and gender-specific conventions in the working world and interrogate the connections between identity, the situations in which we live, and labor relations. Positions from 1960s socially critical and activist art enter into a dialogue with more recent pieces that reflect on the conditions in which we work today.

Darren Almond, Francis Alÿs, Mel Bochner, Monica Bonvicini, Pet Shop Boys, KP Brehmer, Charlie Chaplin, Slatan Dudow, Beate Engl, Harun Farocki, Peter Fischli & David Weiss, Andrea Fraser, Melanie Gilligan, Tehching Hsieh, Jörg Immendorff, Stephan Janitzky, Ali Kazma, Sharon Lockhart, Michaela Melián, Henrik Olesen, Anna Oppermann, Adrian Paci, Dan Perjovschi, Peter Piller, Julian Röder, Martha Rosler, Dieter Roth, Andreas Siekmann, Christoph Schlingensief, Allan Sekula, Richard Serra, Mladen Stilinović, Berwick Street Collective (Marc Karlin, Mary Kelly, James Scott and Humphry Trevelyan), Donna Summer, Jacques Tati, Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Timm Ulrichs, Ignacio Uriarte

The subject of the exhibition PLAYTIME is work. What is work and how does it differ from other activities? Work is not only necessary to secure one's livelihood it is also a source of identity and social success. In short, work concerns everybody.

With this catalogue we hope to reach as many people as possible and to bring the exhibition also to those, who do not have the opportunity to come to Munich. This is why we give free access to the catalogue as a PDF.

Catalogue available upon request via presse-lenbachhaus(at)