The Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus und Kunstbau, Munich, showcases works of contemporary art created between 1958 and the present. The earliest work in the exhibition is a painting by Maria Lassnig, who pursued a distinctive style of nonrepresentational art in the 1950s. Her intensely physical gestural approach anticipated tendencies in abstract expressionism. She later made art history with her innovative “body-consciousness painting,” a practice in which she scrutinized her own body and questions of gender on the canvas. VALIE EXPORT and Friederike Pezold, who emerged as key voices in the feminist art discourse in the 1960s, rose to renown with radical performances, videos, and photographs. The artists themselves typically star in works that engage the public in debates around the female body and the male gaze. The Lenbachhaus was one of the first museums to present positions in feminist art in its exhibitions and acquire such works for its collection. In the 1970s, questions of gender equality and the relations between men and women were one concern in the work of the Canadian artists’ collective General Idea around AA Bronson; their focus subsequently shifted to the AIDS crisis. Launching their careers in the 1960s/70s, the photographers Barbara Klemm and Helga Paris documented the rapidly shifting political and social realities in a divided Germany. Personal and public identities, feminism and emancipation, family and neighborhood life are their protagonists. Their colleague Cindy Sherman devised an intimate and inward-looking practice that nonetheless never lost sight of the social dimension, exploring her own body, questions of gender, and what she saw as the terrors of the construction of identity. A young artist who has staked out a contemporary position on identity formation, humanity, and sexuality is Tejal Shah; her work in the presentation made its public début at documenta 13 in 2017.
The title “Looking at the Sun at Midnight” is borrowed from a cycle by Katharina Sieverding. The photographer started working in large formats in 1975, when few women in the art world chose this medium. She was ahead of her time also with the subjects of her photographs, which frame the truly big pictures: politics, German history, gender identity, and the power of the image in the digital era. Although the title remains enigmatic, it unmistakably evokes the idea that things and concerns that are shrouded in darkness in one perspective are clear as the bright day in another. If the sun light throws everything into sharp relief in one hemisphere, it cannot be seen in the other, and yet the sun exists at all times and sustains all life on Earth. Part of that life are questions and conflicts that concern the conditions of communal life, from personal relationships to entire societies and persistent global structures. Those conditions rest on imbalances in the exercise of power, the authority to speak, and the perception of roles that the works on view address.
The exhibition includes works that were acquired for or given to the museum in recent years and have never been on display in our galleries—including, prominently, treasures from the KiCo Foundation, which has supported the Lenbachhaus’s efforts to bring contemporary art to the public for over twenty years.
With works by AA Bronsen, Monica Bonvicini, Candize Breitz, Valie Export, Isa Genzken, Flaka Haliti, Barbara Hammann, Judith Hopf, General Idea, Annette Kelm, Barbara Klemm, Eva Kot'átková, Maria Lassnig, Michaela Melián, Senga Nengudi, Helga Paris, Friederike Petzold, Tejal Shah, Cindy Sherman, Katharina Sieverding, Rosemarie Trockel