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Dia Acquires 155 Sculptural Works by Charlotte Posenenske Ahead of Landmark Exhibition

  • BEACON, New York
  • /
  • December 06, 2018

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Courtesy Estate of Charlotte Posenenske, Mehdi Chouakri, Berlin and Peter Freeman, New York

First North American Retrospective of Pioneering Minimal and Conceptual Artist Charlotte Posenenske Will Debut at Dia:Beacon March 2019 

Charlotte Posenenske: Work in Progress charts the evolution of the influential yet underrecognized artist, spanning the entirety of her artistic practice

The first North American retrospective dedicated to German artist Charlotte Posenenske (1930–1985) will premiere at Dia:Beacon in Beacon, New York, this spring. Marking the most comprehensive exploration of the artist’s work since her death, Charlotte Posenenske: Work in Progress will highlight the entirety of Posenenske’s intensely productive 12-year practice, before she turned away from making art to study the sociology of labor. Spanning her earliest experiments with mark-making and drawing, to her transitional aluminum wall-reliefs, to her final modular sculptural projects, the exhibition will include both the original prototypes for her sculptures as well as more than 150 newly fabricated elements. These works will be presented at Dia:Beacon in site-specific displays from March 8 to September 9, 2019.

In conjunction with the exhibition, Dia announced the acquisition of 155 sculptural elements from four series designed by Posenenske during the final two years of her practice (1967–68). The acquisitions, all of which will be on view as part of the retrospective, include elements from Series B Reliefs and Series C Reliefs, which form fields of monochromatic shapes that can be mounted on the wall or placed on the floor, and Series D Vierkantrohre (Square Tubes) and Series DW Vierkantrohre (Square Tubes), which evoke industrial ducting and venting, built from galvanized steel and cardboard, respectively. The remarkable size of the acquisition marks the largest by a museum to date and reflects Dia’s commitment to collecting artists work in depth, enabling thoughtful and sustained consideration of an artist’s practice.

Following its presentation at Dia:Beacon, Charlotte Posenenske: Work in Progress will travel internationally to Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen Düsseldorf, and Mudam Luxembourg – Musée d’Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean. The exhibition is organized by Dia and co-curated by Alexis Lowry, Associate Curator, and Jessica Morgan, Dia’s Nathalie de Gunzburg Director.

“Charlotte Posenenske created an exceptionally innovative body of work within a focused and abbreviated period of time. While she exhibited widely during the years that she was active—alongside peers such as Hanne Darboven, Donald Judd, and Sol LeWitt—her contributions have been largely overlooked and unexamined until now,” said Morgan. “It is rare to have an opportunity to bring a single artist’s work into our collection in such volume. This major acquisition exemplifies Dia’s unique commitment to sustained engagement with an artist’s practice. Posenenske’s sculptures and serial works add a significant new dimension to Dia’s collection and will enable us to uncover a more diverse and complicated history of minimalism.”

Active as an artist in Germany between 1956 and 1968, Posenenske created works that were in dialogue with international movements of the time, ranging from Art Informel and Group Zero, to Minimal and Conceptual art. Up until 1967, Posenenske participated in important international one-person and group shows in galleries and museums. By 1968, she turned toward public spaces for displaying her sculptures. During the politically tumultuous May of that year, she published a statement in Art International that acknowledged: “it is painful for me to face that art cannot contribute to the solution of urgent social problems.” She henceforth ceased making and exhibiting art and dedicated herself to the study of sociology. Nevertheless, Posenenske left behind a radical body of work that continues to challenge and generate new ideas about how works of art are authored and valued.

Throughout her practice, Posenenske focused on questions of authorship and labor. Early in her career, she developed experimental techniques for applying color and line to paper and increasingly sought to use procedurally recorded gestures to portray both illusionistic and actual space. This was articulated first in abstract drawings and paintings on board, then murals animating buildings’ facades, and finally as spray-painted wall structures at the threshold between painting and sculpture. Charlotte Posenenske: Work in Progress will include more than 30 examples of these early works on paper and wall reliefs.

By 1967, Posenenske fully transitioned to making sculptural objects. In the last two years of her practice, she developed five industrially fabricated, mass-produced series of modular, geometric sculptures (Series B, C, D, DW, and E).  Minimal in aesthetic, the elements within each series were meant to be variously activated by their “consumers”—presenters or purchasers—who are invited to assemble the parts into unique combinations of their choosing. Posenenske considered these infinitely permutational sculptures as being collaboratively authored—by the artist who designed them, the workers who fabricated them, and the consumers who combined them.

Further setting her apart from artists of the period who worked in multiples, Posenenske worked in open series and considered her designs as prototypes for mass production. In this regard, she pointedly addressed socioeconomic concerns of the decade by resisting the call to make rarefied objects and as well as by rejecting formal and cultural hierarchies. Industrially produced and individually assembled, these late works explore the polarities of labor in the modern economy.

Over 155 of Posenenske’s modular sculptural elements—Dia’s 155 acquisitions from Series B, C, D, and DW, as well as loaned elements from Series E – will be included in the exhibition and will be displayed alongside original prototypes. Their configuration will change throughout the course of the exhibition, with viewers able to observe this process during open hours on select days.

“Posenenske made critical contributions to the development of serial, site specific, and participatory practices. In entrusting her consumers with the creation of new work through the arrangement of her sculptural elements, Posenenske explored topical questions about the labor of making and the spaces in which this unfolds, which ultimately became the sole focus of her life’s work,” said Lowry. “In showcasing the full scope of her practice, the exhibition demonstrates Posenenske as a prescient voice of her time and in art today.”

About Charlotte Posenenske

Charlotte Posenenske (1930–1985) was a German artist and sociologist. Born in Wiesbaden, Posenenske formally trained as a painter under Willie Baumiester in Stuttgart during the early 1950s. After working briefly as stage designer in Darmstadt, she focused her attention exclusively on the visual arts beginning in 1956, during a period known as the Wirtschaftswunder that rapidly transformed West Germany following the devastations of World War II. Her artistic career was framed between her youth, which was spent under the threat of deportation during the war, and her professional commitment to the sociology of labor from 1968 onward.

Posenenske’s work is found in major institutions around the world, including the Centre Pompidou and the Tate. In 2009, she was part of the exhibition In & Out of Amsterdam: Travels in Conceptual Art, 1960–1976 at the Museum of Modern Art, and the following year was featured in a solo exhibition at New York City’s Artists Space.

Exhibition Catalogue, Credits, and Tour

Charlotte Posenenske: Work in Progress is organized by Dia and co-curated by Associate Curator Alexis Lowry and Jessica Morgan, Dia’s Nathalie de Gunzburg Director. Following its debut at Dia:Beacon, the exhibition will travel internationally to Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (October 18, 2019–March 8, 2020), Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen Düsseldorf (April 4–August 2, 2020), and Mudam Luxembourg – Musée d’Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean (October 2, 2020–January 10, 2021).

The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully illustrated hardcover volume published by Dia, with essays by curators Jessica Morgan and Alexis Lowry, art historians Catherine Wood and Daniel Spaulding, and artist Rita McBride.

Charlotte Posenenske: Work in Progress is made possible by major support from Brenda R. Potter. Significant support is provided by the Kaleta A. Doolin Foundation, VIA Art Fund, and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. Generous support is also provided by the National Endowment for the Arts. Additional support is provided by the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation

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