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The Museum as Marketing Temple - Mike Bouchet & Paul McCarthy at the Portikus, Frankfurt
Walk the Line - A visual journey at the Deutsche Bank Kunsthalle
MACHT KUNST - The Prizewinners - Washed Geometry: Rebecca Michaelis's Undogmatic Color Field Painting
Shared Visions - The Rise of the Johannesburg Art Scene
Dark Metamorphoses - Victor Man Is Artist of the Year 2014
The Question: Who or What Should We Keep an Eye on in 2014?
"I want my art to put people on edge" - An Interview with Clare Bottomley
No Escape - Idan Hayosh´s Suggestive Threat Scenarios
Let´s talk: Ingrid Pfeiffer & Bernhard Martin on Philip Guston
MACHT KUNST - The Prizewinners - Longing: The Photographic Works of Nicolas Balcazar
MACHT KUNST - The Prizewinners: Sonja Rentsch´s Imagination Space for the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle


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MACHT KUNST—The Prizewinners
Sonja Rentsch’s Imagination Space for the
Deutsche Bank KunstHalle

MACHT KUNST mobilizes the Berlin art scene: in April of this year, the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle invited artists to present their works in a 24-hour exhibition. Over 2,000 works were submitted. Six jury prizes are awarded in the form of a two-week solo exhibition in the Studio of the KunstHalle. Now, Sonja Rentsch’s project marks the opening show of the exhibition series of the MACHT KUNST prizewinners.

There are no tubes of paint in Sonja Rentsch’s studio, no computer. The walls are white and bare; an empty kitchen table is standing in front of a window. The studio seems more like a space for thinking than for production. And yet it is precisely the love of handicraft, materials, and objects that are key components in Rentsch’s artistic interventions, which always seem deliberately simple. Her works, however, reference art history as well as everyday experience.

In this vein, even homemade rolls can be a part of an installation. Together with bottled water and glasses, they were offered on a serving table for visitors to the show at the Karl Hofer Gesellschaft in Berlin. Water and Bread is the work’s laconic title. Ever since Beuys and Tiravanija, cooking and eating can also be viewed as art. Rentsch’s arrangement doesn’t only invite the viewer to eat, however—it also possesses a sculptural quality. Everything is simple and clear: the bottles have no label, the glasses are lined up neatly, the rolls arranged on a white cloth in a wicker basket. Water and bread are symbols for basic human needs, and at the same time they stand for an alternative to waste and excess: contemplation, austerity, a pleasure in simple things. Rentsch also directs our attention to forms that are often overlooked, such as the transparent curve of a glass bottle or the folds in a piece of fabric.

The 1981-born artist's studio is located in the attic of an old building near the former Tempelhof Airport. The furniture suggests the flea market: a simple kitchen chair, a chic seventies-era armchair with metal feet. In keeping with this ambience is Rentsch’s 2011 object series, which turned old cabinets into works of art. Object No. 8 is a piece made from black and turquoise plastic of the kind often found in German bathrooms of the 1950s. First of all, Rentsch carefully cleaned the found object, a process that involves appreciation. “I have a lot of respect for things. With me, they get a shower so to speak, and in the process they are awakened from their sleep and carried into today,” says the graduate of the Hochschule für Künste Bremen, where she did her MFA with Yuji Takeoka. “Removed of their function, these are no longer utilitarian objects, but are allowed to simply be things.” In their materiality, Rentsch’s objects develop relationships to the avant-garde movements of the late 20th century: doors turn into color fields, stripped cabinets removed of everything extraneous take on a minimalist quality. Installed in a gallery, they come across as relics of a bygone era, holders of secrets: “Because they are closed, the cabinets have something they are allowed to keep for themselves, something you can’t look at or touch. An old comb might be inside, or a book. But I most like to imagine the interior as an empty space that is just the way it is.”

In cleaning these things that are marked by use and neglect, Rentsch gives them back their dignity, appropriates them. An inner or outer purification also forms the beginning of many religious and magical rituals that serve to open the spirit. Even when Sonja Rentsch develops a site-specific work, this ritual marks the beginning: “At first I clean the space and clear everything away that bothers me. This is how I become acquainted with the space and learn what makes up the qualities of a particular space.” In this manner, she transformed the cold room of a former butcher’s into a brilliant white cube: the tiled walls were painted in white enamel paint, the meat hooks on the ceiling polished, the floor covered in a layer of sea salt. Anyone who wished to enter the chamber first had to wash his or her feet in the salesroom in front. To insure that the visitors remained undisturbed, Rentsch installed a door in the open passageway. The cold room thus became a hermetic space. Entirely alone, visitors could ponder existential themes such as life and death—or the masses of blood-red meat that filled the room throughout the years.
White, the non-color that stands for purity, emptiness, and innocence, plays a key role in Rentsch’s work: using white plaster, she lent new gloss to a niche in a wall on an empty lot in the center of Marseille that used to house a sacred sculpture. Although the lot attracted many sprayers, her intervention was respected and spared from graffiti. In the Kulturkirche St. Stephani in Bremen, she used a large wooden box in a room behind the organ, where she installed three panels covered in white silk and exposed them to indirect lighting—a minimalist version of a classic altar triptych. Rentsch’s room works act as empty gaps that call upon viewers to fill them with their own images and thoughts. Her site-specific project for the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle is also an offer of this kind. In the Studio of the exhibition hall, Rentsch will install a space in a space in a space (the title of the show)—a large cube whose walls are covered in white silk. In the middle of the indirectly lit cube is a second cube—a smaller version of the space one has just entered. The work subtly plays with scale and perception; at the same time, Rentsch also creates a neutral imagination space that feels almost sacred.  

The fact that her works seem so simple, yet command such presence, can also be seen in Rentsch’s contribution to MACHT KUNST. Between countless paintings and photographs a simple white kitchen towel was hung. Instead of initials, Rentsch had the letters o.T.—the German abbreviation for untitled—embroidered into the linen cloth. In its combination of formal simplicity and conceptual approach, the work also persuaded the jury: Sonja Rentsch was one of three artists awarded in the first MACHT KUNST exhibition.  

Just as her kitchen towel oscillates between utilitarian object and work of art, Rentsch creates situations with her interventions and room works that also frame a reference to the art movements of the 1960s, but that also suggest religious motifs. She is interested in the beauty of materials—and the symbolic meanings lurking beneath the surface. Like the white spots on a map, her works offer the viewer space for his or her imagination. All we need is a readiness to embark on the journey into the unknown.

Sonja Rentsch—Raum im Raum im Raum
(Space in space in space)

Deutsche Bank KunstHalle
12/12/2013 – 1/1/2014

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