As the show’s music quieted and 11 performers retreated into the adjacent room, some of the visitors exchanged puzzled glances. Moments later, a handful of them decided to walk out. Those who remained, not knowing what else to do, turned to their mobile phones, either to surf the net or take photos of the rest of the exhibition.
It was not the initial audience reaction one expected to find at “Angst
,” the latest and the most ambitious project of the award-winning German artist to date. Making its debut to the public at Kunsthalle Basel last week, the show had been raved by the media as one of the “must-see” shows during Art Basel week, even before it opened on June 9th.
Much of this hype was drummed up by the fact that the Gießen-born, Frankfurt-based artist won last year’s Preis der Nationalgalerie, a recognition that is generally considered Germany’s answer to the Turner Prize. The jury, comprised of directors of some of the best-known museums in Europe, praised the overall oeuvre of the painter, sculptor, and performance artist.
Dubbed an “exhibition-as-opera,” “Angst” is certainly a bold attempt, and does more than integrate performance into an exhibition of paintings, sculptures, and installation. It is an “opera” in three acts—not an opera in the classical dramatic sense, but rather tracing back to its Latin origin, the word for “work,” and the “durational experience” conjured by the marriage of sound and vision. The show at Kunsthalle Basel is only the first act, with others to be staged later this year at the Hamburger Bahnhof-Museum für Gegenwart-Berlin and at La Biennale de Montréal.
The opening week of the show featured 11 performance sessions running from June 9th, with a finale set for June 19th. Each performance, taking place in the rooms of the exhibition, evolves from a different theme, or a character taken from the large-scale paintings that hang in the show. Imhof intended to pose questions of control and power—themes the artist has explored in previous works—to the audience, through the performances and the exhibition as a whole.