To Our German Friend takes a retrospective look at the controversial residency of the German, Neo-expressionist painter, Jörg Immendorff, who visited New Zealand between 1987 and 1988. His ‘wanderlust’ excursion was heralded in Auckland as the most important visit to the country by any artist since Gauguin, and expectations were high on all sides. New Zealander’s attempts to introduce Immendorff to the delights of the natural landscape came to nothing, however, as he instead centered his activity on the Auckland nightlife: Revolving around a handful of restaurants and nightclubs, he dedicated himself to Champagne, fine food and loose women. The ensuing media frenzy whipped up an atmosphere of fascination, fear and suspicion. Meanwhile, the New Zealand economy was in free fall. In 1987 the share market crashed spectacularly. Ordinary New Zealanders had only just begun to embrace the wonders of the free-market system but suddenly they were losing millions.
Things came to a head when Immendorff received an anonymous death threat. A dead rabbit with a note attached was found on his doorstep, addressed: “To our German friend, with appreciation.” This Gothic end point provides an arresting opportunity to re-evaluate arts practice in the 1980’s, a subject which refuses to be discussed in any adequate way. At the time, buoyed by the booming economy in the west, gold-encrusted artists were rock stars and German painting was the leading currency. For New Zealand, though, it was a baptism of fire.
The headline posters form a time line of events concerning the residency itself, as well as making reference to concurrent political and economic incidents unfolding in New Zealand. The video is a made for television documentary, broadcast soon after the artist’s departure from the country. The drawings (charcoal on paper) reproduce press clippings from the national newspapers, which were energetically covering the story. As well as these, Stevenson presents a number of curiosities relating to the residency itself (as well as his own subsequent investigations), which include catalogues, room service bills, preparatory drawings, and a bottle of Dom Perignon, the only thing Immendorff drank whilst he was in the country (vintage 1988!!).
Immendorff’s arrival in New Zealand as representative of the ‘New German Painting’, or in broader terms post-modern discourse, is placed side by side with the real impact of emergent theory into the country at that time, namely Thatcherism and the all-powerful economic model of the free-market. It’s a kind of coming of age story for all involved, on the cusp between the share market crash and the fall of the Berlin Wall, told through the painter’s picaresque adventures in the boom/bust, South Seas, frontier town of Auckland, New Zealand.
Michael Stevenson has exhibited extensively in Europe and the US including China Art Objects in LA and Lombard Fried in New York, Hamish McKay Gallery, Wellington and The Darren Knight Gallery in Sydney. He will be representing New Zealand in The Venice Biennale 2003. Michael Stevenson lives and works in Berlin.
Special thanks to Martin Clark.
For further information or images please contact Martin Rasmussen: +44 (0)20 7729 9888 or: firstname.lastname@example.org