Birgit Jürgenssen. I am.
Birgit Jürgenssen. I Am.
Kunsthalle Tübingen, November 10, 2018–February 17, 2019
GAMeC, Bergamo, March 8–May 19, 2019
Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk, June 14–September 22, 2019
Life is unfair, even in art. A few coincidences here or there, and the world's most celebrated star of photographic female self-dramatization might not be called Cindy Sherman but Birgit Jürgenssen. But it didn't happen that way.A t least outside her home country, the Viennese artist is still to be discovered. So, it is only now that Kunsthalle Tübingen is putting on the first comprehensive solo exhibition in Germany- fifteen years after Jürgenssen's early death at the age of fifty-five.Born into an art-loving family of doctors and growing up in the postwar era,Jürgenssen's father gave Birgit her first camera when she was just a teen.11,at, at the latest, marked the beginning ofher lifelong passion for photography- which in her hands usually had the oldfashioned, almost alchemistic connotation of a "drawing with light." Jürgenssen always catered to and exploited the me'dium to the full extent of its possibilities, with a strong sense of crossing line far into the experimental realm. At the same time, the creative, highly gifted artist was constantly painfully confronted with the limitations of the zeitgeist. While Jürgenssen did make it into the graphic-art master d ass at the University of Applied Arts Vienna despite not having completed the foundation courses, she reached the mid-level but couldn't go any further. As an assistant professor at the Academy, first under Maria Lassnig and then under ArnulfRainer, she at least managed to establish a photography course and for two decade supervised this field. Beyond the Academy,however, her efforts were blocked by an ignorance that today would be unthinkable: In 1974,Jürgensscn suggested an anthology about women artists to the DuMont publishing hause in Cologne and was rejected;the same procedure was repeated in 1979. Things weren't much better in Vienna. A group exhibition of Austrian womcn artists was organized for the International Women's Year 1975, curated by an entirely male jury. Birgit Jürgenssen politely declined to participate and created an icon offeminist art: the object Hausfrauen-Küchenschürze (Housewife Kitchen Apron), a strap-on stove with an oven at vagina level. Along with this sculpture, the exhibition in Tübingen is also showing self-portraits with the apron, which Jürgenssen created in the identificatory language oflaw enforcement: front-view and side-view: Such performative stagings are stylistic devices Jürgenssen used i:epeatedly. They are joined by photograms, cyanotypes, multiple cxposures, overpainting with paint, pens, and darkroom chemicals, Polaroids including their intentional partial destruction, projection , collages of photographs and graphic art, and, toward the end, first works with digital cameras and videos.Birgit Jürgenssen left behind about 4,500 works in various media:drawings, sculptures, paintings, and a four-figure number of photographic work . The extraordinarily thoughtfully arranged catalogue and exhibition in Tübingen make this cosmos accessible by way of intelligently drawn semantic and visual axes. A coherent sequence of cabinets and side-walls gathers together all relevant po itions ofJürgenssen' s photography, allowing suitably generous space for what might be her most unique contribution to the medium- prints covered with razor-thin gauze, whose mysterious physical presence produces a wholly different kind of visual genre. The show exudes class- timeless d ass, as the spontaneous reactions of young visitors demonstrate: What a woman like Jürgenssen does with herself, her body, and her sclf-portrayal in front ofthe camera is intuitively understood by the selfie generation. Let us hope that Jürgenssen' s combative call to self-liberation is appreciated and followed- it, too, is timeless, particularly in a time when the narrow-mindedness of so-called "identitarians" runs rampant. They all just want to go back to their good old days when women primarily posed in prim-and-proper outfits- exactly like BirgitJürgenssen presents herself in perhaps her best-k. nown work. Affirmative, save for a small detail: The petty-bourgeois dream with side-parthairstyle has the polite yet unequivocal title, Ich möchte hier raus! ( I Want out of Here!).