– Spring 2008

Hans-Peter Feldmann's Pictures

Ruth Horak


I was 17 when I acquired my first book of Hans-Peter Feldmann's Das Museum im Kopf (The Museum in the Head, 1989). The title lodged itself in my mind, where it has remained to the present day. The title is paradigmatic of Feldmann's practice: that is, of his ideas of archive and collective memory, and his strategy of taking everyday images - those that attract our attention in newspapers, magazines and photography albums - and bringing them together in an imaginary museum of the mind where they can be re-arranged, compared, understood and added to. In Das Museum im Kopf, the separation of the images from their contexts made other elements besides their narrative content important: the vocabulary with which the photograph communicated its meaning (its symbolism and expressiveness), formal aspects such as composition and rhythm, analogies between images and the suggestive character of advertising imagery or the psychological and emotional charge of private family photographs. The new arrangements made it possible to observe the construction of different, sometimes unexpected meanings. I was also fascinated by Feldmann's way of emphasising the denotative function of the images: he presented them without commentary, adding only simple, descriptive titles - '7 Bilder' ('7 pictures', 1970), for example - which resulted in an agglomeration of photographs utterly unremarkable, completely lacking in purpose or message, fully devoid of formal interest and presented in an entirely unpretentious way. Once important photographs were neutralised, suggesting that in our contemporary information-culture 'important' images can no longer be differentiated from the rest. Feldmann's deadpan presentation was emblematic of the postmodern idea that in our culture 'anything goes'.

The next time Feldmann amazed me was

  1. http://www.mip.at/en/werke/369.html (last accessed on 17 November 2007). Feldmann had the idea for this project as far back as the early 1970s, but it was not until 2000 that a publication was prepared to put it into practice.

  2. Feldmann holds the many photographers whose images he uses in equal esteem. Many of his books end with words similar to these: 'Thanks ... to all the resourceful people who enabled by their inventive work the creation of this world of paper'. Hans-Peter Feldmann, Voyeur, Cologne: Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König, 2006, 3rd edition, n.p.

  3. Wolfgang Koeppen, 'Joans tausend Gesichter', Liebesgeschichten. Ein Lesebuch, Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 2004, p.215.

  4. Harald Weinrich, 'Die Zeit und das Werk (Proust)', Knappe Zeit, Munich: C.H. Beck, 2004, p.148.

  5. The changes worked by time also fascinate Feldmann in other contexts - for example, in the pairs and sequences of photographs where he seeks out locations he has seen in old, found photographs, and photographs them again from the same vintage point. Here, too, time is the artist - re-working things, again and again, at irregular intervals. See Helena Tatay (ed.), Hans-Peter Feldmann. 272 Pictures, Barcelona, Paris, Winterthur and Cologne: Fundació Antoni Tàpies/Centre national de la photographie/Fotomuseum Winterthur/Museum Ludwig, 2001, p.215.

  6. André Malraux, Psychologie der Kunst, Reinbeck bei Hamburg: Rowohlt, 1947, p.29.

  7. See, respectively, André Malraux, The Imaginary Museum (1947), Pierre Bourdieu, A Middle-Brow Art (1965) and Aby Warburg, Mnemosyne Atlas (c.1927).

  8. Rosalind Krauss, quoted in Herta Wolf, Paradigma Fotografie, Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 2002, p.391.

  9. A. Malraux, Psychologie der Kunst, op. cit., p.12.

  10. However, Feldmann's imaginary museum, based on these collective image treasures, also encompasses three-dimensional work. In the form of small plaster casts we meet the Venus de Milo and Michelangelo's David, who appear as trivialised kitsch figurines. They are not given names, but a title such as Frau ohne Arme (Woman without Arms, 1978) turns the Greek goddess into a limbless woman. For Feldmann the collection of the state museum - a 'collection of wreckage' - becomes reactivated through the mixing of high and low. In 2006 he organised an exhibition in the antiquities galleries of the Kunsthalle zu Kiel, where his updated ancient heroes with rosy bodies and bright yellow bleached hair romped about with their original stone counterparts. The title of the exhibition - 'Die beunruhigenden Musen', or 'The Unsettling Muses' aptly summed up its effect.

  11. Elisabeth Nöstlinger, in her introduction to E. Nöstlinger and Ulrike Schmitzer (eds.), Susan Sontag. Intellektuelle aus Leidenschaft. Eine Einführung, Vienna: Mandelbaum, 2007, p.8.

  12. Herbert W. Franke, 'This is a tricky question', in Jörg Boström and Gottfried Jäger (eds.), Can Photography Capture our Time in Images? 25 Years Bielefelder Symposia about Photography and Media, Bielefeld: Kerber, 2004, p.23.

  13. Werner Lippert, Hans-Peter Feldmann / Das Museum im Kopf, Cologne: Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König, 1989, p.133.