Manuel Graf

Born 1978 in Bühl (Baden), lives and works in Düsseldorf. 1999-2005 Studied at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf with Professor Magdalena Jetelova and Rita McBride. Teaching Positions: Gastprofessur Folkwang UdK, Essen, 2011

More info at: Van Horn, Düsseldorf

Awards and residencies
Studienstiftung des Deutschen Volkes 2003. / Reisestipendium KA Düsseldorf 2004. / Arbeitstipendium Kunststiftung NRW 2006/ 2008. / Förderpreis NRW 2007. / ARS VIVA 08/09 Kulturkreis der deutschen Wirtschaft im BDI e.V. / Residenzstipendium im MuseumsQuartier, Wien 2008. / Istanbulstipendium Kunststiftung NRW. / Cité Internationale des Arts, Paris. / Kunststiftung Baden-Württemberg 2009. / Grafikpreis NRW 2009. / Audi Art Award 2010. / Transfer NRW-Südkorea 2012. / Villa Concordia, Bamberg 2013

Selected solo exhibitions (2013-2009)
*2013 “Commercials” Kunsthaus Baselland, Basel, Schweiz
*2012 “Ils sont fous ces romains “Kunstverein Hamburg. / “4-Iwan-Moschee” Skulpturenmuseum Marl. / “Manuel Graf” Videoart at Midnight, Babylon, Berlin
*2010 “La méditerranée” Etablissement d´en face, Bruxelles. / “Buchtipp2” Julia Stoschek Collection im Rahmen der Performance-Reihe No.3
*2007 “Er liebte die Blumen, …” Kunstverein Göttingen
*2006 “Woher kommt die Kunst” Museum Abteiberg, Mönchengladbach

Selected group exhibitions (2012-2009)
*2013 ” .. ” German Embassy London mit Rita McBride und Erika Hock. / “Risk Society” MOCA Museum of Contemporary Art, Taipei, Taiwan. / “lonelyfingers” Abteiberg Museum. Mönchengladbach. / “Transfer” National Museum of Contemporary Art / ARKO Seoul, South-Korea
*2012 “The Themersons” ICA, London. / “How to dream …” Seoul Art Space Geumcheon, South-Korea
*2011 “Kosmos Steiner” Kunstmuseum Stuttgart. / “Kosmos Steiner” DOX, Center for Contemporary Art, Prague. / “FIN” Kunstverein für die Rheinlande und Westfalen, Düsseldorf. / “Vollendet das …” Sammlung Rheingold, Schloß Dyck
*2010 “Kosmos Steiner” Museum Wolfsburg. / “Postironische …” Museum Morsbroich, Leverkusen, “Postironische Generation”
*2009 Kunsthaus Baselland, Basel. / Museum Kunst Palast, Düsseldorf. / Augarten Contemporary, Wien. / Museum Abteiberg, Mönchengladbach

Gallery solo exhibitions (2012-2009)
*2012 Van Horn, Düsseldorf
*2011 Gaudel de Stampa, Paris. / Van Horn, Düsseldorf
*2010 Johann König, Berlin. / Kamm Gallerie, Berlin
*2009 Van Horn, Düsseldorf


There, Where They’re Supposed to Live by Oliver Tepel

Thinking about the World Operates in Models

“The picture is a model of reality,” [1] states Ludwig -Wittgenstein in his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. His assertion, which developed in the tough struggle for a well-defined order, reads almost like a platitude outside of its context.

While it seems this kind of thinking in art has fallen out of fashion since modernism, it suggests that artists produce models, and thus ultimately only images. However, an error exists here since the terms “model” and “image” are not congruent. Upon closer observation a disparity in meaning is found between them, filled with other terms, to which neither the idea of “image” nor of “model” can be satisfactorily ascribed. This applies, for instance, to the still life, especially in its manifestation as the vanitas still life of seventeenth century Flemish and Dutch painting and the works of Jean Siméon Chardin: here the pictured, well-decorated objects are full of coded symbolism (as symbols of the past or the eternal); they receive an ancillary value detached from the purely visible objects within the pictorial space.

Still life influences are also found in the works of Manuel Graf. In the moving images of his videos and animations, as well as in his objects, he consistently arranges and composes things until a desired compositional form is achieved—for instance, the arrangement of the fruits in Qu’est–ce que c’est la maturité? (2007) or the room in Woher kommt die Kunst? Oder: Die Blüte des Menschen (2006). Because such order can only be temporary in moving images, it is subject to reorganization. It is an activity that supposedly contains more than a recurrence of the vanitas motif, but perhaps more on this later. First something else needs to be urgently cleared up—that is, while the work of Manuel Graf is similar to classical painting, to categorize it as such would be to slightly miss the mark.

The idea of the model pervades both the theoretical background of his work and its aesthetic portrayal, which is untouched by the fear of reductionism or the seeming banality of the image. The titles of his works suggest his models prove to be first and foremost literal questions. The works exemplify these and make them explicit. A discussion of whether or not this is characteristic of all artistic work may seem moot. But Manuel Graf continuously reveals this process by adding question marks to the end of his work titles, combining varying (conceptual) models, and leaving the music present in his videos to comment on the images. Interestingly, these images can be both questions and answers, from model as question to again a new model: the answer. Two instances of this are the figure of the teacher in Über die aus der Zukunft fließende Zeit (2006), who introduces questions but also offers (unexpected) answers, and the lessons on the keystone in Woher kommt die Kunst Oder: Die Blüte des Menschen? (2006). The sequence on the key-stone—in the manner of a short theoretical digression—exemplifies the problem of the stability of the round arch. These two examples illustrate the conceptional schema of open questions, (ostensible) lessons and consequential answers. All works by Manuel Graf are based on questions composed in words.

Wittgenstein abandoned the idea of a simplified logic for language and formed his thoughts on the wealth of meaning of words around the idea of the “language game.” He used the image of an “old city” as an analogy for language: “A maze of little streets and squares, of old and new houses, and of houses with additions from various periods; and this surrounded by a multitude of new boroughs with straight regular streets and uniform houses.” [2]

In this light, the idea of examining questions with architectural models appears obvious. But Graf does not restrict himself to architecture. He addresses numerous other genres and disciplines and a set of tools all of which call for ways of thinking and concepts, which make formulating a description of art—as is currently en vogue—almost impossible. He creates works, how-ever, that elude the superficial. His work has been broken down as a “a touch of Acconci, but with the irony of a Brancusi and the aesthetic objectivity of an Albers, as well as the somewhat playful ornamentation of Koons and the presentation of a Chaimowicz.” Sometimes it appears as if his animations would amuse themselves over this momentary, largely inflexible string of associations. Instead he offers tie-in points from various realms, in particular from architecture, film, animation, music, teaching, and didactics.

Thinking about Houses Operates in Models

Based on the above list, architecture and architectural theory in conjunction with classical art history are still the areas most closely related to high art. Here as well Graf deals with specific material, most of which stems from classic modernism. The works of the Brit-ish, pop-futuristic architectural group Archigram, which exist(ed) almost only as models, are worth mentioning here. What the architect designs should equate to a vision. For Archigram, it equated to “visions of a futuristic- urban life.” [3] Ultimately their projects alter the environment—apart from certain large projects—but less than expected. Although architectural models are supposed to show the architect’s thinking in this way, the visions often remain unrealized. If they are built, the coherency of the artful, miniature forms amidst tiny round trees and plastic figures gets lost. Oftentimes the realized buildings are inferior to their daring papier-mâché counterparts. These models of buildings and their interior designs, reduced in the architectural praxis to a purely functional value, gain new meaning in Manuel Graf’s work: as allegory, reification, and structural image.

In Shulmantonioni (2004), Manuel Graf animates pre-existing houses as 3D models. The video begins with the interior view of a coolly designed living room with a view through a panoramic glass front out to the garden: it’s a colorful and at the same time seemingly somewhat banal digitalization of Julius Schulman’s architectural photos of wealth and grandeur. The last two letters of his last name are fused with the first two letters of Michelangelo Antonioni’s last name. The second component of the synthesis appears to disavow the vision of the middle-class aligned phantasm of the nineteen-sixties. Graf depicts what Antonioni symbolizes in his hippie- and yippie-idealized Zabriski Point with the exploding villa on the edge of the desert through images that the director drew the line at, such as the interior perspective of the explosion. The viewer stands inside the exploding house. Here, like Antonioni, Graf also repeats the explosion in a staccato of various perspectives.

Sabotaging the world of models has consistently been a subject of Manuel Graf’s work. 1000 Jahre sind ein Tag (2005) presents architectural models and 
his-torical buildings to a wackily edited version of the title song by Udo Jürgens. This song once accompanied the animated TV series Es war einmal . . . Der Mensch by Albert Barillé. Accordingly, inside and around the model is entirely devoid of life—until a Matt Groening-like creat-ure -disrupts the video by coming out of a painting in a Simpsons-style animation. Perhaps the basis for this lies in the discrepancy in all architecture between the scale of the intended (and modeled) visions and their realization. Manuel Graf’s deserted visions would corroborate this speculation. In this way the presentably stylized 360-degree perspective of Düsseldorf’s Bertha-von-Suttner-Platz in Graf’s video does not make the urine smell of its corners nor the sadness of its junkies known. In Qu’est–ce que c’est la maturité? (2007) the architecture remains a purely conceptual model. Various visions of the organic structure are exemplified in the video. At the same time, Graf depicts a coffee service illuminated by lighting effects whose individual components (somewhat in the sense of a Memphis Design aesthetic) are configured as tiny buildings.

The lifeless world of models, whose lyrical, visionary character can be made bearable by blink-of-the-eye sabotage alone, is united with the anthemlike harmonies and the unwavering groove of Udo Jürgens’s song into a new gesture, into a view over the shoulder and into the past: yes, once there was man, and some members of this species lived in unbelievably detailed, thoroughly styled living rooms; they went to school, to church, to temple, and to shopping malls. In contemplating disappearance, Graf’s works do not form a language of pessimism, or even of pathetic critique, rather they take the visionary nature of the model itself seriously. They describe lifeless locations that were actually conceived of to be lived in. What these models have to say about the inhabitants, who were either imaginary to begin with or have actually disappeared, is portrayed stylistically in the indirect depiction, in the “figural implicit.” The buildings make known the people who have created them-their absence recalls the existence of time and finiteness to which everything is subject. In this regard, it should be mentioned that Udo Jürgens’s song was also used for the trailer for the season after the next season of Albert Barillé’s animation series: Es war einmal . . . Das Leben.

Thinking about Evolution Operates in Models

Manuel Graf’s former teacher Ekkehard Wallat comments on one of these evolutionary models in Über die aus der Zukunft fließende Zeit (2006). Prior to this commentary, he confronts the viewer with an animation of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, a modern house from which a small waterfall seemingly flows as though to emblematize a Buddhist theory. Unlike Claude-Nicolas Ledoux’s futuristic idea of a house erected in the form of a circle around the rushing flow of the Loire, Wright’s idea seems to indicate a coexistence of nature and construct, but ultimately it enthrones the architectural block over the flowing element.

Notions of hierarchical order also form the basis of Wallat’s commentary. He explains the theories of the paleontologist Otto Heinrich Schindewolf. [4] 
Often disparagingly referred to as the so-called “skull measuring” practice of science, this enterprise is always based on the visible feature. Schindewolf varied the thesis that phylogenesis recurs in ontogenesis. In fact, he describes this process as reciprocal: when compar-ing bone findings from Australopithecus to Homo sapiens and skull development from children to adults in each case, humankind appears to be getting younger. That his theory is based on aesthetic evaluations and assump–tions goes without saying. But Schindewolf was no odd bird out of the grey scientific past. While Graf is interested in the reversibility of time flow and therefore in upending hierarchies, Schindewolf furnishes a theo-ry of evolution which describes a model of evolutionary circles instead of Darwinian perpetual advancement. These circles start with the development of specific types that divide into variations and disappear again. His critique of Darwin corresponds to an objection proposed by paleontologists—which is still valid today—that is, that too few intermediary evolutionary forms are documented. Biologists rejoin that only the excavation evidence for paleontologists is still insufficient. When Schindewolf was first translated into English at the beginning of the nineteen-nineties, Stephen Jay Gould added a preface to the work. Gould wasn’t interested in fully rehabilitating Schindewolf, but he highlighted how the German had pointed out disturbing gaps in Darwin’s theory. For his part, Gould was very familiar with the power of visualization. As his book Full House demonstrates, he was critical of the message inherent to evolutionary developmental trends that always imply a movement from lower to higher levels. [5]

In this respect Wallat does himself a double service in citing Otto Heinrich, he illuminates the power of models, their perceptual control mechanisms, and resulting organizing principles. In this light, Schindewolf’s interpretation of the measured and compared skull also appears to be a liberating alternative. Manuel Graf’s works are based on the belief that science, like art, could have a similar need for fixed patterns of thinking. Gould would have agreed with him, and Wittgenstein as well: “People nowadays think that scientists are there to instruct them, the poets and musicians etc. are there to entertain. That the latter have something to teach them never occurs to them.” [6]

Who designs the models and who administers them? Where Schindewolf saw a cyclical coming and going of things, his vision of reality also harkens back to the notion of the vanitas. Manuel Graf comments on the decay of things, on their continued existence as an inanimate monolith and on the hope of metamorphosis. That every trace of derisive irony also contains empathy is demonstrated in his caringly presented arrangements in space that illustrate the luxury of witnessed decay. Installations are temporary, are constructed at any time, the dried flowers of Woher kommt die Kunst? Oder: Die Blüte des Menschen (2006) decay during our prime, and unless several interested archivalists transfer Graf’s digital videos to future, established standards, these will disappear as well. Perhaps current art, which employs digital archiving media, is threatened by a return to disappearance without hope—it eludes the cycles, which find access with Qu’est–ce que c’est la maturité? (2007) into the artist’s work. Graf’s work represents a model in which permanent movement is inherent. Manuel Graf denies the linear along with its hierarchies and creates a game of circular questions. But his considerable aesthetic gift also allows what’s portrayed to seem interesting without all of that—it’s perhaps the most attractive draw, this special art of inviting one in.

Translated by Erik Smith
[1] Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, translated by C. K. Ogden (London, 1922), p. 23 (§ 2.12).
[2] Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Inrestigations, The English Text of Third Edition, translated by G.E.M. Anscombe
(New Jersey, 1953), p. 8e.
[3] Udo Kultermann, Architecture in the 20th Century (New York, 1993), p. 125.
[4] Otto Heinrich Schindewolf, * June 7, 1896 Hannover, † June 11, 1971 Tübingen.
[5] Stephen Jay Gould, Full House: The Spread of Excellence from Plato to Darwin (New York, 1997).
[6] Ludwig Wittgenstein, MS of 1939–40 in Culture and Value, translated by Peter Winch (Chicago, 1984), p. 42.

Published in: Ars Viva Preisträger: Inszenierung Mise en Scène. Keren Cytter, Manuel Graf, Simon Dybbroe Møller, Tris Vonna-Michell. Hrsg. Kulturkreis der deutschen Wirtschaft im BDI e.V., Hatje Catz Verlag, Ostfildern, mit einem Text von Oliver Tepel „Dort, wo sie wohnen sollten“, „There, Where They’re Supposed to Live“, S. 74 – 10

source: the artist