Kunsthalle Mainz announces lecture series to accompany Thomas Schütte & Danh Vo exhibition

Nations and states establish a strong collective image by disseminating symbols of their rulers and erecting monuments and temples. In public spaces, statues in particular are seen to represent systems of political rule. They mark squares, urban centres, and mountain ranges—visible from afar. Once erected, they serve as a timeless demonstration of authority, emphasising irrefutable legitimacy. But how is power depicted today? Are statues still a democratically tenable form? How does a nation present itself to the public? Where is its focal point?

The exhibition takes its thematic point of departure from the Niederwalddenkmal situated near Mainz, a monument that consists of a massive figure of Germania. The sculpture was erected on its gigantic base in 1871, immediately following the Franco-Prussian war. Since that time, the personification has looked out over the land as an imperious symbol of victory, visible far and wide.

During the modern era and under democratic constitutions, pathos-charged abstraction was assigned to represent the interests of the state. The Federal Republic of Germany was among the nations to avail itself of this new symbolic language. The two sculptures in front of the Offices of the Federal Chancellor in Bonn and Berlin are similar in appearance: a sculpture by Henry Moore was erected in Bonn in 1977; a steel structure by the Basque artist Eduardo Chillida in Berlin in 2000. In both cases, the interlocking forms contrast with the buildings that serve as their backdrops and the lawns that form their pristine surroundings.

In the exhibition, this sculpture is represented by models, plaster sketches, and historical photographs. Other images, such as Thomas Hobbes’s famous seventeenth-century illustration of Leviathan and engravings dating from the French Revolution, complete the historical part of the narrative on national self-representation.

The second section of the exhibition is reserved for contemporary approaches. Two important internationally active artists are featured here. Thomas Schütte’s Vater Staat (Father State) (2011) is a present-day counterpart to Germania. Measuring nearly four metres in height, it depicts a grim man wrapped in a heavy cloak. He comes across as a gnarled wise man of incorruptible authority. Danh Vo, a native of Vietnam, exhibits fragments of the American Statue of Liberty in their original size. Executed in copper repoussé, the individual parts are displayed on pallets as symbols of inquiry into the nation in an age of emigration, loss of homeland, and globalization.

Kunsthalle Mainz
Am Zollhafen 3-5
55118 Mainz, Germany
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