A young woman, dressed in jeans and topless, strides across the yard to a dilapidated building. There is a pile of snow on the ground, the walls are covered in graffiti. Seen from behind, with her bony shoulders and also because of her way of moving, the woman looks more like a man. She goes to an exit whose door is closed, she turns and goes to another exit that also remains closed, there are six locked doors that keep her trapped in this gloomy place.
The film character Eliza Douglas has worked together with the German artist Anne Imhof (Giessen, 1978, lives in Berlin and New York) since 2015. Imhof creates large-scale installations and performances where architecture, visual arts, music and choreography are combined. Her star has risen at lightning speed, with exhibitions at the Venice Biennale, Tate Modern in London, Palais de Tokyo in Paris and now with the solo exhibition Youth at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. Her work embodies a sense of life that appeals to a generation of hyper-individualistic twenty- and thirty-somethings in the western, affluent part of the planet. These young people suffer, also as a result of the pandemic, from loneliness, lethargy and fear of the future. Imhof expresses gender fluidity and a paralyzing disorientation as a result of technology’s overriding role in everyday life.
The movie was shot in Moscow, at a location next to the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, where Imhof’s exhibition was supposed to take place, but was canceled after Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. The exhibition has been taken over by the Stedelijk, where Imhof built up the 1,100 square meters in the bathtub’s basement with a labyrinth of wardrobes, water containers and stacked car tires. The interior of the Rem Koolhaas, with the very heavy, very expensive metal walls and the observation tower from which you can survey the exhibition, has been largely maintained.
Bach’s ‘Verbarme dich’
In Imhof’s labyrinth it is dark, with reddish lighting, an electronic boom sings through speakers attached to a sound rail. Isolated graffiti fragments and other objects, such as a motorcycle, helmets and drawings by Imhof, are displayed in small rooms. Throughout all of this, the Eliza Douglas character appears again and again in several videos. The exhibition resembles a three-dimensional video game, with Douglas playing the lead role as an avatar. But with the important difference that Imhof’s game is not interactive, the visitor has no choice but to wander passively through the course.
It seems that Imhof is already being destroyed by the interests of some powerful, commercial players in the art world
In the past this was different. Until 2021, Imhof staged impressive live performances in his installations, where dozens of dancers, musicians and actors mingled with the audience like living sculptures. In the Stedelijk, live performance has been replaced by film. However, this doesn’t work at all: it’s all over-styled, too contrived. This is exacerbated by Bach’s endlessly repeated, echoing ‘Erbarme Dich’ in a film with horses slow motion and run through the snow, billowing mane, doomed in an apocalyptic world. The camera zooms in on moist horse eyes. It’s noisy and pathetic.
This installation in no way comes close to the level of Imhof’s previous work. Perhaps the time pressure was too great and made the exhibition turn into production work.
It is also noteworthy that the exhibition was made possible by the Dutch Hartwig Foundation with Beatrix Ruf as a board member. Ruf, who a few years ago resigned as director of the Stedelijk after being asked about conflicts of interest, is now active again as a curator at the Stedelijk through the Hartwig Foundation. The collaboration with the influential galleries Buchholz and Sprüth Magers is also featured prominently throughout the exhibition. It seems that Imhof, whose career only started about seven years ago, is already being pressured by the interests of some powerful, commercial players in the art world.
Imhof maintains a painting and drawing practice in the sheltered environment of his studio. Her fine pencil drawings are special, reminiscent of the early twentieth century work of Käthe Kollwitz and Ernst Barlach, artists who depicted human suffering in the First World War. The drawings show that Imhof has something to say. In an interview with exhibition maker Hans Ulrich Obrist, which can be found on the internet, Imhof describes his current desire. She is fascinated by the classic theme of the Dance of Death (medieval dance full of ecstasy, where people often lost their minds) and would like to draw a contemporary life-size dance of death.
With this, she would like to make a trip, outside the art circuit and outside all art venues, without art transports and all that heavy art world. Imhof would like to leave the art world to let the artwork move freely in ‘a real space’, ‘a space without doors’, as a kind of festival where the work can make contact with another audience. It is hoped that Imhof will get the chance to have his wish fulfilled.See an overview of our visual art reviews