The Birthday Show

Martin Assig, Angela Bulloch, Oliver Croy, Gregor Hildebrandt, Jean-August-Dominique Ingres, Lisa Junghanss, Josephine Meckseper, Hermann Nitsch, Fred Sandback, Emil Schumacher, Raphaela Vogel
30.08.2020 – 10.10.2020

Imagine a group portrait like the one of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. A group of peo- ple standing in front of a flowerbed, where the flowers are planted in such a way that they spell out “August 29”. Michael Jackson is there, sporting a Beatlesque fantastical uni-form. To his side, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. Ingrid Bergman peers through the gap between the shoulders of the two men. To Ingres’ right are the namesakes Emil and Joel Schumacher. Behind them Charlie Parker, Susanne Kippenberger, Richard Attenborough, and beside them Sibylle Bergemann, Michelangelo Grigolet- ti...
Of all these people born on August 29, the artist Gregor Hildebrandt writes me a message every year on exactly this day: “Happy birthday!” There has been some kind of misunder-standing. I was born on August 28, the people in my band include Goethe and Florence Welch, but no Gregor Hildebrandt.
When I look at my band and compare it with Gregor’s, I begin to wonder what it is that people who share a birthday across centuries have in common. „Well ... pretty much nothing to be honest“, mutters a man from Gregor’s group: the philosopher John Locke, born on August 29, 1632, steps forward and shares one of his deepest convictions: “Human consciousness at birth is like a white sheet of paper (tabula rasa) which can only be written on by experience”.
This would mean that people from the same age group have something in common, whereas peop- le who share a birthday in different generations do not. People who were born in West Germany in 1974, like Gregor Hildebrandt, will have accumulated similar col-lective experiences throughout their lives. Which is why a group picture made up of people from the same generation would make more sense than this August 29 group.
Nevertheless, sharing a birthday does create a sense of kinship from which great things can emerge. For example, if the singer Kate Bush had not been born on the same day as the Victorian novelist Emily Brontë, she might never have read her novel “Wuthering Heights” and written the hit that refers to it.
Gregor’s “Wuthering Heights” is his “Birthday Show”: on August 29, he will open a group
exhibition in his project space Grzegorzki Shows featuring works by Martin Assig, Angela Bulloch, Oliver Croy, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Lisa Junghanss, Josephine Meck-seper, Hermann Nitsch, Fred Sandback, Emil Schumacher, and Raphaela Vogel – all of whose lives began on August 29.
The idea goes back to the year 1998, when Portikus Frankfurt staged a group exhibition with
96 Städel students. “In order to be able to grasp the sheer number of participants,” it said in the press release for the show cryptically entitled “STUTTGART, 17.7.1956 - SA-LEM (WIS.) / USA, 3.3.1977,” “an organizational structure had to be found. It was decided that the students should be divided into twelve groups according to their zodiac signs. The-re was no prescribed theme.”
Gregor Hildebrandt, at that time still a student himself, had seen this exhibition, and the idea evidently stuck with him. While it was shared zodiac signs that were randomly selec-ted as the structuring device at Portikus, “Birthday Show” makes the artists’ date of birth a prerequisite for an invitation to the exhibition. As a result, the group show appears to paro-dy the widespread tendency to incessantly incorporate artists’ biographies into the presen-tation of their work.
At the same time, it mocks overcurated thematic exhibitions in which artists with wildly dif-fering practices come together under a single thesis – which all too often remains no more than a mere assertion. But what about here? Perhaps seeing one of Hermann Nitsch’s slaughterhouse platters next
to Raphaela Vogel’s monstrosities may actually achieve so-mething interesting, and this “coincidental encounter”, which according to surrealists is known to create beauty, may never have come about otherwise. Likewise, the juxtapositi-on of Fred Sandback’s geometry with that of Martin Assig or Angela Bulloch. Ingres’ ren-dering of a human body next to a portrait of Lisa Junghanss.
In any case, Gregor’s project certainly has a practical side effect: in the year of Corona, in which private birthday parties have fallen into disrepute, the opening is a celebratory sub-stitute for several birthday children, a group photo of a Lonely Hearts Club band in a very strange summer. If I’m not too hungover, I’ll be there.

Daniel Völzke

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