Maximiliane Baumgartner in der Stadtgalerie Bern, Schweiz

Maximiliane Baumgartner, Viele Vampire sind Vögel, 2019, Ausstellungsansicht, Stadtgalerie Bern, Schweiz

Stadtgalerie Bern

Waisenhausplatz 30, 3011 Bern

KünstlerIn: Maximiliane Baumgartner

Titel: Viele Vampire sind Vögel

Datum: 16. August – 12. Oktober 2019

Fotografie: Cédric Eisenring / all images copyright and courtesy of the artists and Stadtgalerie, Bern


A donkey is given a diploma for having learned how to read. The exhibition poster shows the artist Maximiliane Baumgartner standing in the woods as said donkey, who convinced an examination committee of his ability to read after merely being conditioned to saying "hee-haw" at the right moment. This is a scene from a Till Eulenspiegel anecdote. It is an early satire about the futility of a rationalized education system. The play with various roles runs through Baumgartner's paintings as well as her performative and pedagogical practice; she plays with appropriating male stereotypical behaviour and addresses the insecurity of traditional behaviour within public spaces.

Baumgartner's paintings are not finished units. They are scenic elements being assembled into temporary installations and they become part of action spaces. The artist understands painting as a social field of action, something which in turn is closely related to her own pedagogical practice. Painting as a practice is also a means to connect and integrate different spaces, roles and perspectives. Through various initiatives and in complicity with children and young people, she reacts to existing social and institutional structures in the urban environment with performative and staged means. It is important to her to take a critical look at social spaces and access to them and to make their change of perspective tangible. One of her research fields is the 1970s and 1980s Munich Action Pedagogy, which developed parallel to Action Art: In 2015, she initiated and began curating for the art project and mobile action space Der Fahrende Raum in Munich (for Kultur & Spielraum e.V.) in alternating collaborations with other artists and educators.

The exhibition Viele Vampire sind Vögel puts a focus on Baumgartner's work with pedagogical play set-ups. The paintings shown in the Stadtgalerie are archives of past actions, and at the same time indicate the potential to form new action settings in the future. In the paintings, we see apartment blocks intertwined with stage elements and temporary architectures, we see children and educators in changing roles, as spectators and actors respectively. The relationship between these different elements remains unclear within the paintings, thereby referring to action and performance’s open possibilities, in which these relationships must be negotiated time and time again.

The painting Der Chindlifresserbrunnen ohne Chindlifresser (2019) shows pieces of the Chindlifrässerbrunnen fountain standing in Berne’s old town. The fountain is a 16th century bogeyman and part of Berne’s historical heritage. Baumgartner chose not to show the figure of the Kinderfresser (the child eater), a figure whose anti-Jewish background might be historically unclear, but whose ambiguity is not part of the sculpture’s public representation. This painting forms part of Baumgartner’s practice to examine spaces of state representation and their post-democratic and right-wing undermining with painting as a self-reflexive mean. In Courtroom #1 - #3, for example, Baumgartner and Alex Wissel examine how right-wing racist structures inscribe themselves in public justice spaces. In cooperation with changing authors this series of works attempts to create a form of counter-public, by showing what is not represented in the media and thus not heard or seen. To make a supposedly depoliticized space be perceived as political once again by artistic means is a central concern of Baumgartner's practice.

In the Stadtgalerie’s exhibition spaces, the artist shows her paintings in a modifiable display system. The material of the paintings already allows for the possibility of a change of context; Lacquer paint and Alu Dibond as picture carriers make it possible present the paintings outside as well. This is demonstrated by the multi-part mural on the façade of the Stadtgalerie, especially created for this exhibition. The exhibition is extended to the outside by painted panels on the Stadtgalerie's façade. They mark the various institutional places - the former Progymnasium, the police station just opposite, a playground, a private home - and assert that painting is an everyday field of action. This assertion is articulated in the painted, striped awnings, which on the one hand take up the building’s blinds and on the other hand remind us of the artist Daniel Buren’s vertical stripes. Another panel shows Doris Stauffer as a witch. The artist and teacher led a witch course for women at the F + F Schule für experimentelle Gestaltung in Zürich. Emancipatory possibilities of critical and feminist pedagogy are also central questions of Baumgartner's artistic practice, which repeatedly questions the fixed dividing lines between art production and its conveying. Gusto Gräser, wandering poet, reformer and co-founder of Monte Verità, is another reference figure appearing in Baumgartner's paintings and is someone the artist regularly plays as a role. The artist Gräser is a figure who already appeared in other collaborations initiated by Baumgartner, such as the” Performative Gusto Gräser Kinder-Archiv” (the performative Gusto Gräser children's archive). His life and work are starting point for a performative and artistic questioning by children and young people. In this way, the Gusto Gräser archive is being expanded through historiography from below. In her pedagogical and artistic work, Baumgartner is interested in forms of historiography which use pictorial and performative means.

Also part of the exhibition is a children's play wagon. It is both a sculpture and an extended field of artistic activity: The wagon will host activities for children on the Längmuur and the Schützenweg playground, both of which are legacies of Berne's progressive education. There is an ecological-economic aspect to how Baumgartner understands art and this is also reflected in the continued use of her paintings; Parts of her work will be re-used in new installations and action spaces. In this way, the children’s play wagon, which was created for the exhibition in the Stadtgalerie, will move on and become the starting point for upcoming actions with young people and children.