Tony Cokes “Fragments, or just Moments” at Haus der Kunst, Munich

Tony Cokes “Fragments, or just Moments” at Haus der Kunst, Munich

For more than three decades, in his artistic practice, Cokes has explored the ideology and affect politics of media and popular culture and their impact on societies. His work is concerned with a media theoretical analysis of “deflated” news that reach us every day: this ecstatic communication of consumer society produces copies without originals, the so-called simulacra. A hyperreality is formed that, through its overproduction of symbols, no longer allows to relate to the actual events. The slogans and images wear out over time, thus creating a distance between their actual meaning and what is received while reading them in that moment.1
Departing from a critique of the representation and visual commodification of African American communities in film, television, advertising, and music videos, Cokes has developed a unique form of video essay that radically rejects representational imagery. These fast-moving works are made from found textual as well as sound material from various sources such as critical theory, online journalism, literature, and pop music. Composed of a range of socio-cultural references, the collages allow for a new way of thinking about structural racism, capitalism, warfare, and gentrification.

In the sampling of text and audio material from different time periods, Cokes’s understanding of historicity becomes apparent: drawing on ontological concepts of return (as they appear in Jacques Derrida’s notion of “hauntology,” Mark Fisher’s music-theoretical adaptation thereof, as well as Afro- futurism and Afropessimism)2 that emphasize the aftermath or “haunting” of past social events in the present, Cokes’s video essays expose historical continuities in ever-mutating discourses and pop culture.

For the exhibition spanning the Kunstverein München and the Haus der Kunst, Cokes has developed several new works that examine the past of the two institutions by drawing on historical source material. The starting point is the ideological-propagandistic link between the two exhibition sites during the Nazi era as well as their cultural- political role in the context of the 20th Olympic Games in Munich in 1972.

The neo-classical architecture of the “Haus der Deutschen Kunst” designed by Paul Ludwig Troost, which opened on July 17 in 1937 with the first iteration of the “Große Deutsche Kunstausstellung” (Great German Art Exhibition), was an exemplary manifestation of National Socialist cultural politics. The exhibition, which was propagated as a revolutionary break with modern art that was defamed as “culturally subversive” and “Jewish- Bolshevik,” brought together more than 500 works in which Hitler saw his ethno-racist ideology and the supposed supremacy of a specifically “German art” being represented.“3 The following day, the exhibition “Entartete Kunst” (Degenerate Art) opened in the immediate vicinity in the Hofgarten arcades, which since 1953 form part of the exhibition spaces of the Kunstverein München. It presented around 600 works that were confiscated from German museums during the eponymous “Säuberungsaktion” (Purge) by the National Socialists.4

Based on the ideological programming of both exhibition sites during National Socialism, Cokes examines the continuities of Munich’s cultural policy in the postwar period—particularly that of 1972, when the city once again hosted the Olympic Games. As a “celebration of peace,” they were intended to represent a radical antithesis to the games last held in Nazi Germany in 1936 and to present the country on an international level as a successfully denazified and cosmopolitan state. This political recoding was expressed both in the architecture of the Olympic stadium designed by Günther Behnisch and Frei Otto, which intentionally avoided any monumentality, and in an infrastructural expansion of the city as well as a comprehensive design concept for the games by graphic designer Otl Aicher. Cokes, whose audiovisual works explore the affective politics of image, color, and typography, considers Aicher’s design in Some Munich Moments, 1937–1972 (2022), particularly with regard to his color concept and its associated ideology. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich.

Cokes’s artistic exploration of the event extends into public space, thus enabling further perspectives on the politics of memory, with a focus on the walkway that connects the Haus der Kunst and the Kunstverein München. The underpass was constructed as part of the visitors’ route for the 1972 national sports event. In their 85 years of neighborly coexistence, no renewed collaboration between the two venues has taken place since the Nazi propaganda exhibitions. In contrast to the often-historical rigidity and institutional amnesia, the events connecting the two locations are emphasized by the artist: poster works are displayed in the darkened underpass that connects the English Garden and the Hofgarten, corresponding with a likewise newly conceived sound work.

Cokes is interested in counter-conceptions of spaces of togetherness and social or political thought. The underpass represents an “in-between public” and thus functions as a (counter-)public space that concretizes the historical ties of the institutions. Moreover, by being situated between the two venues,
it allows for an open engagement with their respective history. The invisible is illuminated while walking along these connecting paths, whereas a fragile space of remembrance is revealed. Subterranean spaces that bear echoes of the terror history of Munich’s recent past are inspected. From the cellar spaces of the Haus der Kunst to the underground pedestrian passage, to the former spaces of the 1937 defamatory Nazi propaganda exhibition, which now house the Kunstverein: history is brought into public view through Cokes’s artistic examination.

at Haus der Kunst, Munich
until December 4, 2022

1    See Jean Baudrillard, Symbolic Exchange and Death (SAGE Publications, 1993).
2    Tony Cokes, “resonanz.01 (2008–2013) notes / fragments on a case of sonic hauntology,” in: Black Camera, Vol. 5, Nr. 1 (2013), p. 220–225.
3    Hitlers Rede zur Eröffnung des Hauses der Deutschen Kunst, Munich, July 18, 1937,” in: Peter-Klaus Schuster (ed.), Nationalsozialis- mus und entartete Kunst. Die Kunststadt München 1937 (Prestel Verlag, 1988), p. 242.
4    See Sabine Brantl, Haus der Kunst, Munich: A Locality and its History in National Socialism (Allitera, 2017), p. 81.

Leave a Reply