City Curator Hamburg
"Stadtkuratorin Hamburg" is an initiative project of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg. It is supported by the Ministry of culture and media of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg with funds from the programme Art in Public Space. The artistic direction of the initiative project is limited to two years.
The first period 2014 to 2016 was curated by Sophie Goltz.
For the second period 2018 to 2020 Dirck Möllmann has taken over the artistic direction. International artists* have been invited to participate in his programme HAMBURG MASCHINE and to create theme-related, temporary works in the public space of the city.
Dirck Möllmann has succeeded in realising a large part of his programme. He died of recurrent cancer on 21 September 2019.
Obituary for Dirck Möllmann (1963–2019)
by Bettina Steinbrügge
“Coyote discourse”—a kind of wild, inventive voice, according to Donna Haraway—was a concept that Dirck Möllmann introduced into discourse on art in public space in Hamburg. This concept, which especially for Hamburg was indeed “wild,” was meant to provide participating artists with open spaces in which they could explore their own motifs and ways of working with utmost freedom. When asked about his professional activity, he usually replied by saying: “I work with artists.” And this gets to the heart of the matter quite well: Dirck Möllmann was interested not only in the greatness of each individual artwork, but most especially in working with artists and helping their ideas become reality. With his death on September 21, 2019, this approach came to a premature end much too soon.
I first met Dirck in 2001 after having recently taken over the Halle für Kunst Lüneburg e.V., and we worked together on the very first event that I had helped plan as a curator. Heike Munder and I had invited Video Club 99 (1999–2009) to participate. It was a program which Dirck had founded in collaboration with Frank Barth and Kathrin Busch at the Hamburger Kunsthalle, and which made the museum’s outstanding media collection accessible to the public through events and cooperative projects with other art institutions. Back then, they showed works in Lüneburg by Eleanor Antin, Carolee Schneemann, and Hannah Wilke, among others. After that evening of December 6, our paths were to cross again and again, and I came to appreciate this charming, eloquent, smart, independent, and empathetic individual very much.
Dirck Möllmann studied art history, philosophy, and literature at the University of Hamburg. In 1996, under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Monika Wagner, he completed his studies by writing a master’s thesis on the topic of Robert Smithson’s staging of nature and perception. His analysis of Smithson’s work ended up running through his entire professional career, especially after he began to devote his time more and more to art in public space. More on this later.
Dirck began his career at the Hamburger Kunsthalle, where he worked as a freelance staff member from 1996—directly following his university studies—to 2009 in the media collection and contemporary art sections. He originally worked on establishing artist spaces for the Galerie der Gegenwart in Hamburg, which had opened in 1997. These spaces were to be known as EIN|RÄUMEN, and the related program was launched in the new building with the support of Uwe M. Schneede, the museum director at the time. Dirck assisted with the exhibition format STANDPUNKT, serving as exhibition curator, and he co-curated the show “MAN SON 1969: Vom Schrecken der Situation” (2009). Also, for “Roman Signer: Projektionen – Filme und Videos 1975–2008” (2009) he adapted the exhibition concept from the Helmhaus in Zurich. Moreover, during the period from 2006 to 2008, he catalogued and digitalized the inventory of the museum’s media and audio collection.
Between 2002 and 2009, Dirck was involved in a great many important projects that shaped discourse within the City of Hamburg, and far beyond. From 2002 to 2008, he collaborated with the Galerie für Landschaftskunst in the role of curator—a project space for artists, founded in 1992, which still today strongly supports artistic and interdisciplinary work related to ideas of nature, landscape, and city, and which has influenced discourse in Germany over the course of many years. During the same period, he was a curator for STILE DER STADT, one of the first (and, still today, only) platforms for art and new media in public space. He also served as an editorial staff member for the online project The Thing Hamburg. During this time, Dirck honed his profound knowledge of art in public space, refined his discourse through collaboration with artists like Mark Dion or Ulla von Brandenburg, and discovered his remarkable diplomatic skills when collaborating with others.
In 2009, Dirck Möllmann moved on to the sculpture project kunstwegen raumsichten in Nordhorn, situated in the county of Grafschaft Bentheim. By 2012, he had carried out projects with Tamara Grčić, Eva Grubinger, Folke Köbberling/Martin Kaltwasser, Paul Etienne Lincoln, Marko Lulić, Hans Schabus, Christoph Schäfer, Willem de Rooij, and Antje Schiffers. Particularly the installation by the Austrian artist Hans Schabus was spectacular, with both the artist and the curator accompanying a full-size steelwork bridge on its 1,000 kilometer journey from the Austrian town of Deutschlandsberg, where it had spanned the Laßnitz River, to the community of Ohne in Grafschaft Bentheim, where it still today crosses the Vechte River. It was at this juncture that Robert Smithson came into play yet again, as Smithson’s influence on Dirck’s work in public space was becoming increasingly evident. The object-like works created by Smithson, resting on the conceptual threshold between art and non-art, always toy with the beholder’s uncertainty when it comes to the differences between the ostensible theatrical aura of a sculpture and the normal spatiality of an object. Later, in Hamburg, this approach was to achieve a sense of conceptual completion.
From Nordhorn, Dirck moved to Styria in 2012 to serve as a curator in the Institute for Art in Public Space, which is affiliated with the Universalmuseum Joanneum in Graz. There he initiated, together with Elisabeth Fiedler, a mediation project on art in public space, in which artists intensively explored educational questions together with curators, the aim being to build on this to illuminate the issue of “social sculpture” in a lecture series. This presented an appropriate thematic framework for realizing, in subsequent years, important projects with artists like Tamara Grčić, Joseph Kosuth, Susan Philipsz, Tue Greenfort, Bojan Šarčević, and Atelier Van Lieshout. Here, Dirck was always concerned with clarifying which political, social, economic, and ecological topics can be tapped into through art in public space. The art project Politische Landschaft, for example, was an attempt to resituate, through several stages, the theme of remembrance and collective memory in the context of the unique landscape of the Salzkammergut, and in the context of its political history—a landscape which had played an ignoble role during the era of National Socialism. It also set out to reflect on the ramifications of this history, which are evident even today. Culminating in the Salzkammergut were incidents leading up to May 1945, related to art theft, treason, active and passive resistance, flight, and murder. The complexity and the contradictory nature of this period have had normative implications well into the present day, as was elaborately conveyed to the art-interested public in this project.
“Hamburg Maschine” was the motto of the Stadtkuratorin program headed by Dirck Möllmann as of 2018. His aim was to invite, over the course of two years, international and local artists to highlight the issues of digital flux, data security, and codetermination, as well as management of natural resources. He was interested in digitality in public space. And with this term he was not referencing fiber-optic and Wi-Fi networks, but rather focusing on the shifting culture of communication that has revolutionized our lives and impacted the production of objects, values, and art. Dirck was asking the question: How are we dealing with this change?
In early discussions about “Hamburg Maschine,” he was quick to clarify that his objective did not lie in having guest shows at existing art institutions. Instead, like Smithson, he was looking for non-sites, for sites of public life where people who lack frequent contact to art tend to gather. In Dirck’s eyes, the City of Hamburg, like many other cities, could be defined as follows: “the current city was a representative stage, a productive factory, a planned infrastructure, a built physicality, and a social reality.” Accordingly, he began his work with the project ElbBienen, which thematizes the disappearance of the honeybee. It involves a newly created beehive, which records live data about the temperature, humidity, and imagery of the bees’ home. The data derived from the hive and from a parallel project in Brussels will be on show until July 31, 2020, in an exhibition at the Golden Pavilion in Entenwerder Park.
At St. Catherine’s Church in Hamburg on September 22, 2019—several projects later—the performance “Temple of Artifice” by the Canadian artist Michael Dudeck was held. In his artistic language, the inventor of queer religion brought together elements from very different religions and mystical movements, creating a digital temple for this new religion. It was an exceedingly inspiring experience to witness this at a site devoted to Christianity. Also impressive was the video simulation “Western Flag” by the Irish artist John Gerrard, which had been installed at the Rathausmarkt in Hamburg just a brief time earlier. A flagpole in Texas with big plumes of black smoke was visible on a large video wall. This digital landscape alludes to the very first oil well in Texas in 1901, which laid the foundation for the oil boom in the United States and also for our oil-burning industry. The artist thematizes our treatment of natural resources, while simultaneously cleverly playing with digital technology. Indeed, the image of this giant screen seems real at first glance. However, it has been digitally simulated, but in real time. This means that the changes in day and night play out precisely as they simultaneously take place at this site in Texas. The installation was emblematic of the machine-related shift from the industrial oil machine to the data machine and could not have been more topical.
Despite difficult financial and infrastructural circumstances, Dirck Möllmann succeeded in reanimating discussion about art in public space on both local and international levels, and in bringing important explorative questions up to date. With his projects, events, and discourses, Dirck responded to conditions and themes relevant to cities and society—altered for instance by globalization, digitalization, migration, and ecological challenges. At some point during the coming year, Adocs-Verlag will be releasing a publication about the Stadtkuratorin program in Hamburg, which will extensively reflect on the program’s concept and artistic projects.
In the program Stadtkuratorin, Dirck was thinking well into the future, for his calling also entailed paving the way for a model institute in Hamburg focused on art in public space. This institute could house an archive for the history of Hamburg’s art in public space, could organize workshops and discussions about art in public space, and could serve as a contact point for all of the projects from different segments of the population that are intended for implementation in public space. At present, this very idea is being developed and propelled further based on a paper by our no-longer-living Stadtkurator. Dirck Möllmann always considered showing art and working with art to be a civic act—and he leaves behind indelible traces that will ever remain.