ANDREAS SCHMITTEN | VOR ORT
25 JUNE 2022
Ludwig Foundation, Aachen: Andreas Schmitten in conversation with Carla Cugini and Benjamin Dodenhoff
For the occasion of the 25th anniversary of The Peter & Irene Ludwig Foundation in Aachen, Andreas Schmitten was invited to realise a site-specific work. On 25 June VOR ORT (In Situ) was revealed, in which the artist covered the exterior façade of the Ludwig House in magenta pink, effectively turning the structure into a sculptural object. In addition, Schmitten fabricated ersatz awnings over the entrance and the upstairs windows, covered in yellow and white stripes. We are grateful to the Ludwig Foundation to be able to publish this interview.
Carla Cugini, CEO of the foundation and curator Benjamin Dodenhoff talk to Andreas Schlitten about his project:
Carla Cugini: Mr. Schmitten, we were very pleased that you agreed to take part in the "Vor Ort" project, which is connected with our anniversary this year. I remember when you visited us for the first time at the home of the Foundation, it was on a grey winter's day. We had already told you that the building in question was the former home of Peter and Irene Ludwig. What expectations did you have?
Andreas Schmitten: My first impressions? Well, naturally I was surprised. I would never have imagined that it looks the way it does. As a sculptor I deal with the modern. So naturally, my focus was on precisely that part of the Ludwig's collection. From my visits to the Museum Ludwig in Cologne when I was a teenager – I grew up not far away – I expected something completely different.
Benjamin Dodenhoff: What surprised you most?
AS: I perceived Pop Art and contemporary art to be the dominant feature of the Ludwig Collection and, therefore, I was surprised that there is almost no sign of either in the house. And then there's the fact that they have all died, that there are no descendants. Consequently, you find in the rooms an attachment to a certain time, to unique decisions made in younger years. The Ludwigs lived to see the 1980s and the 1970s, but somehow the kitchen didn't see those years, the whole building didn't if it comes to that. I tried to bring all this together in my head, it was highly motivating and held great potential. It's not as clear-cut here as one might have hoped.
BD: Did you know straight away what you wanted to do?
AS: No. I had to work my way into it. I read interviews with Peter Ludwig and looked at other material, unfortunately there are very few interviews with Irene Ludwig. I tried to understand what the Ludwig's public life and this passion for art meant in terms of their work ethic and demeanour, as well as in relation to this building. I found that interesting and knew it could lead somewhere. One thing that became clear to me relatively quickly: the fact that everything here is so excessive and, at the same time, so compartmentalised and detailed. As an artist, you have to very carefully consider both how sensitively you handle it and how you contend with it.
CC: When you presented your concept we were, at first, quite stunned, but then quickly convinced. We gave you "carte blanche", so to speak. Our only condition was that you use the outdoor area of the building. Now, from your design, a real statement has been created.
AS: Yes, it was, consciously, a quite radical intervention – the alternative would have been a quiet, subtle gesture. As I said, it was inspirational during my research to reflect on the Ludwigs’ life plan. This infatuation with material things, the small porcelain collection here in their house, for example, and then the large collection in Bamberg. Here manageability and modesty, there, at the same time, this big thing, these large collections. On the one hand, the manifest desire to be a public figure, to have the family name inscribed on the facade, and on the other, to keep a house like this, with this kitchen and these rooms, which don't really allow for many guests. This way of living is, I believe, characterised by a high degree of rationality and stems from a very individual way of thinking, one which seems to be very controlled. And at the same time, within these fields of reference, it's obsessive and almost excessive. A field of tensions is opened, probably shaped by being a businessperson, having a structured daily schedule, having people assist you but also delegating tasks, and then keeping certain fields to yourself in which you can follow your own logic and allow your passions free rein. This, perhaps together with an overriding moral approach and a social role, self-imposed in order to create space for this obsession. I wanted to lay all of that bare by presenting the house in a very specific colour and installing outsized sculptures.
CC: You chose the colour of magenta-pink for the house. Why this colour in particular? And what did you want to engender with your choice? The colour has a certain artificiality.
AS: It shouldn't be forgotten that white, the colour which the house is currently painted, is also artificial. Of course, the reasons for painting it white are quite obvious, the colour represents purity, perfection and prosperity – but at the end of the day it's just as artificial. It's not plain brick. So when we say "Oh, it's pink now and totally crazy", we are speaking purely from a conventional perspective. There are parts of the world where every house is garishly coloured, that's normal there. That is, in essence, what I wanted to thematise, norms versus deviations from them. And for that, magenta-pink was the best choice: the point being that you can't overlook the colour, that the colour points to this mania for control, this obsessiveness, which at the same time has something renegade about it. And the colour also acts like a new cover.
BD: Your design, which we are finally making a reality, includes, along with this colour-scheme, sculptural elements, which have the appearance of awnings, but are mock-ups. The two aspects are, for you, I believe, inseparable. In the meantime, we have also asked ourselves: What do we do if we can't paint? Could we just install the awnings? Or is it conceivable to only paint the building? But I have always had the impression that both elements are important for you. What does your concept, which has been made tangible, do as a whole?
AS: The awnings for the Ludwig House are a central element, they are outsized and, as a result,emphasise the fragmentary nature and modest scale of the Ludwig House. They take up the dynamic created when something is escalated ever further, they take the ornamentation of the house up a level. As such, they are a kind of crowning glory atop the whole.
BD: This colour shrouds things in a certain way. In the preliminary discussions you also said that the colour makes some things visible: the decorative features – the sculptures, the iron fittings, the memorial plates, everything that has been attached to the facade of the house, are brought to prominence. It's a kind of dual-effect, or how would you describe it?
AS: Shrouded or not, that's really not my concern. For me it's much more about causing the house to be experienced anew. To perhaps also highlight the opulence of the material. Because,at the end of the day, it doesn't need much, it doesn't even need art, as Peter Ludwig himself said in an interview: You simply have to look outside, at nature. Only nature doesn't shout: "Here, look at me, look at me!" – this form of contemplation, however, is very arduous. It's more stimulating to buy another work of art, and another, and one more, leading you to the false belief that you've ticked a whole range of subjects off for yourself. But in principle you could have simply sat on the couch, just watched the birds, and asked yourself all the questions which life has to offer.
© Images Carl Brunn, Aachen
© Andreas Schmitten und Peter und Irene Ludwig Stiftung www.ludwigstiftung.de