Lothar Baumgarten

Yurupari – Stanza di Rheinsberg (Yurupari – Rheinsberg Room),” Lothar Baumgarten writes, “was initially shown in Düsseldorf in 1969. The title refers to my birthplace, Rheinsberg, a city in the Brandenburg region of East Germany. Reconfigured in relation to the new space, the work was presented in its current version for the second time in 1984, at the Castello di Rivoli. It alludes to the phenomenon of ‘Time’ in two ways: to historical time, through the dialogue it establishes with the architectural context in which it is located, and to the transitory nature of time, through the choice of materials employed. Unbound cobalt pigment, used to color the walls, gives expression to an intrinsic quality of the Tropics: their ephemeral transience. The names of plants and animals that inhabit the Southern Hemisphere of the New World are scattered over the walls. These names evoke a composite scenario of tropical America; moreover they evoke the verbal appropriation of these lands by Europeans and their incorporation into an encyclopedic body of knowledge. Thus the names recall an era eager for classification, when desires for conquest and new experiences joined in a practice of naming an entire world that had been previously unknown. The names chosen for this space, their juxtaposition and their interrelation, set in motion various levels of association with a continent: how it can be perceived by the five senses, how it was conquered in an irrevocable process of discovery; and how it can be imagined, through the descriptions of books read in a room in Rheinsberg.” The work is a permanent installation in a room of the Castello that features a decorative repertory typical of a country residence.
A photographic work by Baumgarten entitled Hoffnung La Gran Sabana (Hope La Gran Sabana), 1977, consists of a triptych of gelatin-silver prints taken in La Gran Sabana, the vast and mysterious savanna in Venezuela that is still believed to hide the legendary golden city of El Dorado. The skeleton remains of a cabin in one of the photographs are the sole trace of human presence in an apparently untouched landscape, although gold seekers continue to make their way here.
Baumgarten’s works, which encompass wall drawings as well as photographs, films, and site-specific installations, often incorporate words from languages that are nearly extinct. Through the use of words belonging to indigenous populations, the artist exposes the process of expropriation to which many cultures were subjected at the moment of their encounter with the Western world. The importance of language as a tool for possessing the world and the alienation that results from the detachment of words from things constitutes the theme uniting a group of Baumgarten’s works, including Diamond Frog, 1989. For this work the artist has transcribed onto the museum wall the names of various American railroad companies, evoking a chapter in U. S. history. The names, written in black on white to form a shape reminiscent of a railroad-crossing signal, contain not only English words, but also the memory of the languages of Native Americans annihilated during the conquest of the West. The wall drawing is part of Baumgarten’s project entitled Carbon, including photographs, four of which belong to the Castello’s collection. As the artist has commented, the subject of Carbon is “the aroma of geography” as embodied by the polyphony of the names of railroad lines. Taken as a whole, the numerous images that make up the series describe the diversity of the American landscape and the abrupt changes to which it has been subjected, implicitly reiterating the history of territorial expansion embedded in the nation’s railroads.

[M.B.]

Artworks