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The Model Maker, Airship

Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Excerpt from Haus der Kunst:

EXHIBITION 31.07 – 03.10.82

This exhibition of objects and drawings by Belgian artist Panamarenko (born in 1940, and whose real name is Henri van Herwegen) paid tribute to a young contemporary artist who has distinguished himself since the 1960s with actions and happenings, and who enriched the genre of sculpture with "poetic objects" and later with handmade automobiles aircrafts and planes. The recognition he received for his original work, which navigates the tension between engineering and individual mythology, reached a peak with the artist’s participation in the 1972 and 1977 Documentas, solo exhibitions in international museums, and his first retrospective in Munich.

As curator of the exhibition, Lucius Grisebach explores Panamarenko’s work in his catalogue essay, "Art Is Poetry". In a radical break with the conventions of art, Panamarenko finds his motifs in technology, "but the poetry is something behind the visible ... something atmospheric" this quality is expressed in the "poetic objects" created from 1966 to 1968. These include the "Magnetic Shoes", leather shoes with electromagnets on their soles, embody the idea of walking on the ceiling and the "Swiss Bike", whose different-sized wheels facilitate riding uphill. According to Grisebach, Panamarenko develops his object art in "quiet situations that are isolated and reproduced by artificial means. The focus here is not the technology, not the material or the outward form, but the emotion, vitality, and atmospheric quality."

The atmospheric-like moment is also found in the artist’s flying objects. Panamarenko built his first aircraft in 1967 – a graceful structure made of poles and wires held together with tape, with wings made of paper and Styrofoam and a bicycle drive that is elevated into the air by the physical might. The "Portable Air Transport" (1969), a helicopter with lawn mower engines, "Thunder Cloud" (1971), a small propeller plane with oversized black sails, a one-man aircraft and an automobile model (Prova-Car, 1967) are other visionary works. At the 1972 Documenta, Panamarenko impressed viewers with a zeppelin-like airship, from which a small gondola was suspended (The Aeromodeller, 1969–71) at the 1977 Documenta, he presented his rubber car "Polistes", which already considered aspects such as safety and saving energy.

Grisebach sees the unique poetry of Panamarenko’s work in the fact that the artist as craftsman seriously assumes the role of an inventive pioneer and – with his primitive formations – expresses values that no longer apply today: "The commitment of the individual to his work and its purpose the intelligibility and clarity of technical contexts and the direct, personal experience of progress, adventure ... and mastery of technology by the people". The realization of ideas, the concrete implementation in the form of flight tests is secondary – the planes do not fly, the rocket does not start, the spacecraft remains a model. For the artist, the meaning of the objects lies, rather, in the development and building of these objects in the tension between ideas and work.

These ideas reach their culmination in Panamarenko’s theories – as in "Negentrop": Subtitled "To the stars with flying saucers and magnetic forces", it is based on a vision: "Wouldn’t it be fantastic to find a negentropic reality, one that not only breaks the second law of thermodynamics, but also that of maintaining momentum?" The reflections are formulated in written form, illustrated with sketches and depict the "notion that creative imagination overcomes boundaries and opens up new worlds." Jan Hoet sees the importance of "Panamarenko today" in the meaning of his objects as a metaphor for human existence – objects that "allow us to fly further in our minds than it will ever be possible to do in reality."

The cover of the 180-page hardcover catalogue is illustrated with an image of "Flying Cigar called Flying Tiger I" (1980). The text section contains a foreword by Grisebach and essays by Hector Waterschoot, Phil Mertens, and Jan Hoet. The list of works includes 68 entries, e.g. objects (25) and drawings, as well as 12 color plates and numerous black-and-white photographs. The appendix contains a biography, list of exhibitions and a bibliography.

Image: Panamarenko, The Model Maker, Airship, 1969-71, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Nationalgalerie, Courtesy the artist © bpk Bildagentur, photo Reinhard Friedrich


Panamarenko, Belgian, (1940- )
b. February 5, 1940, Antwerp, Belgium

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