What you see is not what you get
10.06.2022 – 16.07.2022
For her solo exhibition entitled “What you see is not what you get”, Karin Sander has gathered different works from her oeuvre and from these she has curated 22 exhibitions. Karin Sander has carefully packed these particular, individual selections into transport crates and then closed them; the crates offer protection and sometimes contain instructions regarding the various, small- and large-format art works they hold. The exhibits are well kept in their transport crates, present in the gallery space but eluding visibility. Each transport box has its own size, bears its unique title, lists the materials used in the works, and contains what goes with the installation of the works and the respective exhibition.
The tension between visibility and presence is also a motif of the new augmented reality exhibition conceived by Karin Sander. Visitors can use AR glasses to visit other exhibitions in the gallery virtually. For this piece, she had works 3D scanned and virtually installed on the walls. This visible, albeit in AR, presentation provides a counterpoint to the 22 physically present exhibitions – it lets visitors see works that are not physically present, while the works in the shipping crates are present but not visible. Thus, visual information meets augmented reality, the narrative of physical and conceptual content superimposed on the presence of augmented reality: “What you see is not what you get”.
What you see is not what you get
From 1936 onwards, Marcel Duchamp worked on portable exhibitions. His "La Boite-en-valise", finally produced in 300 copies, contained up to 83 objects - photographic reproductions of his works, glass objects and miniature models of his Readymades. The year 1936 immediately brings to mind a time when many people were forced to emigrate or flee - a museum fit for suitcases seems like a reminiscence of a culture that is just passing away, a last melancholic gesture to a culture industry that could not save yesterday's world from destruction either.
When Karin Sander now shows an exhibition of differently sized art transport crates, each containing an unequal number of her works, from which a smaller or larger exhibition could be made, in times of the return of war and imperialism and the cumulative destruction of the hopes for the future of liberal societies, the thought of Duchamp's suitcase museums comes to mind. Sander's idea of the boxes, however, has more to do with the time before the war in Europe: During the lockdowns in the wake of the Corona pandemic, the culture industry shifted very much to the net, apart from brief analogue interruptions, which pushed the arts into a state of potentiality. Their habitat was now not the museum or the gallery, but the studio and the box. I know what I'm talking about. An elaborate museum exhibition I curated was closed shortly after it opened because of lockdown. Almost no one saw it, which was kind of a shame, but which I actually like conceptually. The exhibition as potential.
Sander's works have always had to do with the relationship of the visible to the invisible and - as in her polished wall pieces - unfolded a great aesthetic power in this. When she now packs works that cannot be seen in varying numbers into boxes of different sizes, she plays precisely with this relationship. If one buys such a box, it is actually an attractive art market speculation object - for it may well be that the market value of the packed works clearly exceeds the purchase price, indeed may be many times the price. At the same time, the box can travel if necessary; smart buyers will not have removed the works and installed them - as a potential, they are much more practical to store, and certainly safer.
Moreover, the core characteristic of the autonomous artwork, not revealing what its secret is, remains preserved if the box is never opened. The collection in question is what it could be. Just as in the famous quantum-theoretical thought experiment with the cat locked in a box together with a radioactive particle with an unknown decay time, it is impossible to say whether it is dead or alive until you open the box. The point of Erwin Schrödinger's reasoning, however, is not that one does not know whether the cat is dead or alive, but that, epistemologically speaking, it is only dead or alive when one opens the box. Before that, Schrödinger says, its existence is "smeared" in a state beyond ascertainable facts.
Thus the work that one of Sander's boxes contains also only comes into being at the moment of opening. As long as the box remains closed, it is completely undecidable what it contains, indeed whether it contains anything that would be defined as art at all. Perhaps it is nothing. Or something completely different. Or yet - art?
But don't worry too much about it. Just buy one of these boxes, it simply can't be wrong. If only because the entire installation of these formally very precise and beautiful standard transport containers in the Esther Schipper Gallery, consisting of a number of 22 boxes, would be an extremely impressive spatial work if none of these boxes contained even the slightest thing.
But since this is not the case and an unlimited amount of potentiality of multi-layered individual works by Sander slumbers inside the boxes, this exhibition is at the same time a wonderfully light and simple reflection on the question of the relationship between form and content, which has shaped the entire history of art since the first people made pictures.
What you see is therefore not at all exhausted here in what you get. This work by Sander is, in sum, so perfect that one has to ask oneself whether anything can come after it. But that is, after all, the best question one can come up with after an exhibition.
Text: Harald Welzer