The problem of God

Exhibition in Düsseldorf: The problem of God

The exhibition ‘The Problem of God’ in the K21 Ständehaus in Düsseldorf from 26-09 till 24-01 relates to a fundamental problem of belief: God’s invisibility. It shows how the image-tradition of Christianity as universal cultural and social inheritance has developed further in a secular context.

Christ as symbol of suffering

Foto Vergrootglas
Pavel Büchler, The Problem of God, 2007, gefundenes Buch und Vergrößerungsglas, ca. 20 × 27 × 5 cm, Privatsammlung Bern, © Pavel Büchler

A partly opened book and a magnifying glass that mirrors only one word from the book page: “Invisible”. This work of art is created by the Czech artist Pavel Büchler. Curator Isabelle Marz highlights the conceptual starting point of the exhibition of this work of art. She explains that it is the manifold character and the intelligent power in which it is able to relate -with a sense of humor- to the fundamental problem of belief: God’s invisibility. None of the artists are believers but all of them consider the Christian tradition, stories, art, and in particular the themes of suffering, fear, anxiety, grief, and hope of great importance for modern people. They are fascinated by the invisibility of God and -paradoxically- by God’s visibility in suffering as the son of men. Especially the latter inspires (late)modern artists. It’s hardly impossible to create art about human suffering and neglect the theme and ultimate symbol of it in the history of arts: the crucifixion. The crucified Christ symbolizes two aspects of suffering; on the one hand human vulnerability and on the other hand human cruelty. Art historians speak of an iconographical turn in imaginary in this focus on what human beings really are. A focus on their vulnerability and their capability of suffering. From a care ethical point of view the interest in vulnerability is of great importance. Is this ‘turn’ a known or unknown reaction from artists to a dominant Western culture that preaches power, total autonomy and manufacturability? Are these artists de-masking the myths of control over life? Do they put forward how real life is experienced and evaluated?

Different types of art

These 120 works of arts, most of it created in the last 25 years, are brought together in Düsseldorf. It encompasses paintings, drawings, woodcuts, sculptures, collages and objects and also video- and film art, performances and complex space-, light- and sound installations. Internationally renowned artists are part of it, such as Eija-Liisa Ahtila, Francis Alÿs, Berlinde de Bruyckere, Francis Bacon, Janet Cardiff, Tacita Dean, Marlene Dumas, Harun Farocki, Katharina Fritsch, Kris Martin, Hermann Nitsch, Robert Rauschenberg, James Turrell, and Bill Viola. The exhibition varies from fundamental existential questions to humoristic-critically questioning some aspects of religion and belief and current social themes. An example of a critical approach is an installation of the Chinese-American artist Paul Chan. In a trapezoid of light, shadows of floating objects are visible. At first glance cheerful and playful but then the spectator discovers to his horror people falling down; an awful reminder of the attacks on the Twin Towers.

Collaboration of German bishops and Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen

The rise to the exhibition was the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council. Main initiator of the art project, bishop Friedhelm Hofmann, underlines an important spiritual aspect of the heritage of the Council. The church has to open itself to the modern society and these works of art offer a realistic view on society today. The exhibition is accompanied by a comprehensive program including a two-day international conference on the 27th and 28th of November in cooperation with German bishops. Conservator Malz is reserved about the collaboration with the church. She is critical of the possible annexation of the works of art and the artists by the church and stresses the undoubtedly secular character of the exhibition. These works of arts are absolutely not religiously motivated she proclaims in a newspaper interview. At the same time she is aware of an ongoing interest in religion among modern Western people. Despite church abandonment the last decades people are in search of transcendence and spirituality. One of the reasons of this fascination is, in her view, that it is not a theological discourse. It is a societal, political phenomenon that gets media attention. All things considered the artists show an important aspect of the modern soul in search of meaning in a complex and confusing world.

Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen
K21 Ständehaus Ständehausstraße 1
40217 Düsseldorf (GER)
“The Problem of God”

About the author: Jeannet van de Kamp

Jeannet van de Kamp

Jeannet van de Kamp (1957) has master’s degrees in both Theology and Ethics of Care and is currently a PhD-candidate at the VU-University of Amsterdam. In her thesis she examines, from a care-ethical perspective, how citizen-patients are seen in the context of the upcoming experience economy. More specifically, she examines how ‘patient-experience-central’ market models deal with the concepts of vulnerability and suffering. She works as a freelance pastor and as a consultant at the Dutch Center for Consultation and Expertise (CCE), where she advises in complex care practices.