Letter to Bice (Regarding Wirtschaftslandschaft Davos) – (2001)

Dear Bice[1],

Here are just a few sentences about my plan for our exhibit on the occasion of the art prize[2] at the Kunsthaus. The title will be Wirtschaftslandschaft Davos [Economic Landscape Davos] or something similar. A temporary exhibit will be set up in the Hall of German Painters to explain the economic landscape of Davos, that is, it is to be a didactic parish-hall exhibit. Based on a large number of documents, the exhibit will attempt to “explain” exactly what has happened to the Davos landscape ever since it was taken hostage by the World Economic Forum. That is, the completely absurd spectacle that now takes place each winter when this tourist town, in the most beautiful natural setting and in the deepest snow, the Davos landscape, is transformed into a police-and-war zone that is networked and transmitted globally. Where “peaceful” citizens are afraid to walk the streets and lock their doors day and night; where paranoia reigns because of purported “thugs” and “rowdies”; where for years citizens dutifully approved conference center expansions, worrying about the well-being of the landscape, and where, in February, the same good citizens prefer to flee to the lowlands because of the emergency conditions that pertain. I want to show that Davos is no longer known for the sun, the snow, for Parsenn, Pischa, and Jakobshorn, or for Kirchner and his museum, for Thomas Mann, or even for Wilhelm Gustloff and his just end in the blue houses.[3] Davos is now known globally only as the late-capitalist meeting place of the superpowerful and the stinking rich. I want to show all this shit, the links between the sled runs, the Davos hockey club, between Bill Gates and the local historical museum, between Laurent Fabius and the village police, who now hunt terrorists instead of jamming parking tickets under the windshield wipers of illegally parked limousines from Germany. The marvelous winter landscape, blue sky, sunshine, and undisturbed snow and black-uniformed special police armed to the teeth who encircle and fortify the landscape. The little red RhB train that wends its way through the winter forest and the guests flown in by helicopter in their winter suits or in casual wear next to the fireplace. All of these impenetrable combinations of things that do not belong together and are therefore linked from now on; that needs to be “explained.” And then the role of Switzerland’s direct democracy, which, on the one hand made the perverse possible (referendum on communal infrastructure), and, on the other, equally perversely institutes bans (demonstrations against the Forum).

Concretely, I intend to set up a large table in the middle of the space; on the table is a “model of the Davos landscape in winter,” done quick and dirty. With a red Märklin RhB train, with mountains and houses, with the Hotel Schatzalp and the Kirchner Museum, convention center, and other strategic locations in this Alpine town. With models of mountain trains and ski trails. Distributed across the landscape are miniature policemen and soldiers with tanks and helicopters and military aircraft, completely exaggerated, who secure the place and fortify it with barbed wire and machine gun positions. A war landscape in a most lovely tourist-miniature. Two televisions broadcast constant weather updates as if nothing were happening, while on the information console opposite the model table, information of all kinds can be read about the Kirchner Museum and the Hotel Schatzalp. The information consoles have the elongated shape of the landscape orientation tables in natural settings, where one can spot the names of the mountains. They are covered with transparent plastic. The entire exhibit is surrounded by free-standing panels of blue plastic, approximately two and a half meters high. Neon tubes or spotlights at regular intervals illuminate the model from above—very garish and disturbing. The entrance is made of plastic that has to be pushed open as in a circus tent. On the one hand, the blue plastic represents the sky; on the other, it forms a boundary with the work of the German artists that can, however, still be seen behind it. The sculptures should also remain in the space; they can be moved to the side, but I think that they are already pretty much located at the perimeter. The explanation panel stands at the entrance on the left and “explains” the model; farther toward the back of the space is the Kirchner platform. This is a platform covered with red plastic on which original paintings and sculptures by Kirchner are exhibited. The original works are displayed like prizes at the county fair shooting gallery. The original works are set up on steps. The exhibition should have something “studenty” about it, that is, done with the energy, with the utopian power that people have when the information, the exhibiting, and the desire to explain and to appear in public are more important than the design of the exhibition itself. The whole thing should be dense and bright, inexplicable and illogical. The Wirtschaftslandschaft Davos is irreparably INCURABLE.

Siegfried Kracauer[4]: The more incorrectly they present the surface of things, the more correct they become and the more clearly they mirror the secret mechanism of society.

Paris, April 27, 2001

[Translated from German by Kenneth Kronenberg.]

  1. Bice Curiger, curator of the Kunsthaus Zürich.
  2. Hirschhorn received the 1999 Preis für Junge Schweizer Kunst, juried by Zürcher Kunstgesellschaft.
  3. The Parsenn, Pischa, and Jakobshorn mountains are renowned sites for winter sports. Ernst Kirchner, still recovering from the mental breakdown prompted by the First World War, settled in Davos in 1917. The alpine landscape became a recurrent motif in his paintings. The Ernst Kirchner Museum Davos is devoted to his work. Thomas Mann’s monumental novel, The Magic Mountain, is set in a sanatorium in Davos. He drew some inspiration from his visits to his wife, who convalesced at the Waldsanatorium, Davos, in 1912. Wilhelm Gustloff was a key Nazi figure in Switzerland, founding the Landesgruppe Schweiz der NSDAP in Davos in 1932. He was assassinated in 1936 in one of the “Blue Houses,” an ensemble of buildings designed by architect Karl Overhoff.
  4. Siegfried Kracauer (1889 – 1966), German writer, cultural critic, and film theorist. The passage quoted appears in Kracauer’s essay, “The Little Shopgirls Go to the Movies” (1927).