Public art does not have it easy these days. The era when equestrian statues or monuments communicated unambiguous messages that anyone could interpret is long gone. Contemporary art does not meet with the same attentiveness and the same interest from the heterogeneous circle of observers found in the public space that it receives from a museum-going audience (unless it is a particular spectacular intervention or provocation). In the worst case, it is not perceived at all or only superficially. The situation is somewhat different with Kunst am Bau – literally,“art next to the building”, the phrase still used in Germanspeaking countries for art produced in connection with a building, no matter whether it reveals its impact next to the building, in the building or around the building.This kind of art enters into a dialogue with a very specific use of a building and with a target group that as a rule identifies itself closely with the design of its surroundings and does not like to “imposed upon” by just any old art. As part of the Kunst am Bau programme of the City of Munich – known as QUIVID1 – we have been responsible for projects since the 1990s that no longer have much to do with the traditional concept of Kunst am Bau.The architectural connection is still significant, but the focus of the interest is on the specifics of the places as determined by use and function.A discriminating concept of communication bolsters the conveying of art and thus ensures it is properly perceived. Jenny Holzer‘s monument to Oskar Maria Graf (1996) in the Münchner Literaturhaus, for example, does not make use of the classical conception of the monument – i.e., depicting a person in bronze or stone – but is dedicated instead to the writer’s work.Visitors to the café encounter carefully selected passages of his prose on the bottoms of the cups and plates, on the paper place mats and beer mats and on the leather backs of the benches. His sentences pass by on a scrolling LED sign above the bar. And carved into the stone tables on the terrace are texts by the obstreperous and anarchistic folk poet from Bavaria who died in exile in New York. Occasionally, too, the static conception of art is broken, as when the users of a building themselves become involved in an artwork, as happened in the project WOHER KOLLEGE / WOHIN KOLLEGE (Whence, colleague / Whither, colleague), which Empfangshalle, a pair of artists from Munich, developed for the new eastern depot for the refuse collection department. Colleagues from many nations work together there. It began in 2001 with the question “Where are you from, and what do you see when you think of your homeland?” Twenty-seven employees were willing to participate in this search for identity. During their holidays they travelled in a refuse truck that had been converted into motor to the place that represented home from each of them, whether that be Munich, Kazakh-stan, remote Turkey or Ghana. There they photographed their own image of home-land - with the Munich “refuse mobile” in the foreground or background. Back at home, twenty-seven large-format photographs dating from 2003 on were placed on the sides of their refuse trucks and this mobile exhibition travelled through Munich for two years. A wonderful documentary film that followed the journeys of three of the travellers led to stimulating discussions about problems of migration and identity.

Here we come to the theme of the present publication. Liftarchiv, created by Szuper Gallery for the Munich KVR (District Administration Department)2, is a work of art that sees itself as a commentator on the institution. A tricky task for Munich’s Baureferat (Building Department), which has in fact been commissioned “only” for a building project with art but was suddenly looking at the task of moderating communication on the subject of art for four years.

For the uninitiated, the work of art was scarcely visible at first, as it looked like an ordinary lift in the building’s new entrance hall. Only on closer inspection did the furnishings of the glass cabin of the lift seem odd. And at the very latest when the visitor tries to press a button for a floor, the confusion manifests itself. A special service key is required to take the lift to the ground floor, and that was done only when the exhibition was changed or for relevant events.

The very first video installation, Nirvana, led to complaints from the staff. From that point on, we met regularly with colleagues from the KVR to agree on the programmes and stood ‘at the ready’ during openings and changes in the programme.

As things developed, it proved helpful to put up an informational sign on the art project, especially for citizens who came to the KVR seeking advice.

Szuper Gallery’s calculation functioned perfectly in the balance between an apparent harmlessness and conflict. Staff and management defended themselves when they felt discriminated again; in two cases they even forced the current project to be removed. And if we are honest, it must be said that such reactions were presumably intended by the artists.

Monica Pemler is Director of the QUIVID Team at the Baureferat of the city of Munich

  1. The name QUIVID was the creation of the Berlin artist Adin Dricke and his Word Company. Additional information may be found on the QUIVID home page: 

  2. The Kreisverwaltungsreferat is responsible for security, order, commerce and citizenship matters (eg. naturalisation, citizenship, passports, residence permits etc.).