fill in according to your own conceptions, the graphic experience
of tomma wember, paul wember and johannes cladders

curated by Tina Merz


Between 1967 and 1978, Johannes Cladders, director of the Städtisches Museum Mönchengladbach in Germany, used the museum's temporary space, a four-bedroom house, with inventive strategies to get his work seen, often making use of a graphic territory. He developed catalogue-boxes, not as a form of documentation or representation of the works on display, but as a printed laboratory space, where the activities of the artist, curator and designer intersect and juxtapose. He projected the museum he directed outside its walls, making a virtue of its precariousness. Cladders, who was based in Mönchengladbach, a peripheral city, and aware of his limited space, his house-museum, turned the catalogue-boxes into a portable, mobile exhibition that could circulate around the world. There will be 35 editions at all, where he has worked together with several of the artists he has exhibited in the catalogue-box process, among them: Joseph Beuys, Robert Filliou and George Brecht, Hanne Darboven, Hans Hollein, stanley brouwn, Daniel Buren, Marcel Broodthaers, Lawrence Weiner, Braco Dimitrijevic, James Lee Byars, Jannis Kounellis, among others.

The typical biographical presentations of the artists, a list of individual exhibitions or a guide to the works on show are not common in the Cladders boxes. The usual catalogue-document procedure is replaced by the circulation of the work itself, establishing a great deal of autonomy from the exhibition that determined its origin and pretext. With this concept, Cladders is not alone; The concept of an exhibition as a publication derives from curatorial practices of the 1960s and 70s, when artists, curators and gallery owners experimented with different viable means of making an exhibition, with the intention of re-situating art and its relationship with people. Duchamp's La Boîte-en-valise is certainly an early milestone to this, since the 1950th the museum directors Willem Sandberg (Amsterdam), Pontús Hultén (Stockholm) and Paul Wember (Krefeld) had been working on such concepts in a lively exchange, the later experiments of the gallerist Seth Siegelaub in New York should also be mentioned here.

Paul Wember in nearby Krefeld directed the Museums between 1947 and 1975 and Cladders had been his assistant for almost ten years. Since 1954 Wember published catalogs for exhibitions of Joan Miró, Berto Lardera, Jean Tinguely, Yves Klein, Alberto Burri, Robert Rauschenberg, Marcel Duchamp, Arman, Cy Twombly, and others which had facsimile-like covers, or as an increase of this an object-like quality, like Armans’ form 1965, which can be converted into a Poubelle, so the catalog takes on the format of a garbage bag.

Between 1969 and 1975 - after a necessary closure of the museums for renovation - a new catalog concept in loose-leaf binder format (Ringbücher) was implemented in Krefeld. Unlike the handling with the catalogue-boxes, which happened naturally due to their format, as boxes are made for storing, in Krefeld the binders were conceived as participatory works: whoever bought them could add their own notes and documents to the catalogue. Artists participating in this period included Jan Dibbets, Richard Long, Franz Erhard Walther, Timm Ullrichs, Christo, Haus Rucker Co., Diter Rot, Hans Haacke, Joseph Beuys, among others. The museum's binder no. 1 (there will be 12) is the catalog for “When attitudes become form”, a touring exhibition organized by Harald Szeemann for the Kunsthalle Bern.The Krefeld version of this catalog has a significant difenrence: an invitation to make personal additions and the pages could be rearranged by the reader. The coordinates are given as follows:

“The visitor to the exhibition or the owner of the binder must fill it in according to their own conceptions. Invitations to the exhibition and other museum information also appear in the same format and are perforated so that they can be filed. By filling in the pages, two things happen: 1. the visitor becomes the author of their own binder. 2. everything related to an exhibition, from the invitation to the opening photo and the newspaper article, remains in one place. As documentation is our goal in all exhibitions, the publication of a catalogue is only done after or, at the very least, during the exhibition.”

For Paul Wember in Krefeld, it was a fortunate coincidence that, from 1955 onwards he had in addition to the Kaiser Wilhelm Museum a villa built by Mies van der Rohe, the Museum Haus Lange, at his disposal for exhibitions. This space had been made available to the city by industrialists on the condition that only contemporary art should be exhibited there. This was in line with Paul Wember's political ideology, which was clearly marked by his time: the destruction and intellectual devastation after the Second World War was a driving force behind his decision to create new paths through art. The exhibitions were held on the ground floor, while the director, his wife, Tomma Wember, and their seven children lived on the floor above.

Tomma Wember made significant contribution to the development of the early Krefeld catalogs, and the concept of the ring binders certainly bears clear signs of her signature. She brought a sensitivity and graphic interaction that came directly from her own artistic work. Letters, words, the page and the book were fundamental elements of her work. Her work is situated between concrete poetry, happening, actions and literature. In a letter to Diter Rot, Daniel Spoerri says: “Tomma Wember writes poems for groups that should be read together, like a deck of cards, with certain freedoms that everyone has”. The atmosphere of conviviality and exchange with artists established at the Museum Haus Lange certainly influenced her work. And vice versa: the decades of intensive collaboration with Paul Wember were characterized by mutual enrichment, so that many of her ideas could also flow into the museum.

In a retrospective analysis, art historian Katerina Vatsella groups Tomma's work into a few main axes. Her beginnings, in the early 60s, are dedicated to linguistic experimentation, scores for saying consonants, syllables or simple words. Saying your own name, saying someone else's name. And in the next stage, she combines these articulations with simple actions: shaking hands, walking, eating and drinking, being silent together. For these actions, she draws some characteristic instruction signs (as you can see on the back of this poster) and aligns all the elements according to her sense of sound and rhythmic dynamics. Most of these instructions and games are composed for small groups, some for an individual experience. And other works are site-specific: on certain stairs, on the beach, on the grass. The 1970s and 80s were marked by the invention of different book formats to be read simultaneously by more than one reader.

Tomma Galonska, theater artist and daughter of Tomma Wember, reflects on her artist mother, and says that she sought to create patterns of communication, with the world and the people around her, with the person next to her, with nature, with everyday life. Connecting with the world, not describing it. In relation to her work, it can be said that through the combination of language and action scenarios, she sought to build a new space for expression. And in her games, there was no idea of winners or losers. Her guiding thread is shared action, shared experience. In her reading concepts, everything, including the turning of pages, becomes an element of shared action.

However, all these works were created and circulated in a life context: As an artist she did have a few public appearances since the early 60th, but more often her audience was made up of the artist-friends of the family, and her children were almost always the first to try out the game-works. Tomma's artistic recognition among a wider public would only come at the age of 83, as a result of her meeting with Katerina Vatsella, who discovered Tomma Wembers work through her doctoral research about the Edition MAT and the history of the multiple. Resulting in an exhibition she organized in 2002 at Kunsthalle Bremen.

And so, a circle is drawn, the principle of shared action is mirrored in the many catalogue-boxes and binders, which, become a kind of archive, with the addition of other works or information about the artists. One example is Hanne Darboven's catalog box in this exhibition, where I found: bulletin no. 28, a work by the artist at the invitation of the Art & Project project; an exhibition invitation; a newspaper clipping; a sachet of sugar from the “Darboven Kaffee” brand. The same box/binder is always different, some through additions, others through subtractions, transformed by the hands that once held it.

These graphic experiences allow us to imagine the museum in a different way. They allow us to “make the existing visible”, as in Manzoni's transparent box. How a box/binder, which in its definition a closed thing, reveals itself to be an immensity. They expose dimensions of the director-curator-designer's work that are not revealed by the museum-museum. For example, during my on-site research, I found a whole set of graphic proposals belonging to the Krefeld museums, which were separated, distributed among the hundreds of folders in the moraes-barbosa collection, it is a present body not seen, perhaps like walking through cosmic rays by stanley brouwn.

In these actions, in these catalogs that are proposed as archives, already conceptually and as a principle, reality is not the abstraction of its existence, but a reality that “opposes what has been considered a museum”. Paul Wember, in a speech about the future of museums in the early 1960s, said: “What we have done and are doing so far always presupposes that we present something to the public, through words and images, and with this we want to achieve that they interpret exactly what we guide them to. But it would be necessary to find a way for the audience to find something on their own, simultaneously.” As in Broodthaers' catalogue-box, when something appears to be the work, it escapes, and allows it to be its opposite, one box is four, and four is one. An “anti-museum”, the result of reworking the art / life equation, which does not seek to exhaust the possibilities and find the way out of a labyrinth, but only to let itself be carried away by art and life.

June 15th to August 17th 2024
Wed to Fri, from 1 pm to 7pm
Saturdays 11am to 7pm 19h
Entrada gratuita


Travessa Dona Paula, 120
São Paulo - SP