A Buffalonian in Kassel, Germany

Monday, December 1, 2014

A few weeks ago, Mary Helen Miskuly, my friend and Registrar at the Burchfield Penney Art Center, sent me a photo of pristinely packaged paintings by Paul Sharits, ready to be shipped to Germany for a retrospective that would take place in Kassel at the end of November. Having just moved to Göttingen, Germany this past summer, and in the midst of learning a new language and customs, it was a welcome respite to see the striking interior of the art center where I worked for two years and Mary Helen’s familiar face and message. Moreover, seeing Sharits’ name associated with Kassel did more than incite nostalgia for my Buffalo home-space; I realized in an instant that I would be able to go to an exhibition focused on an amazing Buffalo artist—in the town adjacent to where I now live— by simply boarding one of Germany’s swift trains. Needless to say, I was thrilled. After a brief correspondence with Mary Helen, I was soon invited to represent the Burchfield Penney Art Center at the opening reception of Paul Sharits: A Retrospective in Kassel at Fridericianum.

The city was buzzing with anticipation for the holiday season when my husband, Andy, and I arrived. Garland hung over the streets, lights were set on every building, and countless stands ready to serve mulled wine and treats were situated in all the squares. All this to say, it was when I saw the large and beautiful structure that is the Museum Fridericianum and Paul Sharits’ name spray-painted in large, orange colors on one of the immense stone columns supporting the building, that I became aware of what an extraordinary opportunity this was. Andy and I entered the museum space and were immediately greeted, in a white, austere space, by Frozen Film Frame: N:O:T:H:I:N:G. Each piece was suspended from the ceiling, which provided the viewer with an opportunity to approach and engage with the frozen frames, moving around each piece and appreciating their frozen multi-dimensionality. 

The exhibition was immense: it encompassed ten large rooms on two floors. The first several walls slowly introduced the viewer to Sharits’ work, focusing on various Frozen Film Frames. At the end of the room was his arresting work, Dream Displacement. I had already seen this in Buffalo, and it was delightful to see it again, but what made the experience singular was a conversation I had with a German art enthusiast, who pulled me in front of one of the projections to talk to me about the creative and interesting work Sharits employed of splitting frames. I snapped a photo in which we each stand in front of a projector, making one silhouette out of our two shadows.

The complexity and intensity of Sharits’ work gained momentum in each room we entered. Beginning with studies for Frozen Film Frames and moving into his paintings and beautiful and disquieting works depicting an array infected limbs, we also saw, in addition to Dream Displacement: Shutter Interface ;  3rd Degree ; Frozen Film Frames ; T,O,U,C,H,I,N,G, ; Piece Mandala/End War ; Epileptic Seizure Comparison.

The last one, Epileptic Seizure Comparison, left perhaps the most lasting impression. Two vertical squares flashed an array of projected colors while sounds like insects buzzing and pained groans of a man occupied the sonic space. The projector hummed in the dark room. Then, two vertical images flashed sporadically, depicting two convulsing men, while color sequences interrupted the other frames. Andy and I stood in front of the screen for what seemed like an eternity--- waiting to see “how it ended.” The piece, however, was intended to neither provide a beginning nor an ending. The resulting sensation, after viewing the projected light for a duration of time, was a strong sense of disquiet and discomfort (to the point that I had to leave and watch from the next room, to get away from the painful sounds). This immersive environment is what Paul Sharits so masterfully concocts with his art: whether in Buffalo or Kassel or any place in the world, his work pulls the viewer – the participant- out of his or her situation and place and directly into his artistic process.

After touring the exhibition, Andy and I were warmly greeted by the curator, Suzanne Pfeffer, who generously invited us to the opening and reception, as well as staff from the museum, patrons, and art aficionados from all over Germany.

I happily encountered former residents of Buffalo and friends of the Burchfield Penney Art Center when I came across Paul Sharits’ son, Chris, and his lovely wife, Cheri. After seeing the spray-painted letters on the columns in the front of the museum, slowly making our way through the museum space so excellently curated, the evening concluded in a perfect way by discussing Buffalo and, inevitably, the amount of snow they are getting this time of year, with Chris and Cheri. Boarding the last train back to our town, I reflected on the fantastic experience it was to see such an excellent exhibition in Germany, and what an honor it was to be a Buffalonian, this night, in Kassel.