Frank Serge Lehmann in Brașov. “Between Two Worlds. The Privilege of Free Representation”

February 06, 2023 | Cosmina Marcela OLTEAN ArtPage

Recently, artist Frank Serge Lehmann presented a solo show in Brașov, an exhibition called “Between Two Worlds. The Privilege of Free Representation”, curated by Alexandra Ilnițchi-Ardelean. That was a premiere in Brașov and in Romania, pointed out the curator.

Art is a necessity. Creating art stands for some artists right at the bottom of Maslow’s pyramid. Others have found their vocation in other professions; in such cases, art rises at the top of their needs as a distinct form of self-fulfillment. Frank Serge Lehmann belongs to the latter category.

The idea behind a work of art is an essential component of conceptual art, alongside contemporary issues and the philosophy of art. This creative approach is sustained by thorough research, documentation and the continuous exchange of ideas between individuals. Aesthetics and craftsmanship are not essential parts of the final work, although Lehmann's works of art form a coherent ensemble. Concepts such as the ephemerality of art, the condition of the artist, the status of art for the individual and then within the community, censorship, autonomy – these are all challenged, but there’s no universal answer and the artist refrains from providing it”, says the curator.

Lehmann's creative process integrates the act of collecting: quotes, ready-made objects, automatic machines or metal pieces of furniture. These may spark revelations that lead to works of art. He gives them new narrative layers. Machines dating from the 1950s and 1960s are brought into the present-day through interventions inspired by the world of electronics, digital culture and globalized communications, making Lehmann a man of his time.

Conveyed as questions or affirmations, the quotes anchor the message. Contradictions emerge, while changing perceptions and opinions are reflected throughout the installations. Lehmann treats difficult topics with humor, wit and irony, and the seeming lightness divulges his privileged status.

The exhibition of the artist Frank Serge Lehmann is a welcome premiere in Brașov and in Romania. His artworks are highly suggestive in terms of the dialogue they instigate regarding the status of artists and of the arts. The concepts he works with give us a lot to ponder upon and they represent an anchor in the civilized and developed society we are building, that is a society in which artistic creation is an integral part”. (Alexandra Ilnițchi-Ardelean)

The exhibited artworks, explained by the curator:

ARS INFINITA - 2016, Installation

Is art infinite? Do works of art really stand the test of time?

The panes of crown glass come from a Berlin villa dating from the 1850s. They survived the two world wars in their original unrestored state. In many old towns this kind of glass can still be found today.

Blown glass panes were extremely fragile, so they were framed with lead edgings for reinforcement and stability.

Is art therefore fragile and in need of reinforcement?

Compared to the 19th century, the demands on artists and their creations are very different now. The installation includes literary and newspaper quotations about the nature of the arts. The texts, specifically selected by the artist for this installation, date from periods spanning more than two thousand years of history.

The artist is keen on working with historically charged objects, giving his works an additional dimension, which is intrinsic to the materials he uses.

ONE-DOLLAR ART - 2017, Floor installation

How much is art worth? Do artworks which have no meaning exist and are therefore worthless? The artist’s response is that some art is available for a dollar.

The framed pictures and paintings on canvas within the installation bear witness to this. These are creations purchased by Lehmann for one US dollar each. Many artists dream of fame and wealth. So, how can an original work of art end up on the worthless one-dollar pile?

How did it get there?

Surely, every image was once created with great devotion, inspiration and emotional investment.

The one-dollar works are contained in six identical delivery boxes from the 1920s and 1930s. Owing to the blackened dark wood and the sturdy iron fittings, the boxes have an almost eerie quality about them. What were they used for? What was transported in these boxes? Maybe ancient treasures, or forbidden contraband hidden by smugglers?

ART & ETERNITY - 2017, Floor installation, 3 pinball machines

Three pinball machines from the 1950s are each adorned with three artificial roses coated in concrete. They are set in stone for eternity. In contrast to the old equipment, the roses do not change and their age cannot be determined.

Are they immortal?

Probably not. Is art immortal? Probably not.

However, if we believe the quotations on the machines, attributed to the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates, art endures for eternity.

In reality, it is often the case that works of art are thrown away because nobody wants them, because they cannot be sold, because they end up worthless or because the artist capitulates and walks away.

Is art for all eternity? Is this wishful thinking or is it a reality?

ARTIST & ENLIGHTENMENT - 2017, Installation

Artists are seismographs of our society.

Often artists capture and reflect issues that can only be identified in retrospective. They highlight and question a wide variety of events at a time when the general public cannot yet “see” them.

“Artists are the first to see the light.”

Although the bust would be visible through the holes of the closed cabinet, with no door to protect it, it is deprived of its security and exposed. The only visible protection is provided by the lenses of the goggles covering the eyes. They shield the artist from the chill of criticism, from certain realities which are conveniently glossed over, allowing the creative process to continue, even under the glare of the spotlight, which is both desirable and unpleasant.

Do artists provide enlightenment by virtue of their ability to see? Or are they lighting technicians, knowing precisely where to put the spotlight?

VOICE OF ART - 2017, Installation

Are artists free to express themselves?

Is there any demand in the art market for politically or socially uncomfortable art, unless it has already been hyped, or the author is well established? How is the artist’s pictorial language affected by his or her economic or personal situation?

Censorship still exists today.

The artist expresses himself through imagery, and physical obstacles are rendered futile. Visual art maintains its voice and resonance even without the “new” means of communication. But is the artist free in his expression if his works are not visually shocking? Does the message come across even without the shock value?

The title of the installation is also an ironic reference to a contemporary phenomenon, related to the desire to communicate and the desire to be the center of attention: the numerous casting shows around the globe, such as The Voice of Germany, in which vocal talents sometimes end up being ridiculed and ruthlessly humiliated in the name of mass entertainment. Do both desires serve as a lure, presenting an illusory freedom, only to punish whoever takes the bait?

ART & FREEDOM - 2017, Installation

Is the artist really free?

Christoph Schlingensief used the saying “Art sets you free” in a project staged in Zurich in 2001. On a button, which he handed out to passers-by, it said, “Schlingensief says: Art sets you free!” The politically provocative artist referred to the misleading inscription above the entry into the Auschwitz concentration camp, which read “Work sets you free.”

Free from what?

While the content of the mesh cabinet is clearly visible, the setting resembles a cage. The work does not transmit the idea of freedom—the inhabitants are clearly locked up. Deprived of all individuality, they are all identical and mute, despite the hot wax which once flowed over them. Where is their cry for freedom? We cannot hear it, but we can imagine it.

The installation can symbolize Lehmann’s desire to express himself as an artist, free from social, political, monetary and economic constraints. Are all artists in the same position? Thoughts cannot be locked up. Artworks are visualized thoughts. Art doesn’t set you free; art IS free.

JOY OF ART - 2017, Installation

How is the joy of art manifested?

This is experienced, above all, by the mediator – the artist, producer, or curator – and the consumers: the exhibition-goers and public and private collectors.

Most people associate joy with colors, exuberance, and aesthetically “beautiful” things or motifs. Lehmann’s version consists of an almost eerie metal locker from World War II. From the open perforated metal door protrudes a military coat neatly hung. As indicated by the coat of arms, the gray-green sergeant’s cape with the corresponding stripes is Swiss Army issue. On the whole, it is a sad or melancholy picture of joy, which cannot be deciphered at first glance.

Lehmann also raises the question of the artist’s freedom. If the military coat stands for the classic apron of a painter who is waiting for its master, then the oppressive locker would be synonymous with the bondage of the artist.

Is the artist taking a creative break? Or is he lacking inspiration? Has he given up or is he about to return?

Știri și povești din lumea artei, a jurnalismului și turismului cultural. Recenzii de expoziții, prezentări de film și file de călătorie.

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