Deutsche Guggenheim

Wangechi Mutu: My Dirty Little Heaven

30 Apr - 13 Jun 2010

Wangechi Mutu
The Bride who married a Camel's head, 2009
Mixed media, ink, collage on Mylar, 42 x 30 inch
Photo: Mathias Schormann and Susanne Vielmetter
© Wangechi Mutu and Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects
Wangechi Mutu’s installation at the Deutsche Guggenheim is the first exhibition in Deutsche Bank’s new “Artist of the Year” program.

The artist, who was born in Kenya in 1972 and currently lives in New York, was selected on the recom- mendation of the Deutsche Bank Global Art Advisory Council, comprised of the curators Okwui Enwezor, Hou Hanru, Udo Kittelmann, and Nancy Spector. The selection of Wangechi Mutu as “Artist of the Year 2010” reflects equally important focuses of Deutsche Bank’s art activities: internationalism, diversity and a connection between artistic themes and social issues. Unlike many other prizes, the “Artist of the Year” award does not include prize money, but is firmly embedded in Deutsche Bank’s art program, with which the bank has made contemporary art accessible to the public worldwide for 30 years. When the bank promotes young artists, it is not a matter of one-off financial support, but of conveying new and noteworthy artistic positions to a wide public and providing long-term impetus to the artist’s career. Therefore, the “Artist of the Year” is presented in a solo exhibition at the Deutsche Guggenheim. In addition, a selection of the artist’s works is purchased for the Deutsche Bank Collection. The focus is on young artists who have already amassed an unmistakable and extraordinary oeuvre, in which works on paper or photography play an important role. In 2010, moreover, works by Mutu can be seen on a floor devoted to the artist as part of the new art concept for the modernized towers of Deutsche Bank’s Frankfurt headquarters.

For her solo exhibition, Mutu transformed the Deutsche Guggenheim into a suggestive environment which recalls both a protective cocoon and the improvised buildings found in Shanty Towns. She built organic-looking sculptural con- structions from simple means such as gray, felt-like blankets made of recycled materials or brown parcel tape. The creations cover walls and floors of the exhibition hall and at the same time provide the frame- work and background for Mutu’s collages and her new video work “Mud Fountain.”

Wangechi Mutu’s installation is inspired by her memories of Berlin, among other things. During the period when she was attending a boarding school in Wales, Mutu visited Berlin as a member of a gospel choir shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Her impressions of the material discrepancies between East and West Berlin, as well as of the citizens of the former GDR’s tremendous desire for products which they had known hitherto only from TV and which they seemed to worship like fetishes, were an important point of departure for the project at the Deutsche Guggenheim.

Mutu counters the manifest idea that she is perhaps an “African” artist who draws on the culture of her home continent in her work with a multiperspectival cosmos. The alienation and uprooting in her images and installations is obvious. She seems to be less interested in reflecting on original cultural identity than in providing a vision of a future in which more and more people, as migrants and permanent travelers, are becoming part of the “AlieNation.” In her view, cultural identity is no longer determined by geographical origins, ancestry or biological disposition, but is increasingly becoming a hybrid construct that people can determine and change themselves. In Mutu’s work, the conceptual appropriation of images and her reflection on them are related to a physical experience: “I think one of the things about being an artist is that your brain is in every part of your body that you use to create.” In her collages, Mutu transforms images of an alienated world into something very distinctive by working with them, by “processing” them as tangible material into new creations. Although she engages with Baudrillard’s postmodern idea that it is impossible to distinguish between original and copy, between model and depiction, between reality and imagination, from trivial pictures reproduced thousandfold she creates originals bearing her unique artistic style, which are “auratically” charged due to the very individual and time-con-suming work process—through thoughts, ideas, and associations that she incorporates in the work.

“My Dirty Little Heaven” can be likened to a transformer which passes this energy on to visitors— by means of visual, tactile, or even olfactory stimuli, which in turn trigger associations, memories, and fantasies. The White Cube as a neutral, pure space in which art can be viewed detached from everyday realities embodies, as a symbol of western modern art, a desire for symmetry, rationality, and enlightenment. Mutu opposes this notion with her “little dirty heaven,” an improvised, organic, pieced-together architecture which occupies the space, “contaminates” it, so to speak. The architecture suggests that one can ensconce oneself provisionally in this cool construction, can create a home, warmth, one’s own “heaven.” It is a space whose walls are plastered with dreams and longings, in which almost everything is a substitute for something that one cannot own or be. Liquid drips from upside-down bottles suspended from the ceiling slowly but steadily. The enameled metal bowls which catch it are reminiscent of mass feeding or look as though they are there to collect water dripping through a leaky roof. The tables could also be stretchers for wounded people or biers for corpses. While the gray blankets hanging in front of the walls and windows can be viewed as a Beuysian metaphor for warmth and protection, they relate to very real disasters and states of emergency.

With their masses of (re)produced images and materials, Mutu’s collages and installations address the issue of waste: the daily overload of media pictures, consumerism, ruthless exploitation of natural, economic, and spiritual resources, a world in which bodies have become commodities. She counters these phenomena with a plea for an alternative, more human economy. The attempt to develop this economy is an integral part of her artistic practice and her general thinking: “I have a theory that there’s an incredible waste of resources, imagination, and ideas—although they are right in front of us. Often you find them in places you’d least expect: in areas with incredible poverty, with people who seem to be the least educated, but who are actually quite ingenious because they’re still alive despite the con- ditions they live in. In a way, my exhibition is an homage to their systems, to their way of working, to this kind of tenacity and ingenuity.”

Artist of the Year
With the “Artist of the Year” award, Deutsche Bank is opening a new chapter in its commitment to art. Based on a recommendation by Deutsche Bank’s Global Art Advisory Council which includes internationally renowned curators Okwui Enwezor, Hou Hanru, Udo Kittelmann, and Nancy Spector, the bank honors a young artist who has already amassed an unmistakable and extraordinary oeuvre, in which works on paper or photography play an important role. The prize was awarded for the first time this year—“Artist of the Year 2010” is Wangechi Mutu. The prize is not based on a financial reward, but positioned as an integral part of Deutsche Bank’s art program that has been opening up the world of contemporary art to the public for the last thirty years—through Deutsche Bank’s own substantial collection, its exhibitions, and its joint projects with partners. Each “Artist of the Year” will be featured in a large solo exhibition at the Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin, which will subsequently move on to other international institutions. An exclusive print edition designed by the artist and a catalog will appear concurrently with the exhibition. In addition, a selection of the artist’s works on paper will be acquired for the Deutsche Bank Collection. More information can be found in the online art magazine at

Tags: Okwui Enwezor, Wangechi Mutu