Ulrike Rosenbach

Priska Pasquer, Cologne, Germany

Two prints show Elvis Presley as captured in Andy Warhol’s ‘Double Elvis’ silkscreens (1963): feet apart, Colt gun drawn. But these are not works by Warhol. Superimposed over this picture, we see the twofold likeness of a woman identically dressed: feet apart, Colt gun drawn. The prints are a new edition of Art is a Criminal Action, a work originally made in 1969 by the German artist Ulrike Rosenbach.

Who is Ulrike Rosenbach? Although barely known to younger audiences, her work featured twice at documenta (1977 and 1987) and at the Venice Biennale (1980 and 1984). She was also included in the early feminist art exhibition ‘1000 Miles from Here’, curated by Lucy Lippard in 1973. From 1964 to 1972 she was a student of Joseph Beuys at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, where she engaged with feminist ideas from the outset – hence the title of this exhibition, ‘Art Meets Feminism No. 1’. In recent decades, however, such declarations have hardly been career-enhancing Rosenbach disappeared from public view.

img_0639.jpg

Ulrike Rosenbach, Zeichenhaube, 1973, video still, vintage print, 40 x 30 cm.

Ulrike Rosenbach, Zeichenhaube, 1973, video still, vintage print, 40 x 30 cm. Courtesy: Priska Pasquer, Cologne

As well as being among the pioneers of feminist art, Rosenbach was one of the first video artists, full stop. As early as 1973, she began using a video camera because the medium allowed her to better define her role as a woman artist and subject of her own art. It provided a dynamic way of challenging historical representations of women in European art, where they were often depicted as passive objects put on show by men, representations of the Madonna and of Venus. As John Berger writes in his Ways of Seeing (1972): ‘Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at.’ It thus became Rosenbach’s goal, her obsession even, to claim the active role in her works. In Cologne, where she was living at the time, she also founded the School of Creative Feminism in 1976, a forerunner of later women’s networks.

exhibition_rosenbach-0357.jpg

Exhibition view of Ulrike Rosenbach at Priska Pasquer, 2017. Courtesy: Priska Pasquer, Cologne

Exhibition view of Ulrike Rosenbach at Priska Pasquer, 2017. Courtesy: Priska Pasquer, Cologne

In one of her best-known performances, Glauben Sie nicht, dass ich eine Amazone bin (Don’t Believe I’m an Amazon, 1975), Rosenbach superimposed her own portrait over a projection of the medieval artist Stefan Lochner’s Madonna im Rosenhag (Madonna of the Rose Bower, c.1450), and then shot at this double portrait with fifteen arrows. This allowed her to play both parts: the active attacker and the passive Madonna. The stills and photographs from this performance, included in the Cologne show, are striking in their ambivalence: both passively submissive and active, aggressive and rebellious. Aggressiveness is a recurring theme in Rosenbach’s work, but unlike some other feminist artists who turned their aggressiveness against themselves, hers took a political direction. She saw herself as part of a politically subversive movement – or in her words, Art Is a Criminal Action (1969), the title of the Elvis print.

img_0649.jpg

Ulrike Rosenbach, ‘Art Meets Feminism No.1’, 2017, installation view, Priska Pasquer. Courtesy: Priska Pasquer, Cologne

Ulrike Rosenbach, ‘Art Meets Feminism No.1’, 2017, installation view, Priska Pasquer. Courtesy: Priska Pasquer, Cologne

‘Art Meets Feminism No. 1’ included almost all of Rosenbach’s major works from the 1970s, including her video on Sandro Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus (c.1484), Reflektionen über die Geburt der Venus (Reflections on the Birth of Venus, 1976) and a painstaking reconstruction of the video installation Die einsame Spaziergängerin (The Lonely Walker, 1979), which deals with the myth of solitude in the work of the romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich. The Image of Woman in the Postwar Period (1994), a video wall originally made for the House of History in Bonn, was also reconstructed in a digital version. The original installation consisted of 96 screens playing videos on the roles and representation of women in postwar Germany. As the museum’s director at the time admitted, women as a theme were simply omitted from the museum’s concept. After years of relative obscurity, it was high time for this representative exhibition of Rosenbach’s video performances, photographs and subtle drawings. They have lost nothing of their freshness and topicality today – for better and perhaps, also for worse.

Translated by Nicholas Grindell

Main image: Ulrike Rosenbach, ‘Art Meets Feminism No.1’ installation view, Priska Pasquer. Courtesy: Priska Pasquer, Cologne

Noemi Smolik ist Kritikerin und lebt in Bonn.

Issue 189

First published in Issue 189

September 2017

Most Read

From Linder at the Women’s Library to rare paintings by Serge Charchoune, the exhibitions to see outside of the main...
The argument that ancestral connection offers a natural grasp of the complex histories and aesthetics of African art is...
Ahead of the 52nd edition of Art Cologne, your guide to the best shows to see in the city
‘I'm interested in the voice as author, as witness, as conduit, as ventriloquist’ – the artist speaks...
In further news: a report shows significant class divide in the arts; and Helen Cammock wins Max Mara art prize
A genre more associated with painting, an interest in the environment grounds a number of recent artists’ films 
A new report suggests that women, people from working-class backgrounds and BAME workers all face significant...
In further news: Gillian Ayres (1930-2018); Met appoints Max Hollein as director; Cannes announces official selection
With miart in town, the best art to see across the city – from ghostly apparitions to the many performances across the...
From Grave of the Fireflies to The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, the visionary director grounded fantasy with...
In further news: art dealer and Warhol friend killed in Trump Tower fire; UK arts organizations’s gender pay gap...
Emin threatened ‘to punch her lights out’, she claimed in a recent interview
As the Man Booker Prize debates whether to nix US writers, the ‘homogenized future’ some novelists fear for British...
‘Very often, the answer to why not would be: because you’re a girl’ – for this series, writer Fran Lebowitz speaks...
The artist is also planning a glass fountain of herself spouting her own blood
‘The difficulties are those which remain invisible’: for a new series, writer and curator Andrianna Campbell speaks...
With ‘David Bowie Is’ at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, Glenn Adamson on the evolution of the music video – a genre Bowie...
Under a metahistorical guise, the filmmaking duo enact hidden tyrannies of the contemporary age
The area’s development boom isn’t just in luxury property – the art scene is determined to keep its place too
In further news: Laura Owens’s 356 Mission space closes; John Baldessari guest-stars in The Simpsons
With his fourth plinth commission unveiled in London, the artist talks archaeological magic tricks and ...
When dealing with abuse in the art industry, is it possible to separate the noun ‘work’ from the verb?

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

January - February 2018

frieze magazine

March 2018

frieze magazine

April 2018