Thomas Hirschhorn at Stalingrad Station (2001)

R.J. Preece
artdesigncafé - art | 15 September 2009
This review first appeared in Sculpture magazine, 20(10), pp. 77-8 in 2001.

Thomas Hirschhorn at Stalingrad Station

Swiss-born, Paris-resident Thomas Hirschhorn recently exhibited his temporary installation Skulptur Sortier Station (Sculpture Sorting Station) in a pedestrian zone surrounded by four roads, an overhead train, and an underground subway. Originally realized in a slightly different form for the City of Münster’s Sculpture Project in 1997, the work entered the Centre Pompidou’s collection in 1999. Its appearance at Stalingrad Station marked the first time that the installation was shown in Paris. It was exhibited after Hirschhorn’s exhibition Pole-Self at the Centre Pompidou, which resulted from his winning the new Marcel Duchamp Prize (approximately $30,000), awarded by the Association for the International Diffusion of French Art (ADIAF).

Not spatially interactive, Skulptur Sortier Station forced viewers to peer through 10 display windows, five in a row, back to back, filled with wood, cardboard, adhesive tape, and aluminum foil. The route was not predetermined, but because of the installation’s layout, four possible paths predominated. The “first” display contained tinfoil and monumental cut-out silver spoons from print media, while sinister-looking icicle forms hung from above and emerged from below. In the second, a young woman on video bobbed her head with some sort of attachment (perhaps an intravenous apparatus?). Art as the explicit subject was not immune: the third display contained a video that roughly pans around a work of modern outdoor sculpture. Other displays included a video of a repetitive act— placing empty Marlboro cigarette packs on top of each other.

Skulptur Sortier Station contained a great many references to historical, modern, and contemporary sculpture, as well as product and logo design. While it could generally be agreed that consumerism and capitalism are an issue within the work— based on its materials, subjects, and juxtapositions— what resulted beyond that was uncertain. Readily accessible consumer objects such as high-status logos highlighted the consumption of other things as well, including art and arguably art production.

Thomas Hirschhorn refrains from negative commentaries on consumerism, and the installation was humorous in the sense that nothing was spared— including the occasional reflections of the viewer. Hirschhorn creates a sense of unease and uncertainty and frees the viewer/ interpreter to contemplate this kind of illustration. In one sense, the piece projected a “deal-with-it” attitude, extending that sentiment into a celebration; in another, it made one wonder if there is any escape from the machine.