Ulrike Ottinger: La Vie Quotidienne / Contemporary Fine Arts Basel

The Berlin-based gallery Contemporary Fine Arts has opened its new Basel gallery space with an exhibition that shows key works from the early period of the artistic work of the German filmmaker, photographer and artist Ulrike Ottinger. The show, titled La Vie Quotidienne, features rarely shown works from Ottinger’s early years in Paris, which also foreshadow Ulrike Ottinger’s later cinematic idiom, which launched her on a worldwide career as a film artist. The exhibition runs until October 14, 2023.

Ulrike Ottinger was born in 1942. She grew up in the city of Constance on Lake Constance. From 1962 until the beginning of 1969 she worked as an independent artist in Paris. In the early 70s, her interest in painting, photography and performance lead her into making films. Her first film script, ‘The Mongolian Double Drawer’ (Die Mongolische Doppelschublade) was written in 1966. After her return to West Germany she founded, in association with Constance University, the ‘filmclub visuell’ in 1969. Her first film, ‘Laocoon and Sons’ (Laokoon und Söhne), made in collaboration with Tabea Blumenschein, was recorded in 1971-1973. In 1973 she moved to Berlin and filmed the Happening-documentary ‘Berlinfever – Wolf Vastell’ (Berlinfieber – Wolf Vastell). Ulrike Ottinger has won numerous prizes for her film. In 2019 she was called to the jury of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which confers the Academy Awards (“Oscars”) every year.

Ulrike Ottinger: La Vie Quotidienne / Contemporary Fine Arts Basel. Basel (Switzerland), August 26, 2023.

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Press text (excerpt):

In 1962, Ulrike Ottinger, just 20 years old, packed everything she could fit into her little Isetta and moved from her hometown of Constance to Paris. It can be revealed here that the little car didn’t quite make the trip and the young woman had to continue the journey by hitchhiking.

After arriving in the French capital, Ottinger trained in etching techniques in the print workshop of Johnny Friedlaender. Her spiritual home became the antiquarian bookshop Paris Calligrammes, which she memorialized in her 2019 film of the same name, an autobiographical cinematic account of her time in Paris. Run by Fritz Picard, the bookstore was frequented by the leading French and exiled intellectuals and artists of the time. Here the young artist was, as she herself says, “provided a stairway to the world.” She begins to work as a freelance artist – drawing, etching and painting. She also regularly attends the lectures of Claude Lévi-Strauss, Louis Althusser and Pierre Bourdieu at the Collège de France.

We are pleased to present rarely shown works from Ottinger’s early years in Paris in our new gallery space in Basel. These are not only stunning works of her own pictorial language, they also foreshadow Ottinger’s later cinematic idiom, which launched her on an impressive worldwide career as a film artist.

These powerful early works speak of Ottinger’s early interest in the then still young discipline of cybernetics. In “La Vie Quotidienne,” for example, a three-part painting laid out like an altar, a person appears in profile when unfolded, depicted as a sign and integrated into an interweaving system of technical ciphers. In addition to molecular entities, hearts are powered by batteries and ampoules are being filled. The morning coffee is transformed into energy that makes one reach for the telephone receiver, and funnels fill vein-like structures that feed anonymous persons. Below this man-machine scene, a motorcade is passing by.

While the inside of the triptych surveys the intertwined levels of everyday life, the closed version, “the everyday side,” as it is also called in the Christian context, shows a man walking almost stoically to work with his briefcase. The whole life – an interplay of signs and levels.

The artistic principle of montage and assemblage, which would later also characterize her film language, is already visible in very early works such as “Montagne Magique,” “Ludwig II” and “L’ancêtre disparu.” It can be assumed that working in layers also found its way into her visual worlds through her training in printmaking. The different, warmer coloration of the early works, which later gives way to a richer and more garish coloration, also feeds from printmaking.

“In her first painting phase in the early 1960s, Ottinger foregrounded notational systems extending throughout Jewish mysticism or folklore, structuralism, and cybernetics. The upbeat engagement with symbols and theories of the world as signification system, which are as diverse as they are continuous, gives way to the paintings of her second phase. This phase, now recognizably engaging with Pop, follows out the streamlining of medium and message from the art and deco of American mass culture at the onset of globalization into the close quarters of horrific premonition.” summarizes Laurence A. Rickels Ottinger’s artistic development in Paris.

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