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  • Barbara Engelbach

A Library in the Art Museum




Cologne’s Museum Ludwig is currently hosting a video in­­s­­tal­la­­tion by the Israeli artist Boaz Kaizman. Grü­­nan­lage (“Green Area”), a work celebrating 1700 Years of Jewish Life in Germany, combines with an exhibition of 1700 selected volumes from Germania Judaica, giving new meaning to the concept of a museum library.



Museum Ludwig invited Kaizman – born 1962 in Tel Aviv and based in Cologne since 1993 – to develop a new work for this anniversary year. Presented in the Museum’s exhibition hall until January 9, 2022, the artist’sGrünanlage is joined by three large bookshelves filled with works on the history and culture of German Jewry. Furnished with a computer for research and reference, three tables invite visitors to examine and delve into the books selected for this installation.



An invitation to see, hear, and read


Kaizman’s interest in Germania Judaica – one of the world’s greatest collections on German-speaking Judaism and now a special section of Cologne City Library – comes from his own artistic focus on language and literature, two important aspects of his new installation.


The work com­pris­es six­­teen new videos in sev­en large pro­­jec­­tions across two walls of the exhibition hall, one 18m (59 ft.), the other 7m (23 ft.) long. The 17-minute performance starts with the projections filling both walls. A precisely orchestrated soundtrack (also available on headphones) renders poetry texts to the cadences of an old American love song, a Greek lute, a Klezmer piece – an invitation to explore the many-faceted world of Kaizman’s images.



Installation Grünanlage by Boaz Kaizman, 2021, Museum Ludwig, Cologne from September 3, 2021 through January 9, 2022 (picture: Rheinisches Bildarchiv Köln/Marleen Scholten, © Boaz Kaizman)




These reduce gradually to two competing, juxtaposed projections addressing conceptual issues of the work, of which in the end only one remains on the far left wall: a final sequence in which the Israeli actor Dov Glickman reads from the Yiddish Wikipedia entry on “Yiddish.” Rather than containing an interpretive key to the work as a whole, this starts afresh after the credits with new images and new questions.


Kaizman‘s Grü­­nan­lage is an open-ended artwork comprising very disparate motifs. The artist himself appears in various guises, cooking, working, jogging. Seemingly pastoral scenes – a rural orchard, thick undergrowth, a freshly-mown lawn, an idyllic glimpse of a woodland clearing, eerie green corners – turn out to be aspects of Cologne parks. Historical figures appear: the philosopher Hannah Arendt (1906–1975), the Shoah survivor Jaffa Blajchman (1926–2018) in Düsseldorf’s Heinrich Heine House, the art historian David Galloway (1937–2019), the musician and composer Josef Tal (1910–2008), the historian of religion Gershom Scholem (1897–1982), and the ophthalmologist and inventor of Esperanto Ludwik Lejzer Zamenhof (1859–1917). The referential framework of the installation is the Holocaust, presented from the viewpoint of survivors, with MIDI files generating original music from computer-read poems.


The video images confront each other in a way that consciously highlights their linguistic dimension rather than acquiescing in mimesis. Kaizman works here with two languages, of text and video, both of which must be decoded. Adorno succinctly expressed the duality of this reception process – a never-ending exploration of both artwork and explorer – when he wrote: “To solve a riddle amounts to giving the reason for its insolubility: returning the gaze with which the work of art confronts the viewer.”


Installation Grünanlage by Boaz Kaizman, 2021, Museum Ludwig, Cologne from September 3, 2021 through January 9, 2022 (picture: Rheinisches Bildarchiv Köln/Marleen Scholten, © Boaz Kaizman)




Germania Judaica as objet trouvé


Kaizman’s installation outlines three levels on which this gaze operates. Its title, Grünanlage, with its ultra-conventional connotations of urban “green space,” implicitly evades the request to commemorate “1700 Years of Jewish Life in Germany” altogether. Hence, perhaps, the imported library: the 1700 books from Germania Judaica – the library founded in 1959 to enshrine the history and culture of German Jewry – might yield an answer. Like an objet trouvé Kaizman sets them in Museum Ludwig’s exhibition hall, along with their 1970s shelves and tables – artifacts whose design proclaims the precise point at which Germania Judaica moved into Cologne City Library’s new building on the Neumarkt. There it was able to fulfill its mission to collect and disseminate the Jewish heritage so much the better. If the reference library enables readers to directly access much of the library’s holdings on open shelves, the Museum Ludwig installation-cum-exhibition considerably widens the circle of addressees – at least temporarily.


Installation Grünanlage by Boaz Kaizman, 2021, Museum Ludwig, Cologne from September 3, 2021 through January 9, 2022 (picture: Rheinisches Bildarchiv Köln/Marleen Scholten, © Boaz Kaizman)




Kaizman invited the cultural specialist Andreas Kilcher, whose fields of research include the history of Germanophone Jewish literature and culture in Europe, to select the books from Germania Judaica’s holdings. For the installation, Kilcher has narrowed the main historical focus to Central Europe and complemented this with Jewish writing in German. Here the literary outreach is striking, but at the same time – transplanted into the exhibition hall – strikingly decontextualized, exposed as if in a time capsule carried over from the 1950s recalling the extinction of Jewish life in Germany. Kaizman himself sees the book selection as “a window to the library, to Jewish writers in German, a window to this world.”



Dr. Barbara Engelbach is a curator at the Museum Ludwig and head of the department of contemporary art, photography and media art.




Title image: Rheinisches Bildarchiv Köln/Marleen Scholten, © Boaz Kaizman