Johann Dieter Wassmann, Nietzsche 306P, 1897. 370 x 280 x 100 mm.
In recent posts I've been examining the first of three leitmotifs posed by the Documenta 12 team, "Is modernity our antiquity?" If I may, I'd like to skip ahead to the second question for a moment, "What is bare life?" as further means of addressing the first.
In 1889, Friedrich Nietzsche suffered a mental breakdown, often attributed to his contraction of syphilis, resulting in his admission to various clinics before he was moved to Naumburg, where his mother looked after him until her death in 1897. At this point his sister Elisabeth shifted him to Weimar, where she continued his care, as well as promoting his legacy and allowing the occasional audience with guests until his death in 1900.
It was in Weimar that Johann Dieter Wassmann briefly visited Nietzsche, but finding only a shell of a man he returned home to produce this work, depicting simply and eloquently the empty collar of the man, an organ stop with the name 'Nietzsche' printed on it, and an opium-stained bone apothecary spoon; a life stripped bare. These objects are placed against a dappled blue wall, reflecting Nietzsche's penchant for blue-lensed spectacles.
Johann's ability to take the contemporary moment of his visit with Nietzsche and so confidently convert it into the iconography of modernism speaks legions about the raw vitality of the modern movement at the dawn of the 20th century. In no time, however, modernity fell victim to the second law of thermodynamics, with entropy holding sway, but it was not until the close of the century that we realised the paradigm had simply collapsed en route.
Today it is essentially modernity stripped bare that we address as artists and curators, an ongoing post-mortem of abject failure. So in this sense is modernity our antiquity? The answer is not so clear.