Timm Ulrichs

Timm Ulrichs was born in 1940, in Berlin. From 1959 until 1966, he studied architecture at the Technical University Hanover. From 1969 until 1972, Ulrichs was a visiting professor at the Staatliche Hochschule für Bildende Künste, Braunschweig. Since 1972, he has held a chair at the Academy of Fine Arts Münster.

During his studies, the anti-art of Dadaism, with Raoul Hausmann and Marcel Duchamps as prominent representatives, became an important foil for Ulrich’s work. Hausmann’s and Duchamps’ willful transgressions inspired his first artistic Actions. With the foundation of the »Werbezentrale für Totalkunst & Banalismus« (»Advertising Center for Total Art & Banalism«) with adjoining »Zimmer-Galerie & Zimmer-Theater« (»Room Gallery & Room Theater«) in 1961, Ulrich declared the private sphere of his living quarters to be public space. Artistic existence and private life fused through his subsequent declaration of himself (and his body) as an object of exhibition. The program of the »Zimmer-Galerie« showed the following announcement: »Exhibition of Mr. Ulrich (automobile plastic), 1.78 cm: first live work of art.« Already in this early conceptual work, Ulrich’s interest in language as a sense-providing and meaning-generating instance showed – aside from the continuous interest in the distanced reflection on and staging of his own person and his own body (Die weißen Flecken meiner Körperlandschaft (Kenn-Zeichnung der mir niemals sichtbaren Bereiche meines Körpers) (The White Spots of My Body-Landscape (Markings of Body-Areas Invisible to Me)), 1968). Parodying venerable institutions of art was one of Ulrich’s special concerns. He tackled them with all kinds of Actions and word plays, with sign posts, inscriptions, and in seemingly sober administrative language. One example was the company sign saying: »Kunstpraxis (Sprechstunden nach Vereinbarung)« (»Art Practice (Office Hours on Appointment«)») from 1969. A comprehensive œuvre of graphic prints emerged, parts of which were also included in book projects (Buch-(EHE)-Paar / Book-(MARRIAGE)-Couple,1967/79; Handlese-Kunstbuch (Chiromantisches Manuskript) / Hand-Reading Art Book (Chiromantic Manuscript), 1961/66/77). With Concrete Poetry (1972/77), the sculpture of a book made of concrete, he also created an ambiguously ironic monument to concrete literature and poetry as well as conceptual art.

The materials, genres, and mediums of Ulrich’s artistic work are multifaceted. Aside from his focus on language, he also turned towards other social and cultural ordering systems and practices that create a political public and whose effects tend to remain unnoticed. He especially focused on systems of measurement that define our perceptions of nature and everyday life. Ulrich dedicated several groups of works to the staging of their absurd facticity, ranging from the visualization of seemingly factual statistics (Getreide-Weltproduktion (Grain World-Production), 1964; Menschenrassen (Einteilung nach Hautfarben) (Human Races (Classification According to Skin Color), 1969/70) to the measuring of his own skin surface.
Ulrich’s art, named »Total Art« by himself, knows no disciplines outside of art. He even presented geography’s practice of mapping (Tarnmuster-Patchwork und -Puzzle, USA (Camouflage Patchwork and Puzzle, USA), 1978/80/84), statistics, natural sciences, and sociology as artistic activities. Ulrich did not, however, follow Beuys’ dictum: »Everything is art.« With his Action »Ich kann keine Kunst mehr sehen« (»I Can’t See Art Any More«) at the International Art Market in Cologne in 1975, he demonstrated what he put into words a short time later: »I can no longer see nor do I want to see the kinds of art that are only decorative appearance, disguise, superficial consolation, beauty patches, and do nothing but gloss over current wounds, conceal, cover up, fill up and obstruct the world with superficial stuff. Art tends to be understood, unlike life itself, as high-brow art («ernsthafte Kunst«) and not as entertainment art (»Unterhaltungskunst«) meant to be for immediate consumption. It always enjoys a certain protectedness because of its self-conception as »timeless.« One therefore can’t quite see life any more because of all the art and the museal cemeteries that are ever-expanding (Ulrichs, 1978, qtd. in: Ausst.-Kat. Lüdenscheid 1980).

Beyond the critical reflection of scientific discourses, Ulrich also pursued themes focusing on mythical and religious experiences of nature. He was especially captivated by lightning as a natural phenomenon that harbors danger. As part of an Action, he therefore exposed himself to a thunderstorm, unclothed and equipped with a 5 m lightning rod tied to his body (Timm Ulrichs, den Blitz auf sich lenkend, (Timm Ulrichs, Attracting Lightning), 1977/79). In other experiments he again tested the boundaries between life and death which he equated with the polarities of art and life (Skylla und Charybdis (Scylla and Charybdis), 1978).

On the other hand, he also pursued the formative acts of nature in conceptual investigations or Performances (Der Findling (Erratic Boulder), 1978/80/82; Gezeiten-Haus, (Tide House), Cuxhaven 1982; Arche Noah II (Noah’s Arch II), 1987; Der Lindenbaum (Linden Tree), Ettlingen 1988). Recent works have thematized the interaction of architectonic works of art and natural space in public gardens and parks (Musterhäuser, Typ Bomarzo (Show Houses, Type Bomarzo), 1979/94/2001).

Ulrichs’ work has been shown at numerous exhibitions, among them the Documenta 6 in 1977. He had important solo exhibitions at the Kunstverein Braunschweig and Hanover in 1975, at the Municipal Gallery Lüdenscheid in 1980, at the Wilhelm-Hack-Museum, Ludwigshafen, in 1984, at the Open-Air Museum for Sculpture, Antwerp, in 2001, and at the Sprengel Museum, Hanover, in 2002.

Timm Ulrichs lives in Hanover, Münster, and Berlin.

Selected Literature

Timm Ulrichs, Die Druckgrafik: Ausst.-Kat. Sprengel Museum Hannover, Hannover 2002

Korte-Beuckers, Chr.: Kommunikationskonzepte in der Objektkunst der 1960er Jahre am Beispiel ausgewählter Arbeiten von Hans Peter Alvermann, Joseph Beuys, Peter Brüning, Otto Herbert Hajek, Kaspar Thomas Lenk, Timm Ulrichs, Wolf Vostell und Franz Erhard Walther, Münster 1999

Timm Ulrichs, Totalkunst, angesammelte Werke: Ausst.-Kat. Wilhelm-Hack-Museum, Ludwigshafen am Rhein 1984

Timm Ulrichs, Totalkunst: Ausst.-Kat. Städtische Galerie, Lüdenscheid 1980

Bildrechte: gemeinfrei, Foto: Peter Hinschläger Foto: Tobias Roch, Hagen Bildrechte: VG Bild Kunst, Bonn 2014 Bildrechte: Calder Foundation New York / Foto Stiftung Lehmbruck Museum

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