For the third edition of the Schultze Projects series, Minerva Cuevas (*1975 in Mexico City) has created a new site-specific work for the large front wall of the main stairway at the Museum Ludwig. The name of the series refers to Bernard Schultze and his wife Ursula (Schultze-Bluhm), whose estate is managed by the Museum Ludwig, and in whose memory periodically since 2017 an artist has been invited to create a large-scale work for this prominent location.
The wall relief, nearly five meters high and fifteen meters long, consists of forty-eight square panels. Together they form a scene featuring the corporate logos of Deutsche Bank, Mastercard, BNP Paribas, Barclays, Kredyt Bank S.A., ING-DiBa, Commerzbank, and ANZ (Australia and New Zealand Banking Group). These emblematize an all-pervasive economy. Sometimes these logos use a symbolism that draws from nature, such as the lion of ING-DiBa Bank, which as the “king of the animals” is presumably meant to signal the company’s superiority over all other banks. Similar to the upside-down Barclays eagle protruding into the picture, the lion is a common heraldic animal that represents strength and power. Cuevas combines these motifs from today’s financial world with pre-colonial symbolic representations of Mesoamerican deities, some of which are part of the collection of the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. From left to right, there are sculptural motifs of a stylized bat (after the Mayan god Camazotz), a snake, a figure seen from behind wearing only a loincloth, a dog (after the Aztec mythology around Ahuítzotl), a fish lying on the ground, and a monkey on a liana from the Jama-Coaque culture. Almost the entire height of the picture is taken up by an abstract Mayan cocoa tree on the right.
What do these elements, which at first glance might appear to be contrasting, have to do with each other? The title of Cuevas’s relief, The Enterprise, points to a few loose threads that run throughout the work. Some might initially be reminded of the spaceship of the same name in the American television series Star Trek. It not only suggests futuristic fiction, but also concrete initiatives for expansion or colonization, since the United States space agency NASA gave the same name to the prototype for the space shuttle. It is also fitting due to the double meaning of “enterprise” as an undertaking and a business. The combination of the two seems to come closer to the actual topic of the relief, since it represents a collision between different forms of economic ventures from different times. In addition to the aforementioned emblems from the world of banking, the cocoa tree and the arrows pointing at the monkey and the fish are also references to early, indigenous forms of trade, agricultural activity, and hunting. The colonial economic exploitation of early communities and their cultures becomes increasingly clear with prolonged viewing.
In this sense, this latest work created for the Museum Ludwig is a logical continuation of the themes and approaches that Cuevas has engaged with over the past two decades. After all, the artist is known for her research-based projects, which she exhibits in the form of installations, performance, video, and painting. She is interested in economic and environmental issues and their socio-political interrelations. For example, she examines the role of large multinational corporations in the food industry and how natural resources are used in this context. Her works are often humorous and ironic. She often references the places and situations in which her works were created. For instance, the reference to the production of chocolate in the cocoa tree serves as an allusion to the history of the Museum Ludwig: the institution was founded in 1976 with a donation by Peter and Irene Ludwig, whose fortune primarily came from the multinational production and sale of chocolate.
For the exhibition marking the fortieth anniversary of the Museum Ludwig, Cuevas created a work that references the Peter and Irene Ludwig Foundation, which was established in 1982. She designed an installation made of a black rectangular wooden frame with red, yellow, and blue accents, whose composition was reminiscent of Piet Mondrian’s abstract painting Tableau I (1921). Its purchase by the city of Cologne in 1967 was highly controversial. Today it is one of the highlights of the Museum Ludwig collection. In the installation, similar to some of her other works, the artist deals with the social potential and effects of artistic practice. In this sense, Cuevas sees art as an active contribution to social changes. For her large-scale works to date she has often used the language of advertising, including the logos of specific brands, which she usually substantially alters. Following her critical approach, with her various works Cuevas illustrates the negative effects of consumption and of the economic orientation of human activity on society and the environment.
Minerva Cuevas has been featured in the following solo exhibitions, among others: Disidencia, Mishkin Gallery, New York (2019); No Room to Play, daadgalerie, Berlin (2019); Dissidência, Galpão VB – Associação Cultural Videobrasil, São Paulo (2018); Fine Lands, Dallas Museum of Art (2018); Minerva Cuevas, Museo de la Ciudad de México (2012); Landings, Cornerhouse, Manchester (2012); S·COOP, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London (2010); Minerva Cuevas, Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven (2008); Phenomena, Kunsthalle Basel (2007); Das Experiment 6: MVC Biotechnologies: Für ein natürliches Interface, Secession, Vienna (2001); On Society, MC Kunst, Los Angeles (2007); Egalité, Le Grand Café – Centre d’art contemporain, Saint Nazaire (2007); Schwarzfahrer Are My Heroes, daadgalerie, Berlin (2004); Mejor Vida Corp, Tamayo Museum, Mexico City (2000).
Curator: Yilmaz Dziewior
➤ Read here a conversation between curator and museum director Yilmaz Dziewior and Minerva Cuevas about her contribution to the Schultze Projects series.
From 1968 on, Bernard Schultze and his wife Ursula (Schultze-Bluhm) lived and worked as artists in Cologne. For decades they were a fixture of the city’s cultural life and had a particularly close relationship with the Museum Ludwig. The museum now holds a large part of their artistic estate. Bernard Schultze was one of the pioneers of Art Informel in Germany with his works from the early 1950s. The large-scale format was a central aspect of his later work. It represents the substantial reference point for the artists invited to participate in Schultze Projects.