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Museum Villa Stuck Museum Villa Stuck

June 29 – October 1, 2017

Abbas Akhavan

Abbas Akhavan is one of Canada’s emerging artists and part of a generation of art practitioners who focus on social subjects in their site-specific, often ephemeral works. Born in Tehran in 1977, Akhavan will present his first major solo show at the Museum Villa Stuck, combining older works with pieces created especially for this exhibition. This show, comprising of mostly sculptures and installations, explores issues related to destruction, marginalization as well as acts of preservation and regeneration in the shifting and repurposed spaces of the museum.

Abbas Akhavan. Museum Villa Stuck, Photography: Jann Averwerser

Visitors enter the studio building, built by Franz von Stuck in 1914/15 and are immediately confronted with a barrier. Untitled Garden(2012/17),a hedge of Thuja occidentalis brabant, forces them to make a detour. Used as a demarcation of private or public space in cities and suburbs alike, the hedge creates a boundary and prevents immediate access to the gallery. The Thuja, the evergreen arborvitae or tree of life, has its own history of colonialism: indigenous to the eastern part of Canada, it became an article of trade between Great Britain and Canada — a British colony at the time. As early as the sixteenth century, the Thuja was used to mark off private property. Akhavan’s artistic gesture describes the multi-layered history of the tree: he moves objects familiar from domestic spaces into the gallery. In that shift between the outside and inside, the serial row of trees is used to combine traditional methods of marking private property with the viewer’s experience, thus making them feel potential trespassers.

For this exhibition, Akhavan has chosen to leave visible all the imperfections and drill holes from the preceding show. The museum’s temperature control system has been turned off. Previously walled-up doors have been cut open, and windows a re left ajar, allowing light and fresh air to permeate into the space, thereby raising questions about established boundaries of the museum and t he limits of museological tasks: are the current methods of preservation still tenable and appropriate?

Akhavan calls his works “studies” or “variations”; they are conceptual in nature and indicate that they are part of a creative process that is open-ended. In Villa Stuck, these studies and variations are visualized through a range of mediums and forms including plants, animals and other organic materials that reference the four elements: fire, water, earth and air.

Visitors to the Villa Stuck are familiar with Akhavan from his participation in the 2015 exhibition Common Grounds. At the time, he showed Study for a Hanging Garden (2013), an expansive installation featuring bronze casts of plants which grow only in the region between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, and which are endangered as a result of the Iraq invasion in 2003 and the ongoing conflicts.

Akhavan’s work encompasses sculpture, installation, drawing, video and performance. The artist has had various scholarship residencies and, as yet, limited time for studio practice with the constant production of works that comes with it. Consequently, it is the occasion of the exhibition itself that becomes the focus of his production. Akhavan (born in Tehran in 1977, lives and works in Toronto) has shown his work in numerous international solo exhibitions, including solo exhibitions at The Delfina Foundation, London (2012); Mercer Union, Toronto (2015); FLORA, Bogota (2016) and, most recently, at SALT Galata in Istanbul (2017) .

About the Exhibition

In Akhavan’s artistic practice, the obscuring of interior and exterior space is a negotiation of hospitality and hostility, a highlighting of boundaries between outside and inside, guest and host (and ghost). This shifting boundary is rendered palpable by the large hedge in the exhibition space, by the mirrored fountain in the courtyard and the “fresco” painting on the ceiling depicting trails of smoke that are the residues from an exterior fire. A large mound of soil sits in the middle of the museum floor; closer inspection reveals that it resembles a lion’s claws, perhaps those belonging to Lamassu, an Assyrian deity.

In Study for a Blue Shield (2010/17) the artist takes his inspiration from UNESCO’s blue shield. This emblem, introduced in 1954, identifies cultural landmarks in need of preservation and protection during war and natural disaster (the Villa Stuck, too, boasts this shield on its façade). The artist has enlarged the shield in the form of a painting on the wall, then cuts the wall out, leaving a visible cavity in the architecture. The cut-out painting is on a balcony of the Stuck residence, a location only visible from an aerial view. This gesture by Akhavan alludes to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, during which, the employees of the National Museum of Iraq painted the Blue Shield on the roof of the building in order to prevent air raids.

One of the main works in the exhibition at Villa Stuck is a newly conceived sculpture. Lamassu is the name of Assyrian deities which were placed at the entrances of temples as guardian figures. A hybrid creature with the body of a lion (or bull), the wings of an eagle and a human head, the Lamassu was supposed to embody strength, intelligence, and agility. Versions of this protective deity used to stand in the Mosul Museum, but as media footage has shown, these historic artifacts are being targeted and destroyed by the iconoclastic attacks of the Islamic State. A fragment of a lion’s claw is reproduced in this exhibition. However, instead of stone, this enlarged claw is made using a technique called “earth ramming” (soil mixed with water and hardened through compaction). The aspiration to preserve the destroyed sculpture is in contrast to the ephemeral quality of the artworks. In Akhavan’s words, it is “a vulnerable / present / organic piece.”

The large ceiling painting in the domed hall of the Villa Stuck is reminiscent of the destruction caused by fire. As though smoke and soot have entered through the windows and marked the ceiling, leaving traces from a large fire burning outside of the museum, brighter in some places, darker in others. The tradition of the ceiling fresco, the view of the heavenly spheres populated by saints, angels and putti, is Akhavan’s point of reference, except that here dark soot from a fire is depicted on the ceiling. Traditionally an ominous symbol in depictions of hell, fire is destructive but also a cleansing source of regeneration and nourishment.

Akhavan highlights the tasks and responsibilities of the museum; exhibiting, educating and preserving are also decisions about what is worthy of conservation. As he puts it, “the museum can also become a refuge and shelter.” Like the museum, vitrines and refrigerators, encasing flowers or sandbags, are repositories of preservation from destruction, from perishability.

In Akhavan’s work, plants and animals are always mediated by humanity. The fragmented Lamassu is also the claw of a lion, often a symbol of power, alchemy and enlightenment. Like the lion, other animals in the exhibition serve as symbols of injury and violation. The bandages of the rhino with its horn sawn off evince human cruelty and conservation alike. Acquiescence to the extinction of an animal species is connoted by the title If the first metaphor was animal (2017). Similarly, a donkey’s bray has been turned into a composition for a cellist. In the artist’s garden of the Stuck residence, Akhavan has installed a new sculpture. It resembles Stuck’s nine hermai with the heads of ancient philosophers. However, the face is of an anonymous person, as the dove sitting on the bust’s head is the actual protagonist. Water, one of the elements that Akhavan often uses in his works, drips from inside and outside ceilings of the gallery. One fountain is placed on the terrace of the artist’s garden, the other in the exhibition space.

Akhavan creates metaphors and symbols in order to reflect on systems which are inscribed by power structures. In doing so, he plays with the viewers’ perception and expectations. His works often appear as if they are taken from real life. He manages to imbue his fragile works with multiple layers of meaning which reveal themselves only at second glance. They aim to raise questions about the vulnerability of social values.

Guided Tours

Insight Tours
Wednesdays, 5:00 p.m.: guided tour free of charge, discounted admission
July 12 and September 27, 2017: guided tour with Dr. Verena Hein, curator

Guided tours of the Munich Volkshochschule, starting on Sunday July 9, will take place every two weeks, 2:00 p.m., 7 euros plus discounted admission.

Guided Tours as Part of FRIDAY LATE:
Friday, July 7, 2017, 6.30 pm: guided tour of the Munich Volkshochschule
Friday, August 4, 2017, 6:30 p.m.: guided tour of the Munich Volkshochschule
Friday, September 1, 2017, 6:30 p.m.: guided tour of the Munich Volkshochschule


Saturday, July 8, 2017, 6:00 p.m.
The Munich Chamber Orchestra (MKO) and the Museum Villa Stuck jointly invite you to the eleventh Summer Festival at the Villa Stuck!
The musicians of the MKO will perform in varying chamber music formations, ranging from duets to large ensembles, and are supported by friends and artistic partners such as Jörg Widmann (clarinet), Julian Prégardien (tenor) and Oliver Triendl (piano). Their repertoire focuses on the turn of the epoch around 1900, the fin de siècle in cities such as Paris, Vienna and Munich—which is, fittingly, also the time that the residence on Prinzregentenstrasse was built.
In its Historical Rooms, the Museum Villa Stuck presents the museum’s collection as well as a monographic exhibition by legendary designer Willy Fleckhaus, titled Design, Revolt, Rainbow, and the first major one-man show of Abbas Akhavan.
Summer dishes and drinks by Feinkost Käfer await guests in the artist’s garden of the Museum Villa Stuck. Enjoy a feast for all the senses!
Admission is free; access to the musical performances is limited due to lack of space.
From 5:00 p.m.
Workshop for children and adults on the occasion of the exhibition of Abbas Akhavan
At the Summer Festival you can change your looks in that way that facial recognition doesn’t work. You will find tattoos and make-up in the garden.

Friday, September 15, 2017, 7:00 p.m.
Street Philosophy
Following the dialogue-based guided tour by the art historian and curator Laura Sanchez Serrano, participants will have an opportunity to become involved themselves. Under the guidance of the artist and psychologist, Dr. Ariane Hagl, they reflect on the various issues that have been discussed. The guided tour and workshop helps participants to understand the philosophical approach to subjects and issues in the works of the artist Abbas Akhavan.
Participation is free with admission to the exhibition.
A joint project of the Museum Villa Stuck and Street Philosophy.

FRÄNZCHEN, Programme for Children and Adolescents

Sunday, September 3, 2017, 2:00–4:30 p.m.
ATELIER: STOPP—Where is the boundary?
The artist Abbas Akhavan confronts us with all kinds of boundaries in his works.
We ask ourselves: where do I feel safe? What do I need in order to feel safe?
Following a tour of the exhibition, we built a shelter for ourselves using various materials. Architectural workshop with Tommy Jackson for up to ten children aged between six and eleven, 8 euros.
Registration: 089-4555510.


A catalogue accompanies the exhibition. Published by DISTANZ Verlag, the volume includes a preface by Michael Buhrs and Verena Hein, essays by Burcu Dogramaci (Professor of Twentieth-Century and Contemporary Art at LMU Munich), Vassilis Oikonomopoulos (Assistant Curator, Collections International Art, Tate Modern), Amy Zion (curator, Toronto), as well as a conversation between Abbas Akhavan and Verena Hein. The installation photographs are by Jann Averwerser, the design by Anne Stock. 92 pages, German/English. ISBN 978-3-95476-206-4. From August, it will be available at the museum for 19.80 euros

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