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German's 'deathbed art' panned as tasteless -

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German's 'deathbed art' panned as tasteless

The World Today - Thursday, 24 April , 2008 12:39:00

Reporter: Barbara Miller

ELEANOR HALL: He's known for courting controversy, but a German artist may have gone a little too
far this time with a proposal to put a dying person on show as a work of art.

Gregor Schneider says the subject would die with dignity in humane surroundings. But the idea is
being panned by some fellow artists and politicians, who say it's a tasteless provocation.

Barbara Miller reports:

BARBARA MILLER: Gregor Schneider is the man who erected 21 wire cages on Bondi Beach last year.
Visitors could wander in at leisure.

The idea was to contrast a sense of entrapment in the cages with the sense of freedom which Bondi
stands for.

His latest idea is a lot more provocative. Gregor Schneider wants to put a person on display in the
final days of their life.

He says it would be a dignified and humane death, and would be a sharp contrast to the clinical and
gruesome death which many people experience, he says, in a hospital setting.

The idea has generated a lot of discussion and criticism in his native Germany.

Kasper Konig is the Director of the Museum Ludwig in Cologne.

KASPER KONIG (translated): It's perfectly justifiable to break taboos if there is a compelling
reason to do so. For aesthetic purposes for example, but if it just a question of shocking people,
then really, that is just banal.

BARBARA MILLER: Gregor Schneider acknowledges it's an idea many people take exception to:

GREGOR SCHNEIDER (translated): The reactions have all been very emotional, irrational. In certain
forums threats of violence against me have been made. I've had a number of extreme phone calls.
Well, fine. The response has been honest and emotional.

BARBARA MILLER: Sebastian Smee is the Australian newspaper's art critic.

He says he has a lot of respect for Gregor Schneider:

SEBASTIAN SMEE: Look he is a very serious artist and I think he has got a great track record of
doing works that are not just provocative but genuinely interesting. I would rate him as one of the
best contemporary artists, although he does specialise in provocative work, I think he has got a
lot more substance to him than some artists like for instance Jeff Koons or Damien Hirst who may be
better known.

BARBARA MILLER: But he says this time this artist has gone a little too far.

SEBASTIAN SMEE: For me it sounds like an awful idea. Much as I do admire Schneider I think it just
doesn't seem interesting to me and it's offensive I suppose. Death is an intimate thing. We are all
going to come across people who die in our lives at some stage or another and we'll all find our
different ways of dealing with it I suppose.

To turn it into a spectacle which I think this does no matter how much Schneider might say he's
trying to make the whole thing as dignified as possible.

For me that is distasteful. Too cheap and sensational.

BARBARA MILLER: But Norbert Loeffler a Lecturer in Art History at the Victorian College of the Arts
says death is an issue which Gregor Schneider has been interested in for some time:

NORBERT LOEFFLER: A lot of his work has been concerned with death as a theme and motif and the work
of many contemporary artists has been concerned with death as the works of artists for hundreds of
years has been obsessed with the image of death.

BARBARA MILLER: Norbet Leffler says the proposal is interesting:

NORBERT LOEFFLER: I'm curious. Why? Because of the way death has become a kind of taboo. Death now
happens behind a white door and solemnly somebody comes from behind the white door and tells you
your relative or whoever has died.

It is all hygienic, it is all very abstract. It is all very alien and it's a very peculiar way of
dealing with death compared to the past.

In that sort of world, where death has become this sort of abstract thing and in the world where
there is meaningless deaths all around us that we daily, endlessly view, you might understand why
Gregor Schneider wants to confront that and turn that around and give death the possibility of
something more meaningful and also re-establish some connection to death between the living and the

ELEANOR HALL: Norbert Loeffler is a Lecturer in Art History at the Victorian College of the Arts.
That report by Barbara Miller.