Press releases | Culture 19.10.2011

BEFORE THE LAW - Post-War Sculpture and Spaces of Contemporary Art

A joint exhibition of Museum Ludwig and the Siemens Stiftung

December 17, 2011 – April 22, 2012
Opening: December 16, 7pm
Press conference: December 15, 11am

The question of the fundamental conditions of human existence is of timeless importance as well as contemporary urgency. Human rights violations and assaults on human dignity can be observed every day – the media seeming to allow us to examine these with increasing thoroughness. The exhibition Before the Law is dedicated in both a focused and comprehensive manner to the central theme of the human condition and its fragility. The sculptures of the postwar era and spaces of contemporary art visualize with great immediacy how the various artists come to terms with the conditio humana. This show, organized by Museum Ludwig and the Siemens Stiftung, is the last programmatic exhibition curated by Kasper König at Museum Ludwig.

The parable and metaphor providing the topic for the exhibition is the eponymous short story by Kafka. It tells of a man from the countryside seeking to gain entry to the law. The doorkeeper denies him admission, while repeatedly assuring him of the possibility of entering at a later date. The country man remains waiting at the gates his entire life, excluded from the law. And the same doorkeeper mans his post year after year, representing the eternal, statue-like counter-figure to the aging individual embodied by the country man.

Noteworthy in comparison to other definitions is Kafka’s concept of the law as a space that is tangible and finite, to which there is an entrance and from which one can be excluded. The exhibition takes up this mental image and creates an interior that encompasses the entire third floor, where 24 artistic positions resolutely define their own setting.

Before the Law combines figurative sculptures from the post-war era with contemporary positions, spanning an arc across the last sixty years. The catastrophe of World War II constitutes a fundamental break with human rights and human dignity that has been determinative of our contemporary understanding of these values, as reflected for example in the first article of the German constitution. Against this backdrop, the works of the post-war years – which portray with great directness the oppressed, wounded and threatened human being - form the argumentative core of the exhibition. Statues by Germaine Richier, Gerhard Marcks, and Alberto Giacometti give the traumatized human a face and a body, finding artistic forms with which to express the speechlessness of that time. They form the starting point for the viewer’s contemplation of contemporary installations by artists such as Phyllida Barlow, Paul Chan, and Zoe Leonard. In contrast to their historical “role models” these works have largely abandoned figurative portrayal, approaching the ever more complex and splintered conditions of present-day human existence by way of spatial dimensions and diverse materials.

The exhibition Before the Law not only demonstrates the persistent topicality and expressiveness of post-war figurative sculpture, but through its historical context also puts into focus the humanistic potential of contemporary art. In times of increasing insecurity and fast-paced living, it seems necessary to address a type of art that insists on earnestly coming to terms with the human condition.

An extensive catalogue will be published by Buchhandlung Walther König to accompany the exhibition, with contributions by Penelope Curtis, Friedrich Wilhelm Graf, Kasper König, Thomas Macho, and Thomas D. Trummer.

No entry
Talks about the exhibition BEFORE THE LAW

Munich, Haus der Kunst, November 18th, 6pm
Penelope Curtis (Tate Britain): Figures in a Landscape

Berlin, Humboldt University (senate hall), November 30th, 7pm
Friedrich Wilhelm Graf (LMU Munich): The continuous inflation of dignity

Cologne, Museum Ludwig, January 24th, 7pm
Spatial experience and existence: Kasper König in conversation with
Phyllida Barlow, Jan Verwoert and Thomas D. Trummer


Museum Ludwig is one of Germany’s foremost museums of twentieth-century and contemporary art. With a donation by Peter and Irene Ludwig of 350 works of modern art, Museum Ludwig was founded in 1976 as Cologne’s first museum of contemporary art.
Museum Ludwig is home to the third largest Picasso collection worldwide. It spans a representative cross-section of all phases of the artist’s career as well as all genres, materials, and techniques. Moreover, the museum houses the leading collection of American Pop art outside the USA, a unique sampling of the Russian avant-garde and, with the Haubrich Collection, a rich selection of Expressionist and classical Modernist artworks.
Museum Ludwig already began in the 1970s to collect photography and works on film and video. Since the year 2000, the broad area of media art has been another focal point for acquisitions. Further information is available at

The Siemens Stiftung seeks to empower people to actively address social challenges and is dedicated to the values embraced by Werner von Siemens. It is committed to expanding basic services and social entrepreneurship, promoting education, and strengthening culture. The foundation pursues an integrative approach and stands for responsible, effective, and innovative project work.

Those engaged in cultural pursuits help to shape social development. Making room for their views and opening up experimental fields for analysis of the present are the goals of the cultural projects undertaken by the Siemens Stiftung. The impact of art in society is of central importance here, along with reflection on cultural identities and the fostering of different forms of dialogue and aesthetic education. With the help of cooperation partners, the foundation initiates theme-based projects and platforms for international exchange and cultural knowledge transfer.

The exhibition is also being generously supported by the Kunststiftung NRW, the Ernst von Siemens Kunststiftung, the LUMA Foundation, the Henry Moore Foundation, and the Gesellschaft für Moderne Kunst am Museum Ludwig.