All that lies beneath the earth is mysterious, strange and ambivalent to us. Sometimes we associate it with something menacing, at other times with security and shelter. Using works of art – literature, painting, photography, videos and installations – this exhibition presented the world below-ground in all its facets. Appropriately enough, the exhibition was staged in the basement of the K21 Ständehaus in Düsseldorf. More specifically, it focused on caves, tunnels, grottos, burrows, bunkers, passageways, mining shafts, subway tunnels and their entrances, exits and connecting passages as subjects of international artistic production (e.g. by Jeff Wall, Bruce Nauman, Fischli/Weiss, Gregor Schneider and others). The literary-historic starting point for the exhibition was Franz Kafka’s story fragment “Der Bau” (“The Burrow”) of 1923/24. Assuming the point of view of an animal, Kafka describes the construction of a high-security prison like an underground tunnel system – with all the ambivalence of a place of refuge which becomes threatening. Several artworks made direct reference to Kafka’s story, a special edition of which (published by the Fischer Verlag) was available at the exhibition for purchase featuring illustrations by the American artist Roni Horn. Beyond the concrete level, the underground world also serves as a metaphor for the subconscious, instinctual and sensual, which in turn culminates in the expression of the uncanny and frightening. Works by Max Ernst, Martin Kippenberger and Mike Kelley, for example, illustrated these aspects.
The artists view the underground world from a variety of perspectives – as a both real and imaginary place – and examine the related utopias and dystopias of the 20th century. Two younger artists, Christoph Büchel, born in Switzerland and now living in Iceland, and the Belgian Kris Martin developed new works especially for this exhibition which make reference to the immediate vicinity around the K21, the Ständehaus Park and the historic city centre of Düsseldorf. A map depicting the passageways in “subterranean” Düsseldorf, and films and readings were just some of the numerous projects which accompanied the exhibition.

Artistic director: Marion Ackermann
Curators: Florence Thurmes (LU), Kathrin Beßen
Artists: Christoph Büchel (CH), Thomas Demand, Max Ernst, Peter Fischli und David Weiss – Fischli/Weiss (CH), Roni Horn (US), Mike Kelley (US), Martin Kippenberger, Kris Martin (B), Henry Moore (GB), Matt Mullican (US), Bruce Nauman (US), Gregor Schneider, Thomas Schütte, Jeff Wall (CA)


Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen
K21 Ständehaus

Ständehausstraße 1

40217 Düsseldorf