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4.8.04

Adieu, Russ (No More Hunding)

Alex Ross at The Rest Is Noise has followed up his humorous post (July 29) about the sculpture exhibit at Bayreuth—consisting of many plastic reproductions of Wagner's beloved hund, Russ, an installation by German sculptor Ottmar Hörl called Wagners Hund (Wagner's Dog)—with a more serious piece (August 4) about Wagner and the heritage of Adolf Hitler at Bayreuth. As Alex put it, "Once you start talking about Wagner, it's hard to stop." Well now, according to this article (Bayreuth Bans Plastic Dogs, August 4) from Deutsche welle, it turns out that the city of Bayreuth has ordered the Russ sculptures to be removed from the Green Hill:

The idea behind the exhibition was to help de-mystify the composer and make him appear in a more human, sympathetic light, Hörl explained. . . . But the town fathers have decided to enforce the "mile-ban" around the Festspielhaus, which prohibits the erection of any foreign objects around the theater. And the dogs, which have won the hearts of many festival visitors as well as the town's inhabitants, must go.

Hörl was enraged, not least because the order came from the town's own arts commissioner. "An arts commissioner must protect artists and their art," he said. "This commissioner must go."

Even the organizers of the Bayreuth Festival appeared to distance themselves from the authorities' decision. "We don't want every artist using the festival as a backdrop for their performance art," said spokesman Peter Emmerich. But Hörl's installation was popular with visitors and the festival therefore had no objections, he said. . . . The plastic dogs are proving so popular that a large number of them have been stolen, causing the town police to issue a statement that the thieves, if caught, would be punished severely.
As you can see on Ottmar Hörl's Web site, the dog installation is one part of a large art project he has called Richard Wagner für das 21. Jahrhundert (Richard Wagner for the 21st century, scheduled to be in Bayreuth from July 28 to August 28). Other parts of the project include a sculptural installation (Wagner und Liszt, at the Altes Rathaus, on Maximilianstrasse in Bayreuth, until September 15). This consists of six sculpted heads of Wagner, on rotating pedestals, observed by an non-rotating sculpted head of Franz Liszt, a commentary on the creative exchange between the two composers.

The Smart cars in Bayreuth mentioned and photographed by Alex Ross, in which you can hear Wagner's music on the radio, are part of an installation called Opernhäuser für das 21. Jahrhundert (Opera houses for the 21st century), also by Hörl. The artist makes reference to Wagner's dream of creating "opera for everyone" with the car as modern listening chamber. This installation also features two camping cars: one has a large portable radio (what Hörl calls ein Ghetto-Blaster) blaring Wagner's music, and the other has a screen showing the famous helicopter attack scene from Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now, set to the Ride of the Valkyries. Other pieces in the installation include a large balance with two shipping containers on it (one containing moving crates, signifying Wagner's desire for travel, and the other containing a device that plays Wagner's music as if on a skipping LP) and three transparent greenhouses tipped precariously on end. No word yet on whether these installations will be allowed to remain where they are.

Alex should have brought a Russ back on the airplane, as a donation to the Teachout Museum or to A. C. Douglas. Actually, the Bayreuth authorities may want to reconsider their decision about how to dispose of the Russ statues. If they paid some artists to paint them silly colors, they could auction them off to the unsuspecting public, like so many other cities are doing with their Public Art Fauna.

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