The Museum Ludwig invited the artist and filmmaker Fiona Tan (b. 1966 in Pekanbaru, Indonesia; lives in Amsterdam) to realize an exhibition project with the museum’s photography collection as the starting point. Fiona Tan’s work revolves around questions of time, identity, and memory. The archive as a time capsule has played a role in her artistic strategies of research and classification in previous projects.
Fiona Tan: GAAF takes as its starting point the Agfacolor advertisement archive—several thousand 6 × 6 color negatives and photographs which were taken between 1952 and 1968. This archive provided Agfa with material for advertisements, brochures, exhibitions, and the magazine Agfa Photoblätter. After discovering this almost forgotten and uncatalogued archive at the Museum Ludwig, Tan became interested in the inherent paradox of its images: staged and idealized scenes of models posing for professional photographers, nonetheless intended to appear spontaneous and authentic, as if taken by amateurs. “These images cause me to reflect upon the pose, upon artificiality versus spontaneity and authenticity,” says Tan who is making these images visible to the public for the first time.
The Dutch word gaaf—an anagram, or reordering, of the letters in Agfa—means “neat” or “perfect.” In this exhibition Fiona Tan focuses on the image and the role of women as portrayed in these photographs, drawing attention to the ideal as opposed to the reality of these formative decades in postwar Germany. Juxtaposing fantasy with reality, professional with vernacular, color with black and white, Tan confronts this advertising archive with documentary photographs from the same era from the Museum Ludwig collection and with a selection of her own works dealing with portraiture. Vox Populi London (2012) embodies an informal snapshot, a playful group portrait of a city. In Linnaeus’ Flower Clock (1998), Tan reflects on the nature of time itself. Intentionally blurring the divisions between film and photography, the six-part installation Provenance (2008) questions if it is possible to look at a film in the same way as a painted portrait.