#MeetTheArtist Erik Niedling's extravagant life project

During Art Rotterdam you will see the work of hundreds of artists from all over the world. In this series we highlight a number of artists who will show remarkable work during the fair.

Installation view, Pyramid Mountain Is Where We’ll Bury the White Man, Galerie Tobias Naehring, Leipzig

The German conceptual artist Erik Niedling is a bit of an enigma. He previously burned some of his earlier work and thinks about ways to fake his own disappearance. His works are about the ways in which we shape history and what that means for how that same history is collectively remembered. How do we collect, archive and organize things and what does that say about how we look at the world?

Erik Niedling: Dokumentationszentrum Thüringen. 2022, Installation view. EXILE, Vienna

In 2010, Niedling co-directed and produced the documentary The Future of Art with Ingo Niermann, in which they interviewed leading curators, collectors, artists and art critics from the contemporary art scene, including Damien Hirst, Marina Abramović, Olafur Eliasson and Hans-Ulrich Obrist. A year later, the documentary was accompanied by a transcript in the book The Future of Art: A Manual. In it, Niermann proposes the idea of a special contemporary pyramid as a monumental work of art. Ideally, it would be financed by a single collector, who would then ensure a unique burial place after their death. In this line of thinking, the collector becomes a modern pharaoh, while indirectly elevating the artist as well. The project should be viewed through the lens of irony and sarcasm; it says something about the absurd amount of money flowing through the art market and the somewhat curious veneration for its players. In the documentary, Niermann and Niedling ask the curators, collectors, artists and art critics for advice to make the project an artistic and financial success. Their answers are sometimes a bit megalomaniac (Hirst) or self-aggrandizing (collector Thomas Olbricht) and few of the interviewees really criticize the rather absurdist plan.

At the end of the recording, Niermann hands over the idea to Niedling, for whom it has been the basis of many of his art projects ever since. One such project, “Mein letztes Jahr” (“My last year”) (2011-2012), involved him living for a year as if it were his last. He burned his earthly possessions and previous works and used the ashes to create new works. He captured the period in the work The Future of Art: A Diary, a sequel to The Future of Art: A Manual. He later made performances, publications and exhibitions about the pyramid mountain, for which he researched radical political movements in the state of Thuringia, among other things. He founded the Dokumentationszentrum Thüringen for this purpose, together with Niermann. On 8 May 8 2017, Niedling performed a ritual seizure of the Kleiner Gleichberg — on the day the Nazis surrendered to the Allies, 72 years before.

Untitled III (Burial of the White Man), 2021

Niedling's official statement was as follows:“I would like to build the largest tomb of all time and be buried there after my death, along with my artwork. Conceived by writer Ingo Niermann as part of our documentation The Future of Art (2010), Pyramid Mountain is a pyramid excavated from a mountain, standing no less than 200 meters high. Once I am buried, the carved-away material will once again be poured over the pyramid, effectively restoring the mountain to its original form. For the past seven years, I have been trying to create the necessary conditions to stage my own disappearance in a monumental way. I lived for one year as though it were my last, tried my hand as a political adviser and initiator of a new fitness movement to obtain the necessary financial resources, and created a new currency, the Pyramid Dollar. In 2012, I declared the Kleiner Gleichberg in my home state of Thuringia the future site of Pyramid Mountain, opening what amounted to a broad front of resistance. The multi-year international search for an alternative mountain proved unsuccessful, and I once again turned my attention to Kleiner Gleichberg: a highly visible landmark and natural bulwark used by everyone from the Celts to the East German National People’s Army. At 12 pm on May 8, 2017, I seized the Kleiner Gleichberg in an act of civil disobedience until final completion of Pyramid Mountain. As a sign of my claim, I will fix a flag on the summit, erect a pile of rocks in the shape of a pyramid and install a permanent exhibition with future grave items there. In a world where Donald Trump can become President of the United States, anything is possible: I am taking advantage of this propitious, revolutionary moment to set new rules. I have understood that only they who are ready for confrontation achieve their goal.”

Since then, Niedling has performed "Burial of the White Man" on the mountain on the same day each year, symbolically burying the archetype of the white man, historically a symbol of oppression and violence. In 2019, he released an eponymous book, a biographical novel about his friendship with Niermann and the execution of a series of projects in extension of the pyramid that become increasingly large, absurd and ambitious — all of which seem, in essence, doomed to fail.

During Art Rotterdam, Erik Niedling will show his work in the booth of Galerie Tobias Naehring in the New Art Section. In it, the project of the pyramid mountain takes shape in a series of photographs, paintings and other works of art. Niedling's work has previously been shown at Manifesta 12, the M HKA museum, De Appel Arts Centre, the Neues Museum Weimar and the Galerie für Zeitgenössische Kunst GfZK.

Written by Flor Linckens

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