Cologne-based artist Claus Richter’s multi-media practice transcends the boundaries of a salient singular genre. Marked by installations made of miniature pink castles and neon signs above nostalgic toy collections, his ornate assemblages resemble a scaled-down theme park, adorned with flashing Christmas lights and pseudo-architectural structures derivative of the real world. Having received his degree from the Offenbach design academy in his native Germany, Richter’s work has been exhibited in numerous galleries, including Clages Gallery in Cologne, Leopold Hoesch Museum in Düren, and Archive für aktuelle Kunst in Frankfurt am Main.
Richter’s transcontinental accolades extend beyond the opaque cityscape of Germany to his Frieze London collaboration with German writer Sibylle Berg this year, dubbed “Wonderland Avenue.” This 20-minute play—written by Berg and designed by Richter—takes the shape of an experimental puppet show, the nostalgic medium serving as a window into the turbid future of humankind. The play takes place after the “fourth industrial revolution,” when the unemployed are faced with omnipotent machines that take over.
The dystopian scenario delves into the denigration of humankind and a sense of nostalgia that rises from sentiments of a past before complete robot control—resulting in the cementation of Earth’s beaches and the dissipation of its oceans.
Richter’s style stems from the fantastical world of toys and childhood amusement—his ornate assemblages resemble a scaled-down theme park, adorned with flashing Christmas lights and pseudo-architectural structures derivative of reality. The theatrical installations mimic fictional childhood settings suggestive of
a realm bent on commercial interests. We spoke to Richter about his latest exhibition, nostalgia, and of course, the weather.
Frieze wrote that your works “unmask the escapist ‘lost world’ of childhood as a fictional construction, a ‘romantic’ notion that is always bound up with the commercial interests of others.” Is this an assessment you agree with?
I had mixed feelings about that quote. I am actually in love with a lot of escapist worlds, it´s what keeps me alive somehow. I am deeply nostalgic, I collect old toys and children´s books and I can sit for hours in front of my laptop and watch late-‘70s and early-‘80s commercials and shows. It not only comforts me, it inspires me again and again. So there is nothing to unmask. Masks are great! On the other hand “retro“ can be a commercial tool, because nostalgia gets us all at some point of our lives. So I am careful with this branch of escapism, because it is too easy to consume that way, its too glib. I also have nothing against commercial culture in general, but I like to dig a bit deeper, I try to find out who envisioned the themes and worlds that shaped me as a child and why I still find some of them totally brilliant.
So all in all, I cannot really agree with the above statement, but maybe it helps me in dissecting my own obsessions.
How does the weather affect your art?
My favorite season is autumn. Autumn breathes a certain mild melancholy that I love. I enjoy seeing the leaves change color and I often take long walks in the park. I am somehow vitalized by this specific weather and often new ideas come easier to me in autumn. Maybe it´s all about this specific remembrance that I have of a (at fist sight totally unspectacular) me as a seven-year-old boy in primary school, calmly drawing a picture with my crayons while it gently rains outside. The lights are on and I feel very secure and treasured. Autumn always triggers this memory in me and reminds me of this great feeling.
Does climate change scare you?
Climate change indeed scares me. There are things that can only be changed in a global collective effort. The more time it takes to convince everyone, the more time we lose. What frightens me most at the moment (and I guess, I´m not alone with that fear) is the uprising of populism and right-wing politics all around the globe. I come from Germany, a country with a very, very dark history and I am really concerned about not letting any of this history be repeated or glorified ever again.
When I was younger, it was almost unthinkable that people in large numbers would openly sympathize with right-wing ideas. All of this not only frightens me, it fills me with deep disgust and anger.
Written by Rick Blanqué