Was ist Kunst, IRWIN?

| 2023 | 10,00 € / 18,00 €


Was ist Kunst, IRWIN?

Was ist Kunst, IRWIN? (curators: Inke Arns and Thibaut de Ruyter) focuses on the Slovenian artist collective IRWIN, which is celebrating its fortieth anniversary in 2023. Since 1983, IRWIN has been grappling with the art history of Eastern Europe, specifically the ambivalent legacy of the historical avant-garde and its totalitarian successors – in other words, the dialectic of avant-garde and totalitarianism. Since the 1990s, the group has concentrated on a critical, iconoclastic examination of the art history of “Western modernism”. They playfully and cryptically juxtapose this with the “retro avant-garde” of an “Eastern modernism”. In the 2000s, NSK State in Time becomes relevant: a state without territory that nonetheless issues passports as a “confirmation of temporal space”. On the level 3 of the Dortmunder U, posters advertise travel to this fictional state.

The exhibition consists of two large chapters. The first exhibition chapter is concerned with black humour which is constantly present in the works of IRWIN. The second chapter deals with questions of the state – and how IRWIN, with that, comments on current topics such as migration.

The HMKV magazine (2023/2) about the exhibition was published in October 2023 by Verlag Kettler. In addition to new essays by Inke Arns and Thibaut de Ruyter and an extensive photo documentation of the exhibition it will also contain a “source book” (texts: Inke Arns, Lara Both) that systematically breaks down the image sources of IRWIN’s works and situates them in their (art-)historical context.

→ You can download the magazine here as a free double PDF: The publication “State Artists (Staatskünstler)” here & the publication “Schwarzer Humor (Black Humor)” here.

More on the exhibition


Flap Text

State artists

As co-founders of the NSK (Neue Slowenische Kunst), the IRWIN collective has, since its inception in 1983, questioned the role, structure, and power of the state. The group opens embassies of the NSK State in Time, creates hyper-bureaucratic organigrams, and issues passports – all to illustrate the violence and absurdity inherent in the state apparatus. IRWIN probes the relationship between international avant-garde and politics, and manipulates its aesthetics to forge a new national art. Initially responding to the breakup of Yugoslavia and the emergence of various successor states, in recent years, the NSK State in Time founded in 1992 has gained global significance in connection with current issues of migration. What defines a state artist? If IRWIN is regarded as such, which nation are we referring to? Where does ‘political correctness’ find its limits? These are just a few of the questions raised by the exhibition ‘Was ist Kunst, IRWIN?’ and this publication.

Black Humour

Black humour enables us to address disconcerting subjects with a smile and come to terms with the violence and reality of the world. Among all forms of wit, it is the most political and critical, challenging the boundaries of ‘good taste’, class distinctions, and the very role of contemporary art in society. Born from the post-punk movement of the 1980s, the five members of IRWIN share an interest for complex provocation. Their work freely appropriates – with great intelligence – the canons of the avant-garde, propaganda images, and regional kitsch. They emphasise that their art is ‘deadly serious’ while occasionally poking fun at their own personas. Can we laugh at everything with everyone? Is it adequate to frame a work by Wolf Vostell to consider it an IRWIN creation? Is Kazimir Malevich truly gone and buried? These are just some of the questions posed by the exhibition Was ist Kunst, IRWIN? and this publication.


Was ist Kunst, IRWIN?


Inke Arns, Thibaut de Ruyter



Inke Arns, Thibaut de Ruyter, Lara Both


Burke Barrett (Englisch), Dr. Kristina Wengorz (German)



e o t . essays on typography, Berlin


Exhibition views: Jannis Wiebusch, Emine Ercihan
Reproduction photographs: Jonas Klein, Jan Ladwig, Jannis Wiebusch




German, English


G&C Art Translators, Katie Hardy (Englisch), Patrick Boris Kremer (Deutsch und Englisch)


17 x 24 cm, 288 pages


Kettler, Dortmund





10,00 € – on site

18,00 € – incl. VAT + shipping, order via Verlag Kettler


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