Saturday, April 4, 2015

Artifacts in Briefcase Reveal Long-Ago Affair

In May of 1969, a 39-year-old German businessman named Günter K. began an affair with his 24-year-old secretary, Margret S. Both were married. Over the next 19 months, they engaged in an extended series of sexual romps while traveling hither and thither. Günter's wife eventually learned of the affair and confronted Margret, who threatened to withhold sex from Günter unless his wife apologized to her — which, incredibly, she did.

We know all this because of a large cache of unusually detailed documentation — photographs, receipts, a journal, snippets of hair, empty birth control packaging (examples of which are shown throughout this blog post) — that was found in a briefcase purchased at a German estate sale 30 years after Günter and Margret's affair. Those items were the subject of a book and gallery exhibition in Germany in 2012, and now the exhibition is making its American debut under the title "Margret: Chronicle of an Affair — May 1969 to December 1970" at the White Columns gallery in New York.

The White Columns web page for the show provides good background info. Here's an excerpt:

The archive [of materials found in the briefcase] consists of hundreds of color and black-and-white photographs showing the same woman (Margret S.) in various places and poses: sitting at a typewriter at the office, traveling, or in hotel rooms, undressing, changing, or getting dressed. In the archive, inscribed with dates, are samples of Margret's hair (from both her head and pubic region), her fingernails, and empty contraception packages, as well as a blood-stained napkin. Receipts from hotels and restaurants, as well as travel documents and tickets from theaters, reveal insights into the places the couple visited as well as acknowledging their preferences and interests. Personal notes and diary entries, mostly written with a typewriter, resemble official records. The focus of virtually all these writings is the sexual act, its frequency, its endurance, etc. — all factually underlined yet at the same time described in a coarse and often obscene language. In its conceptual denseness — resulting partly from the obsessiveness of the documentation — the collection seems to reverberate with the practices of artists such as Sophie Calle, where the viewer often finds themselves in a conflicted space, exposed to their own voyeurism.

Faaaaascinating. I haven't gotten over to White Columns yet to see the exhibit, but I definitely plan to. You can see more photos from the show here.

Based on what I've read so far, it's not clear to me if any attempt has been made to find Günter and Margret (who, if they're still alive, would now be 85 and 70, respectively). I hope to learn more about that when I check out the exhibit.

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