The swimming pool is a darling of post-war Modernism: a public institution linked to the promise that everyone has a right to free time. Private pools, in contrast, are symbols of status: leisure temples in the basements and gardens of bungalows. During the post-war Wirtschaftswunder of West Germany, people did not simply enjoy recreational activities at the pool, they perfected their bodies, displaying their wealth or simply diving under their peers. Ideas of leisure and diversion, of limpid water surfaces and of blue transparency, mark an escape from everyday life. Yet the concept of leisure today, as in the past, diffuses nature, combining both temporal and emotional elements of action.
The exhibition SPLASH BACK at the Lisi Hämmerle Gallery looks to the phenomenon of the swimming pool to question to relevance of post-war Modernism and postmodern architecture (in the context of its progressive disappearance from contemporary environments) in post-postmodern lighting conditions and reflections. As we seek to determine today’s distance from this post-war modernity, we put ourselves in a vulnerable position of loss. The swimming pool is used by our participating artists as a kind of associative melting pot, a “pool of differences.” Thus the complexity, fragmentation, discontinuity, and fragility of the very term modernity become the theme of the exhibition. In the 1970s, David Hockney painted his swimming pool scene A Bigger Splash, a view of a pool with springboard and accompanying splash before a California bungalow. Hockney depicts the moment of splashing into water, yet we see neither the just-submerged figure or a naturalistic splash—it is a false reality of false natural conditions. The work is a symbol of ambivalence, standing for both the prosperity and the weariness of post-war American society, whose complacency has led to the loss of its “drive.”
Apart from this key work by Hockney, Mike Nichols’ 1967 film The Graduate is also an important reference point to the theme of the swimming pool, with its iconic underwater sequence of Dustin Hoffman’s submerged boredom. The pool becomes a sign of (un)happiness, marking a hazy diffused space. The same applies in John Cheever’s 1964 short story “The Swimmer” and its accompanying 1968 film: after Neddy Merrill (played in the film by Burt Lancaster) has eagerly swum the “Lucinda River” of suburban pools, he stands confused in front of his abandoned house.
Text: Alekos Hofstetter assisted by Daniel Wild / Translation: Alexander Swanson