From the Dachau Schlossberg you have a great view of the state capital Munich, you can see the Frauenkirche, the Olympic Tower and the O₂ Tower with the naked eye, and when the foehn wind blows, you can even see the Alps. If you want to see more details, you can look through one of the telescopes that the Bavarian Palaces and Lakes Administration has set up in the courtyard garden for this purpose. This is exactly what a boy did on a summer’s day and what he saw he had to tell his little brother right away. “I see the sea!” he shouted excitedly. “I see the sea!”
Johannes Karl was sitting on a bench a few steps away from the action and enjoying himself: he knew that the boy was neither cheating nor insane. Inside the prepared telescope, a film ran on a continuous loop, his “Seascape”: Behind the Schlossberg you could see a sandy beach with gently rolling waves, where people in bathing suits strolled. It was his contribution to the anniversary exhibition of the Dachau Artists’ Association (KVD). That was in 2019, but many in Dachau still remember it very vividly four years later.
But Johannes Karl is not only an artist with visions, he has also been chairman of the artists’ association since 2014 and contributed more to the sensational open-air art event than just an extremely original exhibit. “You appear as two beings,” says the 40-year-old, “as a public organizer and as an artist.”
“You couldn’t do it alone.”
For the Tassilo Prize Süddeutsche Zeitung he has now been nominated as KVD chairman, the proposal came from within his own ranks. “It is thanks to Johannes’ commitment that many young artists have been won over for membership in recent years – in order to create a future for the association,” explains his deputy on the board, Margot Krottenthaler. “He is not only an absolute stroke of luck for the KVD, but also enriches the cultural landscape and the discourse in Dachau with his commitment to a degree worthy of an award.”
In 2014, Johannes Karl took over the KVD chair from Monika Siebmanns. It had kept the store together until then – which is certainly no small achievement, because the centrifugal forces were great. The base had already grayed with dignity, most had retired from active work. Which didn’t prevent them from making life difficult for each other with jealousy. Several times in its history, the KVD was faced with the question of whether it would be better to disband.
Today, in 2023, it is hard to imagine that, and Johannes Karl likes to pretend that this development has nothing to do with him. He simply has a “great team” that supports him on the board, he says, namely Margot Krottenthaler, Florian Marschall, Maria Detloff and Ramón Grote. “You couldn’t do it alone.” But the fact that there is a togetherness again is also and above all to be attributed to him and his integrative, pragmatic way.
Sometimes he is even blamed for it: Then it is said that he should mess with the city of Dachau more. For example, when she orders woodwork to be removed from the KVD gallery for fire safety reasons. But he doesn’t. Johannes Karl prefers communication to the thunder of the theatre, he does not like the big performance. He appears at vernissages in a T-shirt or knitted jumper, and his welcoming speeches rarely last longer than 30 seconds. Karl doesn’t ramble on. He makes.
“The KVD must be something like an opportunity forum”
Even at exhibitions, he does not present himself as the great chairman. When it comes to art, he gives the members free rein, at least as far as this is technically and organizationally possible. He doesn’t see himself as an artistic director or program director. “The KVD must be something like an opportunity forum,” explains Johannes Karl. “The artists themselves can make big themes that are important to them.” That makes a lot of the new radiance of the KVD. But by no means everything.
The new chairman has changed the framework and the formats in which the artists present their work. In 2015, the traditional palace exhibition of the KVD was relocated from the aristocratic Renaissance hall of the Dachau Palace to the empty administration building of the old MD paper factory: a bare industrial look instead of a wooden coffered ceiling. Under Johannes Karl, art in Dachau is more courageous, modern and approachable, and the KVD brought it closer to people who would never go to an art exhibition.
It was the same in 2019 with the open-air exhibition “Raus” to mark the 100th anniversary of the KVD. The artists covered the entire city area, the view of the people of Dachau on their city changed – and not just for those who looked through Karl’s magic telescope. In the streets and squares, people were confronted with art in the truest sense of the word.
Art in public space means a risk – Johannes Karl takes it
“Many found it exciting, also because it was so big,” says the KVD boss today. “But you shouldn’t underestimate how many people walk through the city who don’t know anything about art.” A painted ceramic piece by guest artist Luise Koch in the Moorbadpark was smashed. To this day it is not known whether it was intentional or an accident. Art in public space also means risk. The KVD board, above all Johannes Karl, is always willing to take this risk.
Until a few weeks ago, seven video projections by KVD artists were still flickering in seven city windows. The idea for this open-air exhibition in winter, which was also “a digital extension of our cityscape”, came – one might almost say of course – from Johannes Karl. He did an animation of a mixed team of characters from classic paintings playing soccer with a halo falling off a hiker’s head. By the way, he gets it back safely in the end. This is how you have to imagine it, the “possibility space” that Johannes Karl speaks of.