My Sorrow Nightingale is based on Ulay’s 1976 intervention Action in 14 Predetermined Sequences: There is a Criminal Touch to Art. For this controversial work, performance artist Ulay stole an original painting by Carl Spitzweg, Der Arme Poet (1839), from the Neue Nationalgalerie and hung it in the apartment of a Turkish migrant family on Muskauerstraße in Berlin. That Ulay chose a painting so widely known and reproduced in postcards and other forms reflects both the precariousness of artists’ decisions to steal and, moreover, defines the complicity of art institutions in this act. Even more interesting is the way that Ulay imagines the migrant communities of the 70s in relation to the art world.
Needless to say that many things have shifted in contemporary Germany since this legendary criminal art-action. For this very reason, some of the inhabitants from Muskauerstrasse will make a brief appearance at the Neue Nationalgalerie on November 1. They will whistle a poem to commemorate Carl Spitzweg’s poor eponymous subject, and by doing so, they will inspire us to re-imagine precariousness, suffering, kitsch, poetry, and community in a joyful manner, thirty-eight years after the initial action.