The Red Couch – A Gallery of Mankind
Wackerbarth is a photographic and video artist based in Düsseldorf. The Red Couch projects have been a key focal point of his life's work.
Wackerbarth has been portraying people from all walks of life in their living environment on his Red Couch since 1979. He traveled to countries from the most important cultural areas of the world: Europe, Russia, China, Africa, North and South America.
His goal was and is (the work is not yet completed) a portrait work, to record a new "Family of Mankind" for future generations.
As such, the Red Couch Project is conceptual art about a world stage of humanity in the 20th/21st century.
From the beginning, the project has stood for the greatest possible diversity: young and old, poor and rich, sexual identities and genders, ethnic groups, skin colours and religions, Nobel Prize winners and the illiterate, disabled and able-bodied, celebrities and unknown without any distinction on the Red Couch; in the ice desert of Alaska and in the South American rain forest as well as in the metropolises of Europe and the villages of Siberia.
The socio-cultural developments of the last 40 years as well as major subject areas of humanity are represented. They are illustrated by the locations, the contexts and the biographies of the protagonists.
The Red Couch Project proves that people have more in common than skin colour, religion, nationality or property separates them. The Red Couch puts everyone on an equal footing!
There is no comparable project in the world with this impetus and on this scale. The Red Couch functions as a "safe place" where people are protected and encouraged to raise their voices, tell their stories and leave a trace of their existence. Celebrities are part of the work, just as they are part of the world, but the focus is also on people who are not public, who are rather uninteresting in the media and who are usually not mentioned in the history books.
Wackerbarth's Red Couch is a "ready made" according to Marcel Duchamp's definition. Art and photographic historians rank the work alongside Edward S. Curtis's „The North American Indian“ project, but especially August Sander's „20th Century People“.
Red Couch works have been published in five book monographs, they have been shown in more than 50 solo exhibitions in museums and galleries worldwide and are represented in internationally important collections of contemporary art.
"Wackerbarth's world-spanning work Red Couch unfolds into a global dialogue and is a key work of portrait art!" Freddy Langer, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, December 23, 2021
From 1979 to 2021, more than 1.100 portrait works were created in 40 countries on four continents. More than 1.000 people sat down on the Red Couch and answered the universal life questions that Wackerbarth asked his protagonists and recorded on video in 50 languages.
Only one couch is on the road at any given time. Three sofas have been lost. One fell into the Pacific Ocean during a daring ship manoeuvre, one was destroyed by fire during a photo shoot with firemen and one was disposed of at a museum by workers who mistook it for junk.
The currently reigning couch has been in service since 1996 and is the one on which most protagonists have sat down. From time to time the sofa covers are renewed. A complete restoration was necessary twice, after lions and polar bears had ruined it.
The Red Couch is a work in progress and a never-ending story that will only come to an end when Wackerbarth passes away.