Wackerbarth, born in 1950, 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 collects people and fates. For almost four decades he has been touring the world with his Red Couch, which he places in the living environments of different people and then takes portraits of them on it. Young and old, rich and poor, famous and unknown, Nobel prize winners and the uneducated, in the icy wastes of Alaska and in the South American rain forest, in the European metropolises and in Siberian villages.
The aim is to create a portrait work - a gallery of mankind. In the course of this, the Red Couch is a common element, a recurrent theme, a stage, a throne and a communication platform all at the same time.
The Red Couch puts everyone on an equal footing. To date, more than 1,000 people in 53 countries have sat down on the Red Couch and 1,456 people have answered, in 54 languages, the universal questions that Wackerbarth asks his protagonists and records on video.
Yet, for Wackerbarth this is always about reflecting humanity’s big issues through the biographies of individuals using photography, text and video.
The “Red Couch – A Gallery of Mankind“ by Horst Wackerbarth consists of 17 sub-projects worldwide that he realised from 1980 to 2017 in Asia, Europe and on the American continent.
“Wackerbarth’s Red Couch is ultimately probably the most extensive body of portrait works worldwide”
Rheinische Post [a major German regional daily newspaper] on 15 September 2016
His works have been published in eleven monograph books, showcased in more than 50 solo exhibitions at museums and galleries worldwide and they form a part of 13 important collections of contemporary art.
“Wackerbarth’s oeuvre is now already a work of major importance within the genre of portraiture”
Freddy Langer, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung [a major German daily newspaper of national scope], 16 October 2006
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.