Monday, April 23, 2012

Berlin Part I

We arrived in Berlin on Friday, April 6 from New York. It was my first time in the German capital. I had been to Germany in the early 1990s when Bonn was the capital of West Germany. Then, I visited Cologne the city that at that time was the epicenter of German contemporary art.  That visit also included time in Frankfurt a great city for art museums.  But I always wanted to go to Berlin.  It was the city for artists  some 10 years ago or so as reunification allowed for new possibilities for cheap studios and flats. 

That moment has come and gone and Berlin has settled now for more or less what it will be in the near future.  It is a city with much to admire in terms of its public transportation,  museums,  infrastructure and a very pleasant and friendly citizenry. It also helps that English really is almost on a par with German here.  We Americans are fortunate that the rest of the world bothered to learn a second language and for most it has been English.

Talking to some of the locals, however, there is a begrudging need to acknowledge its recent past.  Specifically how to deal with what happened between 1933-1945.   And then from 1946-1989,  and then from 1991 until now. For these reasons it  may be the most interesting city in the world.  It was here that so much of what has happened of consequence in the recent history of the world was shaped. Our own empire post -1945 is due in large part to the catastrophic  follies that emanated from Berlin.

Besides the extraordinary  ancient art collections,  (and some fabulous contemporary art museums),  the Berlin story that is most vivid is in the one that centers around the Nazi regime.  I have never been to a Holocaust museum in any city before.  I  still don’t think I have been inside one.  But I did visit Daniel Liebskind’s  Jewish Museum (2001)  and there you experience not just a  re-presentation of Jewish history but  you finally begin to see why  these events unfolded the way they did and you feel the powerful sense of loss  in his novel use of voids and emptiness. 

The narrative of history is told through a museum that is extremely interactive (in a good way) but whose ultimate power lies in Liebskind’s design—a meandering  journey into the heart of darkness.  The most moving part of the exhibit for me was a short 5 minute interview with an American Jewish lawyer now in his 80s who was involved in the Nuremburg Trials.  He breaks down in tears recalling his profound disappointment 60 years ago at the clamoring of Germans  already wanting to move on. It is powerful stuff.  He concluded that they just did not care.  In West Germany there was much foot-dragging around the issue of de-Nazificiation while in the East, much rhetorical fury was aimed at the Nazi past, but all was forgiven if one toed the Communist line quick enough.
The second space dedicated to the telling of this history is in the remarkable Topography  of Terrors Museum (2010).  The museum is sited on the grounds of the SS building where so much of the death was conceived. The stunning building by German architect Peter Zumthor  is an updated Miesan pavilion caged in by a steel curtain—this is not a national gallery of art after all but a national gallery of shame.  This museum was the museum that you could picture artists such as Martha Rosler,  Barbara Kruger and  Hans Peter Feldman among others making.  There was little sentimentality, only lots of photos and text that told its story very clearly.  
The final part of the trio of  death was Peter Eisenman’s spectacular memorial to the “Murdered Jews of Europe” (2005).  It is in every way as powerful as Maya Lin’s Vietnam Memorial.  If I could continue the comparisons to artists,  whereas Lin’s work is a Serra,  Eisenman’s work is Andre, Judd and Nauman.  Minimal and Post-Minimalism have become the de facto style for these kinds of memorials (see Oklahoma City).   From Judd he got the plain rectangular slabs, from Andre there regularization into a grid and the  fact that you can touch them and step on them (though you are not supposed to but little kids and wannabee fashion models where poised atop).  But  what makes this work especially powerful is the parts he borrows from Nauman—that  sense of moving through a space that now becomes fraught with dislocation, anxiety and disorientation.  If you only do one thing in Berlin, I suggest Eisenman’s memorial. 
The other “political” museum was one dedicated to the DDR  or the former German Democratic Republic (East Germany). This museum is what a  Pop Art  aesthetic  would  bring to an examination of the DDR.  It reminded me  of the space in New York’s South Street Seaport which houses the Bodies exhibition.  This was the DDR for tourists and it was a lot of fun.  Actual cars including the crappy Tarant  were on display as well as a 3-D recreation of a typical East German apartment.  On display were everything from the anabolic steroid pills given to East German athletes,  East German blue jeans,  interrogation rooms and cells,  lots of pictures of nude East Germans vacationing (nudity being one of the unofficial protests against the shackling conformity of the Honecher regime).    One object that did catch my eye was Eric Honecher’s beautiful hotline to the Politburo phone (see foto).    After an hour in the DDR museum you come away with the universal understanding that East Germany was one big shithole.  And that’s before you learn of how this supposedly earth-loving regime (they passed their version of the EPA ) polluted and spoiled everything in its path by the early 80s.

Berlin was the quietest big-city I have ever been to.  The only aberrant street noise coming on exactly two different occasions as Arabs celebrating weddings honked their horns through the city streets.  It was drizzling for most of the 5 days and that grey drizzle seemed to fit the mood of the populace.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

In the Studio with David Horii

David Horii is a painter who lives in the heart of Bushwick's Morgantown artist's district. His newest paintings which he has been working on for the past year comprise a series of two dozen works. They are based on images from Boys' Life magazine from the 1960s and 1970s--the official publication of the Boy Scouts of America. Many of the paintings like the images themselves have a homoerotic tension.
His acrylic paintings are painted either on canvas or wood panels and are either small or medium in size. He renders these images in a kind of clip art style and each has a uniform monochromatic ground. But as with all of Horii's paintings, there is always a twist. Some images are straightforward representations of boys and young men engaged in scouting activities but others contain more ambiguous imagery--one is blindfolded, another has a black eye, one looks like Henry Rollins, another like Joe Dellesandro.  
Perhaps the finest painting I saw was the poignant and haunting image depicting a man in water.  Depending on your viewpoint, he's either floating or drowning.  It is a perfect metaphor for all current situations whether global or personal. It contains several contradictions at once. It is a remarkable painting.  
This is the first time these paintings have been published in any form anywhere. I can see them garnering a lot of attention from collectors, critics and gallerists.