Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Berlin Pt. 2

Gerhard Richter's mammoth Tate and Pompidou retrospective was at at the New National Gallery during my visit.  Richter is  now the twentieth century German artist.  He is Pollock and Warhol all wrapped up into one.  He grew up in the east and left for the west.  He belongs to all of Germany.  He is more accessible than that previous hero of post-war German art Joseph Beuys and lots more fun. 

Mies’ famed temple of glass and light was a bit dank as the rain would not let up on a gloomy Saturday.   But the  art lovers showed up en masse and they were rewarded by examples from all of Richter’s periods including his recent forays into tighter modernist color paintings.   If you think he’s the greatest you weren’t disappointed, if on the other hand you saw his 2002 retrospective at the MoMA and you weren’t particularly moved then it was more instructive to notice the small details. One of which was that in this open plan convention center-like space, the walls are temporary,  but unlike what you would witness in the United States at even a regional museum, the Germans apparently don’t think its important to spackle the seams that run every 4 ft. across the walls.  It’s very distracting but taken with the shot glass sized orange juice  I was handed in the morning at my hotel’s breakfast buffet it made a lot of sense.   Europe sometimes seems like its on war ration status.
Lee Lozano 1967
In the basement of the New National Gallery was a survey of work from the permanent collection done between 1945 and 1970 featuring mostly American and German artists.  Rothko, Louis, Warhol,  Flavin,  Judd, Rauschenberg, Held, were all accounted for but its always interesting to see the less than usual suspects.  A wonderful Bontecu and Lee Lozano for starters as well as a Ronald Bladen filled that niche. One other surprise was a Goerg Karl Pfahler abstract painting from the 1960s. Pfahler died in 2002 and was Germany's Ellsworth Kelly
Georg Karl Pfahler 1964
Bontecu 1962
The next venue was the Martin-Gropius-Bau a lovely old exhibition space now refurbished as a contemporary art museum which was exhibiting “Kunst in Los Angeles 1950-1980" from the Getty as part of the Pacific Standard Time program. The standouts here were Hockney’s iconic A Bigger Splash and Man Showering in Beverly Hills both from the 1960s and both owned by the Tate and two Ed Ruschas including his Pop MasterpieceStandard Oil Gas Station, Amarillo (1963).  It has become clear to me that Ed Ruscha is the best artist produced by the Pop Art movement in the United States.  He was there at its inception and the quality, scope and depth of his thinking about art as well as the oeuvre he has produced over 50 years surpasses Warhol and Lichtenstein. The exhibition also featured the largest stretched canvas painting I have ever seen, a Sam Francis abstraction measuring 29 ft high by 39 ft wide.   

The Hamburger Bahnhof is the closest thing Berlin has to a Dia: Beacon. Housed in a former train station that had not been used since 1906, the museum serves the art of the1960s through today. It has many Dan Flavins both as discrete objects and integrated with the building itself. The museum houses many works by Joseph Beuys. And if one's inclination is to dismiss his work as mostly hysterical melodrama you won't have that opinion dissuaded.  It was great seeing a work by the wonderful underrated British painter Alan Charlton.  Charlton should have the same importance as Ryman but does not and is not someone you will ever see in an American museum. My first published writing on art was a 1991 review of Charlton's work for Arts Magazine, and my first group show in New York, After Reinhardt (1991) featured myself, Charlton, Uglow, Ryman, Ford Beckman, Christian Eckart, Tadaaki Kuwayama and Karin Sander.  I wrote the catalogue essay for that show.  
The major show on view is "Architektonika 2" a wonderful survey of the good, the bad and the ugly in work dealing with the intersection of architecture and sculpture. Very few American institutions have the space to mount such an ambitious long-term installation--it runs from April 2012 until January 2013 and includes work by Absalon, Jürgen Albrecht, Carl Andre, Stan Douglas, Nina Fischer & Maroan el Sani, Peter Fischli / David Weiss, Isa Genzken, Dan Graham, Rachel Khedoori, Sol LeWitt, Gordon Matta-Clark, Bruce Nauman, Roman Ondák, Manfred Pernice, Andrea Pichl, Hermann Pitz, Dieter Roth & Björn Roth, Anri Sala, Albrecht Schäfer, Thomas Schütte, Thomas Struth, James Turell, Jeff Wall and Tobias Zielony are presented. A wonderful Marjetica Potrč  sculpture developed specifically for this exhibition is designed on the principle of the "growing house". Marjetica Potrc recreates one of the hideous little houses that adorn the cityscape in Caracas, complete with satellite dish. 

Andre's sublime wood cedar piece filling up an entire gallery whets the appetite for next year's Beacon retrospective but its the lesser seen artists who again shine. But the true highlights include the Israeli artist Absalon who died of AIDS in 1993 at the age of 2. On view is one of his exquisite Cellues.  These single-person dwellings are not opportunities for instruction on decor or good design but embody the terror of psychic and physical isolation and eventually death.  They are among the greatest works produced anywhere in the past 30 years. There is no "boo hoo" "gotcha" in these like you would get in a Nauman. Absalon was not a hack.  These are tombs.  
  Meanwhile, Juergen Albrecht had 8 tiny Light and Space dioramas installed inside a wall with the viewer able to peep a look through small openings.  

The gallery scene is clustered around the Bahnhof complex and the whole area looks a bit like Bergamont Station in Santa Monica.  Nearby is the flagship gallery for global art gallery Haunch of Venison.  

The pre-20th century museum scene centers around the famous Museuminsel or Museum Island in Central Mitte. The Berliner Dom above is part of the area which contains some landmarks of world civilization. Shinkel's Old Museum is there housing ancient art from Greece and Rome.  But the jewel is the Pergamon Museum built in 1930 and the famed Altar from 2nd Century BC Greece is there.  Topping that however is the Ishtar Gate from 575 BC and the lost city of Babylon.  There is nothing quite like it anywhere in any museum in the world.
A former East German housing complex
An older model subway car
Not to nitpick but we stayed at a boutique hotel that was expensive by Berlin standards but somethings were just a little off including these rub-on vinyl decal letters used to identify rooms.  Some were peeling from the heat given off by the lamp while others weren't even properly placed. Not something you would see in a comparable hotel in the United States.
Next stop, Rome.

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