Magazine Home  |  News  |  Features  |  Reviews  |  Books  |  People  |  Horoscope  
     
    Letter from the Rhineland
by Barbara Weidle
 
     
 
Ellsworth Kelly
Hotel St. Georges
1948
at the Kunstmuseum Bonn
 
Ellsworth Kelly
Nine Colors on White I
1953
 
Ellsworth Kelly
Detail from "Study for a Painting in Four Separated Panels
1955
 
Paul Klee
The Kairouan Style, Moderately Adapted
1914
 
August Macke
Turkish Café I
1914
 
Gert H. Wollheim
Self-portrait
1922
at the August Macke Haus
 
Gert H. Wollheim
Nude with Top Hat
1926
 
Karen Kilimnik
Me Getting Ready to Go Out to a Rock Concert with Bernadette in Moscow in 1977
1997
at the Bonn Kunstverein
 
Karen Kilimnik
Master Hare, 6 p.m.
1997
 
Helmut Newton
Caroline in Monaco
1988
at the Josef-Haubrich-Kunsthalle
 
Alice Springs
Caroline in Monaco
1985
 
Roderick Buchanan
stills from Gobstopper
at the Ludwig Museum
 
Ross Sinclair
still from Studio Real Life TV
 
Lawrence Weiner
at the Köner Kunstverein
 
Cildo Meireles
The Southern Cross
1969-70
at the Köner Kunstverein
 
Chestnut leaves are flooding the ground of Bonn's Poppelsdorfer Allee, a beautiful street between two baroque castles originally built by Count Clemens August and now housing parts of the university. But it's not yet time for autumn leaves -- the trees are all ill, suffering from infestation by insects.

No cure is available for the trees, at least at present, but it is possible to flee this sad sight and visit the elegant Kunstmuseum Bonn, which at the moment is an island of color. Two impressive shows, "Ellsworth Kelly: The Early Drawings 1948-1955" and "The Order of Color: Paul Klee, August Macke and their Circle," are guaranteed to make you feel better soon.

Ellsworth Kelly: Early Drawings
The Kelly show -- already seen in the U.S. [and which closed in Bonn on Sept. 10] -- is not the first to focus on the celebrated monochromist's early years in France. In 1992, the Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume, Paris, and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., presented drawings and photographs from that period, and the 1996 Kelly retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum in New York also included examples of work from Kelly's early sojourn in France. But the current show still is quite useful in documenting how Kelly found his way to the shaped canvases and sculptures he is famous for.

The presentation in Bonn, densely installed by Kelly himself in three galleries, allows an intimate view over the artist's shoulder in his Paris studio. Through 200 drawings and collages from his own collection, Kelly illustrates the difficult but exciting path to Color Field painting. One highlight is the project for the artist's book, Line, Form, Color (1951), featuring 40 works that are something like a grammar of abstraction -- now published for the first time.

"Everywhere I looked, everything I saw became something to be made, and it had to be exactly as it was, with nothing added. It was a new freedom: there was no longer the need to compose. The subject was there already made, and I could take from everything. It all belonged to me: a glass roof of a factory with its broken and patched panels, lines on a road map … paper fragments in the street. It was all the same: anything goes," Kelly said.

In France, Kelly worked for six years like a scholar, looking for possible alternatives to traditional composition. Knowing the work of Hans Arp and the Surrealists, he experimented with methods of chance, the modular grid and the monochrome panel. One important aspect of his formal strategy was to treat figure and ground the same, avoiding a hierarchy of forms and any narrative element. The show reveals clearly the degree to which Minimalism, as well as the work of painters like Gerhard Richter and Blinky Palermo, were anticipated by Kelly's experiments.

The Order of Color
After Kelly, it was amazing to go up to the Kunstmuseum's second floor and visit "The Order of Color: Paul Klee, August Macke and their Circle" -- the circle including Robert Delaunay, Wassily Kandinsky and Louis Moilliet. Delaunay's abstract window paintings (Les Fenętres simultanées and La Fenętre sur la Ville) from 1912 to 1914 clearly influenced the German Expressionist painters August Macke and Franz Marc, both members of the famous "Blue Rider" group that formed around Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee. With Ellsworth Kelly´s window drawings made 40 years later, and his studies in pencil of light reflecting on water, installed nearby, it is really a wonderful opportunity to go back and forth in art history.

Through a survey of 180 paintings, watercolors and drawings, Kunstmuseum Bonn curator Volker Adolphs shows how artists like Klee and Macke used color and form to express what they saw in their imagination. Macke, for example, tried abstraction, but did his best work when he penetrated visual reality by using color as light. The show illustrates how these artists considered color as form and light and how they built their paintings in a different way after having seen the work of Robert Delaunay.

The exhibition also documents the influence of the color and light of Tunis on the work Macke, Klee and Moilliet following their trip there in 1914. It has been 20 years since we have seen such a big display of these great paintings. Much too long! (Macke's 1914 watercolor Market in Tunis, by the way, is due to go on the block at Christie's London in October with a presale estimate of $4 million-$5 million.) The exhibition remains on view in Bonn through Oct. 1 before appearing at the Kunstmuseum Bern in Switzerland, Oct. 26, 2000-Feb. 4, 2001.

Phantast und Rebell
Bonn even has something wild this fall. The August Macke Haus, a little museum that specializes in Expressionism and the art of the 1920s in the Rhineland, is presenting "Phantast und Rebell," a show of paintings and work on paper by Gert H. Wollheim. Wollheim was born in Dresden 1894, fled Germany in 1933, and after a hard time in France, being interned in several camps and later hidden at a farm until the end of World War II, moved to New York in 1947. There he died in 1974.

The exhibition features works from 1921 to 1926, when the artist lived in Berlin and Dusseldorf. At first sight, Wollheim's work suggests that of George Grosz, but Wollheim is more surreal, maybe even more rude. His experience in World War I, which he addressed in impressive and touching pencil drawings, made him a radical pacifist and advocate of internationalism.

His subjects are execution, crime, strange and sometimes brutal dreams, and the unknown. "We have to see our soul, our soul, that makes us cry or laugh," he wrote in 1920. Wollheim's work seems to dance between collage, realism, Surrealism and Expressionism, as if he was switching between styles to get his message across. Very impressive. The show is on view until Oct. 22.

Karen Kilimnik
Karen Kilimnik, who was born in 1962 and lives in Philadelphia, is a painter, draughtsman and installation artist who also dances. She loves classical ballet and in her work balances between kitsch, fairytales and childhood. So we see paintings of horses, flowers, dogs, snowflakes or the frail artist herself as a teen beauty, as in Me Getting Ready to Go Out to a Rock Concert with Bernadette in Moscow in 1977 (1997).

Kilimnik's first one-woman-show in Europe, now at the Bonn Kunstverein (it opened at the Kunstverein Wolfsburg and then appeared at South London Gallery), is a rather modest performance. A single portrait of Hugh Grant is the only reference to her obsession with painting pictures of movie stars and fashion models.

But the show is certainly interesting to see. Even touching, in fact, to watch an artist build her own cosmos with such a longing for beauty and harmony and questioning it at the same time. It seems as if she flees into her own dreams, which are not without cracks and breaks.

The galleries that she created in Bonn, with wall-lamps, velvet ribbons and purple painted walls, don't really work, maybe because the space is too big and the presentation, with her rather small paintings, a little too purist. But still, there is something around her work, an atmosphere of fragility, that I cannot resist. The show is up through Sept. 24.

Us and Them in Cologne
As for Cologne, the country's purported contemporary art capital, the city seems to be in a late summer sleep when you look for art. But "Us and Them," an exhibition of 200 photo portraits by Helmut Newton and Alice Springs at the Josef-Haubrich-Kunsthalle, may well be the most entertaining show in town. This very personal installation gives a sensitive insight into their life story and relationship, which has now lasted for 50 years.

She portrayed him, he portrayed her and they did a lot of self-portraits -- but the exhibition also makes the difference in their respective styles obvious by showing portraits they both did of the same people. These doubly portrayed subjects include Monaco's princess Caroline, actresses Jane Birkin, Charlotte Rampling and Catherine Deneuve, celebrity socialite Tina Chow, the late couturier Gianni Versace and others.

While Alice Springs came to photography later, after having been a painter and an actress, Newton has of course devoted his entire life to the craft. "I can see the truth and simplicity in the portraits of Alice Springs," he writes in the catalogue. "As for myself, I recognize the manipulation and editorializing in my photographs."

Such may also be true for visitors to this remarkable presentation, which has a pronounced humanity, though Newton's view is rather artificial. People pose for him and make a performance, while Alice Springs just looks at them and lets them be what they are or what they want to be. The show closes Sept. 25.

British video art, Günter Umberg
The Ludwig Museum, which will soon be directed by Frankfurt curator Kasper König, presents -- besides a show of Günter Umberg's monochrome paintings in dialogue with works by Warhol, Flavin, Polke, Kelly, Johns, Ryman and others -- an exhibition of new video from Britain. "Black Box Recorder," as it is titled, is roughly installed in the museum basement in a small dark room with four monitors and six chairs.

The eye wanders from one screen to the next, zapping between Douglas Gordon's Blue, a video where hands play with each other in a rather erotic way, and Marc Dean's tape Goin' Back (The Birds/The Byrds), an endlessly repeated short scene from Hitchcock's The Birds accompanied by a lyrical progression from the song Goin' Back by the rock group The Byrds.

Those with enough patience can possibly see interesting works by 12 artists from Great Britain, born between 1956 and 1968, including Roderick Buchanan, Sarah Dobai, Christina Mackie and Ross Sinclair, through Sept. 20.

Lawrence Weiner, Cildo Meireles
We started on an island of color in Bonn and now finish on a wonderful island of emptiness and strength at the Kölner Kunstverein, where the American conceptual artist Lawrence Weiner wrote the sentence "As far as the eye can see" -- a work from 1988 -- in capital letters on the two far opposite walls of the 500 square meter exhibition space. The gallery is flooded with daylight, and between the two statements is an energy of thought and contemplation.

In the middle of the room is a nearly invisible but very strong work by the Brazilian artist Cildo Meireles. His tiny The Southern Cross (1969-70) is a cube that measures nine millimeters on an edge -- its surfaces are barely as large as a fingernail -- composed of two different types of wood (pine and oak). There is much power in this space.

The show runs through Oct. 1, and goes on view at the Kunstverein Heilbronn, Oct. 7-Nov. 26.


BARBARA WEIDLE is an art historian and curator who lives in Bonn and Berlin.