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|Berlin Art Diary
by April Elizabeth Lamm
|Poet Ted Berrigan described New York as a place "where love can stay only for a minute, then has to go, to get some work done." As for hectic Berlin, the city still pretends to have time for slow things like ... hugs. Thus, "Picasso: Die Umarmung" -- that is, "the embrace" -- filling to the brim the ground floor of the Neue National Galerie, Mies van der Rohe's cold but much-adored glass box.
Compliments of the Spanish government (with the generous support of Maya Picasso), the show is a "gift" to Germany on the 10th anniversary of reunification, and is on view Oct. 3-Dec. 10, 2000. Curated and conceived by Picasso's son Claude Picasso and Sylvie Vautier, "The Embrace" features over 120 paintings, drawings, prints and sculpture from the artist's entire career.
Picasso's many embraces range from loving cuddles of mother and child to platonic embraces between friends, from the passionate melding of lovers to the horrific loss of a mother sobbing over the body of her dead child in the sketches for Guernica.
The Kiss is a title bestowed on several of the embraces, which from 1925 onwards embody more of an idea than something figurative and recognizably human. It would seem that the kiss, as such, is an activity not always pleasant -- Beckett called it "slow motion of osmotic spittle." A series from 1929 is recognizable only by the portrayal of pointy teeth. A kiss of 1931 by the triangular tongue. In a series of kisses from 1969, it is the nose that takes prominence in handicapping any genuine melting into one another.
But if we look at the show in the terms of the difficult embrace of East and West -- the gouache that graces the cover of the show's catalogue is symbolic of the economic piggy-backing in The Two Brothers (1906).
After the Wall
The curators traveled far and wide, visiting over 300 studios before weeding out more than half of the candidates. The show made its debut at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm in March 1999, where it was thematically organized under the following headings: Social Sculpture, Reconstructing History, the Interrogation of the Artist's Identity, and the Role of Gender.
The chief curator, Bojana Pejic was "made in Belgrade," but for the last ten years she's been a Berliner. This put her at the top of the list for her "insider-outsider" vantage point. David Elliott and Iris Müller-Westermann also had a hand on the curatorial wheel.
My favorite Bulgarian made the cut, Nedko Solakov, with an installation heralding the Bulgarian nouveau riche called The New Ones (1996). In a richly red-painted room hang gold-framed portraits of a television executive, an oil and advertising mogul, the representatives of UPS and the owner of the Castle Hotel. In a hand-written description on the wall, Solakov explains how he asked these "New Masters" to sit for him in order to have themselves immortalized in oil.
More "new" things are featured in the work of the Bulgarian Luchezar Boyadjiev. His Neo-Golgotha (1994) made a strong impression near the show's entranceway, where three grossly enlarged business suits were hung in the manner of Christ and the two thieves at Calvary. Here, the "new religion" wears cheap, mauve-colored ties.
Photographs of sooty coal miners in soiled ballet tutus by Ukrainian artists Arsen Savadov and Oleksandr Kharchenko give a humorous twist to an all too macho and much revered profession often portrayed in Social Realist art.
Battered and abused women featured in the art works of several participants, and pornography loomed large. Press your ears to Slovakian Ilona Németh's "vagina-like" buttonholes (they looked more like buttholes to me) to experience the moans and groans of an excited woman emitted from a large velvet divan called the Polyfunctional Woman (Get Laid!) (1996).
The spread legs of a lady featured scientifically in the work of Czech Veronika Bromova, and lasciviously in a video of a woman touching herself by Zoran Naskovski (who is from the former Yugoslavia) called L'origine du monde (1997)... Dalibor Martinis' Coma (1997) gives the viewer a sadistic thrill, push the red button and the sleeping man on the video screen awakes to a shot of a lightning bolt to read out loud from a text. The crassness of a play set for creating a child's own Lego Concentration Camp (1996) from Zbigniew Libera takes its inspiration from the so-called "Schindler's List Tour" now offered to tourists in Cracow.
There was some esthetic respite from all of the heavy historicizing and genderizing. The Bathhouse (1997) women of Polish Katarzyna Kozyra's videos taken from the Budapest baths were positively photo-realistic Ingres -- bathed in a golden light, viewed by no one other than a secret camera, their gaze directed inward and not to that of the male painter. Apparently Kozyra made a sociological study of bathhouse behavior, taking it upon herself to don a fake penis and beard in order to penetrate the all male part of the bathhouse and found that the men constantly stared at one another, whereas the women looked only to themselves. Aidan Salakhova, owner of the Aidan gallery in Moscow, has a lovely piece called Suspense -- a video of an impatient pregnant lady in profile projected onto a canvas of her painted and very still image.
The video installation by Estonia's Jaan Toomik, called Father and Son (1998), shows a white landscape with a naked middle-aged man (Toomik himself) who skates towards the viewer, around and around the camera and then away to the sun-filled distant horizon. On the soundtrack is Toomik's own son's mournful, choir-boy song. The work's simplicity is a positive relief, a rare moment of "being" instead of "meaning." Like Archibald MacLeish famously said all poems should be.
Only a handful of the artists in the show were familiar to me, mainly because they're all Ossies (East Germans): Via Lewandowsky, Olaf Nicolai, Neo Rauch and Frank Thiel. Certain artists were excluded from the lot, perhaps because they've had their fair share of Western exposure: Komar and Melamid and Ilya Kabakov, to name just a few.
Willie Doherty at the DAAD Galerie
Truly painterly was his response: "No," he said, "just the faint white light of the night in Berlin. In Ireland the street lamps give off this golden glow. The difference struck me." I agreed. Berlin is one of the darkest cosmopolitan landscapes that I know. Even the daylight of the winter has a dark tint to it. The golden globe goes into hibernation it seems, for about eight months of the year, blanketed by a pale white sky.
Doherty grew up "watched over" by the police in what he calls the "northern part" of Ireland. Supposedly thousands of unofficial ex-Stasi employees still live in Berlin. Taking on the role, from the viewpoint of a car, Doherty photographed an empty Berlin, devoid of people. He spies on empty corridors, empty parking garages, stairwells.
His vantage is that of an outsider looking in. Often bars or gates separate him from his inanimate subject. Often the single light source is that of a fluorescent lighting tube in a passageway, or reflected in a puddle. It is the setting of waiting for something minimal or nothing to happen. Beautiful in a very big way.
The results are these nice colored boxes, "pixel boxes" that look like designer furniture soon to appear in a bar near you. Her dissecting the visuals of a film is a lot like taking a microscope to it, as if by blowing it up, we might get to the essence of Antonioni. An idea that brings to mind the work of the language philosophers, a deconstruction in search of the enigmatic it-ness of something good.
The big box made up of 17 different modules has already sold. But the smaller works -- a combination of four boxes each -- take their titles from a snippet of description ("There was," "a beautiful," "light," "in the park") are still available for DM 50,000 each. The single box "today" is selling for DM 20,000. The show closes Nov. 18.
AND . . .
Susan Turcot's drawings and sculpture were selling like hotcakes (from DM 1,100 upwards) over at Arndt & Partner (to Oct. 28) -- a good thing for Matthias Arndt, since his other gallery space in the Hackesche Höfe displayed little more than the remnants of a party. The very unsalable work of the artist group called of the Gob Squad -- four young Brits and a pair of Germs who made serious business out of the fun of throwing a birthday party in honor of the 46-year-old rock diva Annie Lennox.
Adopting a feigned obsession with Annie for two weeks, on the night of the performance the artists restricted their audience to those garbed in a Dave Stewart beard -- or at least, no one was allowed to look pretty. In a group act of "Annie Adoration," we made birthday cards for her, poor love. Truly, the star herself was wrapped up like a mummy, sedated, in a tented corner of the room. If you laughed or mocked the charade, your ass was grass on the outside pavement.
APRIL ELIZABETH LAMM writes on art from Berlin.