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|Letter from the Rhineland
by Barbara Weidle
|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 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
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
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.
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
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 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
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.