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|Berlin Art Diary
by April Lamm
|Chestnut trees and lilac bushes pregnant with blooms make Berlin something of a perfumed green joke. Underneath the foliage, Berlin is gray … concrete blocks, Joseph Beuys-looking construction sites and bullet-pocked buildings galore, right?
Gracious no. I swear to you, summer in Berlin is a little like living in a jungle of weeping willows, birches and linden trees. Overnight, the summer god waved his magic wand over the city, rewarding us for the rainy punishment we suffered throughout the month of March. April was nothing but one warm summer breeze and periwinkle blue sky after another, and May followed her good-mood example.
"Herrliches Wetter," I hear lazily uttered on the streets. "God-like" or "gentlemanly" weather. But this damnable gentlemanly weather is making it hard to go inside and look at what's growing on the walls!
"Berliner Fantasten" at the Bauhaus-Archiv
If it's inside we must, then let it be done in fine fashion. Hiding behind the greenery of the Landwehr Canal is the wavy white-hilled roof and gently zigzagging ramp of the Bauhaus-Archiv Museum for Gestaltung, which recently housed an exhibition of a very un-Bauhaus painter and former student of the academy, Hans Thiemann, and his fantastic "Berliner Fantasten" contemporaries, Karl Hartung, Hannah Höch, Jeanne Mammen, Mac Zimmerman, et al.
Born in 1910, Thiemann got his start by parodying the paintings of Oskar Schlemmer, Max Ernst, Giorgio de Chirico and George Grosz in a series he called "In Comes a Flying Birdie." He attended the Bauhaus school from 1929 to 1933, taking the most from Klee and Kandinsky's "free-painting class," where triangles were regularly critiqued for being too three-sided, circles for being too round, and squares for their quadralateralness!
But the last thing Thiemann wanted was to become one of those Bauhaus "shrunken heads," and so he remained true to his parodies to his dying day. The Requisten-Scherzo (Requisite Joke) (1931) was the first of these masterful works, showing a faceless de Chirico-esque woman figurine pulling along a grinning lion on a candy-striped wagon. Der Kampf (The Battle) (1931) has a Schlemmer-like figure penetrating the throat of a dinosaur in yet another de Chirico landscape, the ruins of a Roman aqueduct trailing along in the background.
In the thick of Nazi Germany ("hallucinationalsocialist," Thiemann quipped), he watched his colleagues and friends disappear into exile or worse, while leading the life of a starved hermit in order to avoid military service. He produced daring satires of Hitler's Reich in works such as the 4-er Maler (1942), which depicts a bulbous-headed, Max Ernst-like character painting the stamp of the four-penny "Fuhrer."
Stammering to find his own style, the 23-year-old was marooned in fascist Berlin. Even long after the war came to a crashing end, an uneasy indigestion of the horrible events continued to stifle him. He only began to begin again in his 50s, as if the advent of Pop Art had popped him out of creative paralysis. Keeping an ironic tone, his last paintings mimicked the decorous qualities of painting, wallpaper upon wallpaper, faces of figures denied their individual details and their humanity as in Atelier des Modemalers (Atelier of the Fashion Painter) (1968).
Hans Bellmer at Galerie Berinson
Across the street from the Kunst-Werke in Mitte was a show of Surrealist Hans Bellmer's photographs and drawings from the estate of his mistress Lusica Codrianu. A world away from Hans Thiemann, though born just eight years before him (1902), Bellmer was of adult age when things started getting sticky in Germany. But his work didn't fall into a crater of emotional turmoil the way that Thiemann's did. Bellmer got out of Doomsland in 1935, living in exile in France (though he was interned in Camp des Milles with Max Ernst in 1939).
The photographs are from his "Puppe" (doll) or "Anagramatic Bodies" series (1934-1938). These fragmented and distorted female mannequins are usually related to the darker sides of sexual fantasies. But perhaps they epitomize the demented puppet-like regime that would soon fragment and dismember its own people.
The very prototypes of both Cindy Sherman's and Dinos and Jake Chapman's dolls, these photographs are selling for 30,000-140,000 DM. The drawings are going for a little less, 20,000-80,000 DM. Remarkable Deustchemarketable dolls.
Heimat Kunst in Jimmy Carter's Smile
Biking through the lushery of Tiergarten, I zipped past fields of dandelions in the state of feathery spheres on stems, pre-golden weed bloom. Even the weeds look magical to me in this forest of velveteen greenery. The Haus der Kultur der Welt (The House of World Culture, a swooping structure aka "Jimmy Carter's smile" or "the pregnant oyster"), designed by the American architect Hugh Stubbins, is slap dab in the middle of Europe's largest metropolitan park and a symbol of the German-American "friendship" after the war.
On exhibition until July 2 is a group show of international artists who have elected to become Berliners. They were asked to produce works of art involving their idea of "home" as part of the campaign that one can see all over the city today via posters of dark-eyed, dark-haired types along with the script, "This is a German."
Of the 44 artists invited to participate, the strongest showing came from the Asians. Qui Ping took her cue from the poet Li Qing Zhao (who said, "People are as weak as thin yellow flowers") by turning the mirroring pond in front of the museum into a lagoon filled with yellow "blooms" she made out of stuffed dishwashing gloves -- like the rose-colored blooms she made for the 1999 Venice Biennale.
Zhu Jinshi filled the slip of grass next to the museum with teepees of bamboo rods and 19 "Forever Shangai China" bicycles mounted and burdened by bamboo poles, similar to the work he did in Munich last year. And Chiharu Shiota made a fantastic-looking room: imagine an installation of a white bed webbed inside of one of Jackson Pollock's paintings. Black strings chaotically wigwam throughout the space, as if recording one's thoughts bouncing off the walls during sleep?
Yoshiyuki Miura tops them all with his humor, manifested in a simple display of 5,000 spoons methodically ordered in a rectangle on the floor. A placard explains that "As a Japanese person at my first dinner in Germany, I was astonished that I had to eat with 'weapons' like forks and knives. Eating utensils in Japan are made of wood or porcelain. Eating itself is a very peaceful activity. The European spoon in this environment -- though made out of metal -- as a weapon, is not very effective. Bon appetit!"
John Bock's "ArtemisiaSogJod Mechwimper"at Klosterfelde
My translation of the show's title goes something like this: Artemisia-suctioned-iodine yields mech[anical] eyelash. Tomfoolery rules at the reconstructed Klosterfelde gallery. John Bock has worked his wonders, making an architectural wedge in the gallery that had the many guests on St. Patrick's day opening night creeping to a crawl, forced through one rabbit hole to another, leading to more imaginary spaces that held the remnants of a "Bockanalia" video performance taped the night before.
In the blue-lit attic, a ballerina turned upside-down and positioned in a hand-made orange padded chair is instructed by Bock. The black mark tracks of her steps on the wall mark points on the graph of Bock's "existo-form" equation, punning on Heidegger's Being and Time for one ... I think. The fun is in the vaguery of not-knowing.
In another part of the room, plastic finger puppets made of brown tape protect the hands of the mad scientist pouring colored potions onto the topless giggling girl captured below the Plexiglas cage. As the music crescendos, a cake-mixer machine blends the comical mess Bock the scientist has made of her bouncing boobs.
In the "basement" room is a video of Bock projecting his head through a pot of white beans and tomatoes muttering something unintelligible -- like "Get me out of here!" in jibberjabber.
The monster of the bean swamp, Bock is a man of many talents. He's almost as strange as the young Turkish men I've seen recently around town donning platform tennis shoes. Do these rocket shoes elevate them to a higher plane than that of the shiny gold necklaces, or winged mustaches of their more traditional fathers? You'll have to judge for yourself.
And . . .
In Barbara Thumm's fancy new digs on Dircksenstrasse -- still in Mitte, but a hop and skip away from the famous Hackesche Höfe -- was a show of the young London-living Swedish artist Mike Silva (b. 1970) from April Fool's day until May 13. Silva apparently has taken a long-lasting fancy to the back of the head of some handsome fellow ... conveniently, his lover. These incredibly velvety, air-brushed looking portraits and landscapes are going for 6,500 to 9,000 DM. A real steal for a portrait of love with a load of promise. . . . The Inferno of Summer may haunt us yet: Botticelli's illustrations of Dante's Divine Comedy is on view at the Kulturforum until June 18. Hot hot, no time to stop.
APRIL LAMM writes on art from Berlin.