Until the 12th of June, there’s an incredible exhibition going on at Berlin‘s Gropius Bau. “Beirut and the Golden Sixties: A Manifesto of Fragility” revisits a dazzling yet moving chapter in Beirut’s modern history. Spanning the period between the late 1950s and the 1970s, from the Lebanon Crisis in 1958 to the outbreak of the Lebanese Civil War in 1975, the exhibition traces the complicated tension between Beirut’s artistic cosmopolitanism and its pervasive transregional and political antagonisms. At that time, the city’s character was shaped by the influx of people and their inexhaustible ideas. A heterogeneous mix of artists from Lebanon and abroad articulated their different and sometimes contradictory visions of modernity. Their drive for formal innovation was often as strong as their political convictions. With 230 works by 34 artists and more than 300 archival documents from nearly 40 collections, this is the most comprehensive exhibition to date of a crucial period in Beirut’s history. It reveals the complex connections between the city’s past and its current problems and challenges the romanticized portrayal of Beirut’s so-called Golden Age, which ended in the outbreak of the Lebanese Civil War in 1975. Beirut and the Golden Sixties: A Manifesto of Fragility tells the story of a city’s hunger for life and its contradictory ambitions.
The Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin is dedicated to 20th century art – and the place itself is an artwork. The museum is the last major project completed by the internationally famous architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. His long-term preoccupation with creating fluid, open spaces culminated in the design of the glazed upper pavilion of the gallery. With its steel roof and gracefully austere architectural language, the Neue Nationalgalerie not only stands as an icon of modernism, but as testament to a visionary architect. The history of the Neue Nationalgalerie is inextricably linked to the political division of Germany and the city of Berlin that was a consequence of the Second World War. The Nationalgalerie’s collection, originally on display on the Museumsinsel (Berlin’s Museum Island) and later, in the 1920s, also in the Kronprinzen Palais on the boulevard Unter den Linden, was initially managed by the Municipality of Greater Berlin in the immediate post-war years. The founding in 1949 of two German states, with opposed political systems and differing ideologies concerning art and its role in society, marked the end of a unified collection. While the East Berlin Nationalgalerie could stay in its original building (following repairs), in West Berlin there was initially no dedicated space for the collection. Beginning in the late 1940s, the West Berlin authorities took strides to rebuild the collection by setting up a “Gallery of the 20th Century.” Further to this, part of the National Gallery’s original collection of nineteenth-century artwork, found in West Germany after the war, was absorbed the newly established Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz (Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation). As these two art collections were to be united, in 1962 Mies van der Rohe was commissioned to design a new museum building to house them both. In September 1965, the architect came to Berlin for the laying of the foundation stone. Two years later he also personally attended the most spectacular construction stage: the hydraulic raising into place of the gigantic steel roof. The building was opened on 15 September 1968 and bore the name Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery). Its name signalled the idea of departing from the old and beginning a new chapter – the cultural rebirth of West Berlin.
The building’s architectural structure has remained virtually unchanged ever since. But the collection of the Neue Nationalgalerie is on-goingly re-visited. It brings together an array of key artworks from the twentieth century by various artists from Europe and North America, including Francis Bacon, Max Beckmann, Salvador Dalí, Max Ernst, George Grosz, Hannah Höch, Rebecca Horn, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Paul Klee, Lotte Laserstein, Paula Modersohn-Becker, Edvard Munch, Pablo Picasso, Gerhard Richter, and Andy Warhol. Among the Neue Nationalgalerie’s most famous and iconic works are “Potsdamer Platz” by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, “The Skat Players” by Otto Dix, and “Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue IV” by Barnett Newman. If you’re in Berlin, make sure to visit this amazing place. Plus, the site-specific text installation by Barbara Kruger in the iconic, upper-level hall is on until the end of August!
It was my second time at König Galerie, and I must admit that this Berlin gallery just doesn’t disappoint. It’s located in the impressive, brutalist building of the fromer Saint Agnes Church in the Kreuzberg district. König Galerie was founded by Johann König in 2002, and currently represents 39 international emerging and established artists, mostly belonging to a younger generation. The program’s focus is on interdisciplinary, concept-oriented and space-based approaches in a variety of media including sculpture, video, sound, painting, printmaking, photography and performance. During my visit two weeks ago, I had a chance to see two fascinating and absolutely relevant, temporary exhibitions that took place in the gallery’s vast spaces.
Alexandrinenstraße 118–121 / Berlin
PALIANYTSIA – a solo exhibition by Ukrainian artist Zhanna Kadyrova. Kadyrova works in a variety of disciplines such as sculpture, photography, video and performance. Her practice is often site-specific and informed by the malleable and symbolic properties of urban building materials. Collecting stones from her nearest river in western Ukraine, Kadyrova’s sculptures, drawings and short film, take on the urgent situation currently playing out in her home country. Before the Russian war of aggression on Ukraine began, Kadyrova was based in Kiev. Due to the ongoing conflict she fled to the western part of the country. After relocating to the Transcarpathian region, the artist began her latest series which culminated in the PALIANYTSIA project, co-authored by Denis Ruban. Palianytsia is the name of a Ukrainian round wheat bread that Russian occupiers cannot pronounce correctly and therefore acts as a password or recognition mark among Ukrainians. During her days-long search for accommodation and a functioning studio, Kadyrova collected round stones polished smooth by the river’s current. As a symbol of Ukrainian resistance, she produced this series of illusory sculptures by slicing these collected stones whose form take on that of the Palianytsia bread. “During the first two weeks of the war, I had the impression that art was only a dream, that I had only dreamed these twenty years of my professional life. And that art at all is powerless and ephemeral compared to the ruthless machinery of war that destroys civilian cities and human lives,” the artist states. “Today I don’t think that way anymore, and I see that every artistic gesture makes us visible, and our voices audible!” Kadyrova has previously presented these sculptures and drawings in her temporary accommodation in Ukraine. With the proceeds from the sold works, she supplied herself and others with bullet-proof waistcoats, petrol, food, and medicine. She has also supported people in need in Kiev and different volunteer organisations in Kharkiv and Mariupol.
UNINTENDED BEAUTY – another temporary exhibition, this time by one of Austria’s foremost contemporary painters, Xenia Hausner. Here, Hausner explores questions of beauty in her latest show comprising twelve new paintings. UNINTENDED BEAUTY displays how Hausner redefines notions of beauty with an eye towards its treatment in contemporary art. Underpinning the paintings in her current exhibition is also the question of how beauty and dread relate to one another. Hausner shows how the distinction between them can be fluid. “Every angel is terrifying”, according to the oft-cited line from Rainer Maria Rilke’s Duino Elegies. The Austrian poet continues, “For beauty is nothing but the start of terror, which we are barely able to endure, and it amazes us so, because it serenely disdains to destroy us.” Hausner adapts Rilke’s sentiments for her own practice, suggesting that “in art, terror is nothing but the start of beauty”. From these apocalyptic murmurings a glimmer of hope suddenly emerges; prophecies of destruction are countered with the inventiveness and power of art. Chance moments are also written into Hausner’s art alongside her mise en scènes. But Hausner, who uses photography and interior settings to produce her art, does not set out to distort her co-actors. Quite the opposite, in fact: the artist says that she attaches great importance to “the figures retaining their authentic body language”. Yet, at the same time, Hausner adds, the people she paints are also “like actors playing a part in my story”. The traditional power dynamic between painter and subject is transformed by Hausner into a more equitable, bi-directional exchange, where each side of the painterly equation reveal aspects about the other. “Painting has to do with affection”, says Hausner. Her images, painted in acrylics and oils on Dibond aluminium sheets, reflect her continuing interests in the structures of composition, light, and the power of colour. UNINTENDED BEAUTY counters the values of our zeitgeist by holding on to other, contradictory notions of beauty. According to cultural critic Laurie Penny, the toxic-normative core underlying this slickness means that women are bombarded by images in film, TV, ads, print media, and even fleeting encounters, which transmit subtle messages that they are not young, slim, light-skinned, or submissive enough to meet the standard. The actors in Hausner’s predominantly female cosmos appear as counter examples to this world, drawing their aesthetic power rather from everyday reality. They are depicted as confident and fully occupying the spaces around them. Does this amount to a defence of beauty through the medium of art? Hausner’s paintings cleave to the everyday while also opening an unchartered, utopian vision of beauty.
Anna Bilińska was the first Polish female artist to gain international recognition. Her first solo retrospective at the National Museum in Warsaw takes place just now, in 2021, but it’s better late than never. Bilińskaused oil paints, pastels and watercolours to create portraits, still lifes, genre scenes and landscapes in the style of European realism. The artist brilliantly mastered the basics of the painting technique, evidenced by her academic studies of models, which strike the viewer with their synthetic approach to the form and with their casual technique of painting. Of course, the artist also simultaneously continued the clear contour style, exemplified by her Male Nude Study (1885), Study for a Male Nude (ca. 1884-85) and Boy Nude (ca. 1884-85). Sketches for the historical and biblical compositions which Bilińska created in her youth have similar qualities but also display a bold expression of colour juxtaposition, as exemplified by Joseph Interprets Dreams (1883) and Inquisition (1884). Bilińska’s mature works consist predominantly of portraits and portrait studies of various ethnic types which were fashionable at that time. These pieces merge the refined simplicity of realism with an academic discipline of the painting technique, such as Head of a Serb (ca. 1884) or Old Man with a Book (ca. 1890s).Bilińska’s self-awareness and thoughts on the artist’s position in the world, which manifested itself in, among others, the representation of her own image in self-portraits, make her works so powerful. And still, the artist’s entire oeuvre and life story have yet to be thoroughly analysed and rediscovered…
The exhibition is on view until 10th of October 2021.
The National Museum in Warsaw is worth a visit in general! Here are some of my favourite artworks, especially from the 19th and 20th century galleries, from Józef Mehoffer’s enchanting Stange Garden to Jacek Malczewski’s prophetic visions.
Sprüth Magers has expanded from its roots in Cologne, Germany to become an international gallery dedicated to exhibiting the very best in groundbreaking modern and contemporary art. With galleries located in Berlin Mitte, London’s Mayfair and the Miracle Mile in Los Angeles – as well as an office in Cologne and an outpost in Hong Kong – Sprüth Magers retains close ties with the studios and communities of the German and American artists who form the core of its roster. The gallery emerged amid an extraordinary outburst in contemporary art that took place in Cologne in the early 1980s. Its first iteration as Monika Sprüth Gallery opened in 1983 with an exhibition of paintings by Andreas Schulze and was soon followed by exhibitions of Rosemarie Trockel and Peter Fischli David Weiss. Over the next few years George Condo, Jenny Holzer, Barbara Kruger, Louise Lawler and Cindy Sherman all showed at the gallery and have continued to do so for the last thirty years. In 2008 the gallery established its flagship space in a former dancehall in Berlin Mitte – not far from the city’s Museum Island. The gallery debuted with Thomas Scheibitz and George Condo. Known for its rigorously curatorial approach to its program and for a deep and enduring devotion to the artists it represents, the gallery has, over the past three decades, fostered close and cooperative relationships with museums and curators worldwide. Meanwhile it continues its tradition of commissioning new scholarship and creating innovative books and publications.
Right now showing in their Berlin gallery: Gilbert & George‘s “The Paradisical Pictures” and George Condo‘s “Linear Expression” – both open to visitors until the 25th of August.