- 20th-century Decorative Art
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- Jewellery, Snuff Boxes and Miniatures
- Medieval art
- Modern Art
- Oriental and Asian Art
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- Porcelain, Ceramics and Glass
- Tribal and Pre-Columbian Art
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Fancy a little bit of Zeitreise? Art in Berlin 1880 - 1980
Oh, the endless possibilities of art! Who knew that in a newly renovated art space on top of the Berlinische Gallerie history would collide, allowing visitors to go on a Zeitreise through 10 decades of German art history within just a few hours? For that matter, the exhibition Art in Berlin 1880 - 1980 is the right place to be: Selected art works from over 100 years are neatly stored under just one roof, including paintings, graphic art, sculptures, photography and architectural drawings.
At first glance Art in Berlin 1880 - 1980 seems like that sort of exhibition that some people might avoid – too traditional, too much history and thus too little fun. Think again. Or even better - go and see for yourself. And so the Zeitreise begins. The 1st rooms displays art from the era of the conservatives and reformers. Judging from this selection, Art in Berlin 1880 - 1980 contains every detail necessary to alert directors of period drama. The walls are lined with heavy paintings such as Anton von Werner’s Enthüllung des Richard-Wagner-Denkmals im Tiergarten that feature the extravagance life of the higher class in front of their elegant and outdated country houses. As I wonder from painting to painting I can almost sense an atmosphere of elegiac romance and nostalgia - so thick you could cut it with a knife. While the artifacts promote the exuberant lifestyle of the rich and famous – or better the aristocray and bourgeoisy – a caption states that in reality life was all but glamorous. During the 2nd half of the century the country was shattered by radical upheaval: Women engaged in equal rights campaigns, on the brink of the industrial revolution workers went on strike and more and more people immigrated from the country to the larger cities. In sharp contrast to the turmoil around the turm of the century, art presented a counter culture. The glorification of aristocracy served as promotion of the law and order of the ruling upper class.
Anton von Werner
Enthüllung des Richard-Wagner-Denkmals im Tiergarten, 1908
Apart from these heavy paintings there are also Heinrich Zille’s photographs of the working-class. Within these black and white shots Zille’s critical eye depicts everyday life in the rural regions of Berlin. His snapshots capture the daily grind of the ordinary “kleine Mann”, alluding to the deeper poverty in the developing proletarian class of the Gründerzeit. Zille’s portrays almost display a certain sense of humour, revealing amusing aspects of what were in reality quite unfunny living conditions of the homeless, handicapped and destitute in the growing industrial metropolis of Berlin. Very moved by Ille’s impressions I move on to the early 20th century, where Eugen Spiro and Max Liebermann are the emerging figures of the Berlin art scene. Even though their paintings of Berlin Socialites don’t hit a chord with me, I like Liebermann’s quote on art: “The art lies not in the idea but in the manner of its implementation”.
Next room, next era: Welcome to the dawning of the Avant-garde and the Expressionists. While World War I is well on its way, artists from that era see the world as a dysfunctional place. Dark shades, sharp forms - that out-of-joint atmosphere is also reflected in Ludwig Meidner’s Apocalyptic Landscape and Otto Möller’s Straßenlärm (“Street noise”). Other works display images of beggers, prostitutes and injured from the war. How devasting life in Berlin must have been during these times! I study the main caption. While the whole world is in turmoil, Berlin’s art scene meets in Cafe Größenwahn and displays their works in the avant-garde gallery Der Sturm. The November revolution also reaches Berlin and the activists demand ”a new art for a new world”, asking for the expression of personal experiences. Drama, death, destruction - the depressing atmosphere linger over me like a dark cloud and so I am glad to be moving on to the next decade, the 1930s.
In contrast to the expressionists, the Dada movement of the Weimarer Republic is fun: Photomontages and collages of pasted newspaper cuttings and drawings are the Dadaists’ artistic and political response to WWI.Visual arts, art manifestoes and theatre plays display a newly found artistic anarchy that distance itself from the cultural traditions and conventions. The Dadaists prefer provocating slogans and shocking sculptures such as George Grosz and John Hartland The Conformist Turned Wild. Mocking with worldly absurdity, Hannah Höch presents The Journalists as alien-like craetures in black suits and enlarged heads. On a little doorsign Raoul Hausmann declares himself as the “President of the sun, the moon and the small earth...” – satire at its best. Taken by the idea of using provocation and shock as initiators for self-reflection and change, I am leaving the room as newly won Dada-fan.
The Eastern European Avant-garde is next, basically a reorientation of the avant-garde. My absolute favourite from this decade – if not from the whole exhibition – are the photographs by the free-spirited bohemian and self-taught photographer Otto “Umbo” Umbehr. Umbo’s black and white shots like Slippers are pioneer portrait photography that reveal new aesthetics and play with perspective. In contrast to previous conventions within photography , Umbo poses a challenge to the viewer, demanding to take a second glance. Art triggering thought – I like that concept!
Umbo (Otto Umbehr)
© Gallery Kicken Berlin/Phyllis Umbehr/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2011
The adjacent room is dedicated to the artefacts from the new objectivity movement. The works – paintings, photgraphs and sculptures – are all taken from still life and thus factual precise and formal. For my taste it’s a little too precise and plain. On a caption art critic Paul Westheim says that “Berlin as most objective of all major European cities.” I am glad to be living in Berlin now where art is all else but accurate and aloof. As most appealing from that era I find August Sander’s portraits. His photos Inventor, Artist and Physician show different professionals at work. For some reason all of them do not seem very happy – as if they all knew what the next decade would bring about...
What follows is the art under the National Socialism, showcasing artworks from Germany’s darkest chapter. Under Joseph Goebbels, Minister of Propaganda and Hitler’s righ hand, the so-called Reichs Chamber of Culture focused on exclusively nurturing German art of “original aryan origins”. Photographs by Georgij Petrussov and Werner Held show strong, blond Germans in heroic postures. In the centre of the room is a modell of Albert Speer’s planned Volkshalle, a huge assembly hall with a dome which would have been over 700 feet (210 m) high, accommodating over 180,000 people. During the Third Reich, Speer and Hitler developed a vision of Germania as “Capital of the World” which is both captivating and bizarre. I am more than happy to move on and leave the Nazi era behind.
The adjacent artspace is dedicated to the postwar Surrealism after 1945. Berlin’s on the rise, biding farewell to years of drama, death and destruction. The art scene is desperate to depart from the wartime drama and the daily grind in the ruins of Berlin. Despite all the devestation I am surprised to discover that the first art gallery, Gallery Rose, opened it doors only 3 months after the war is over. Art is seen as a free zone, a place to escape from the harsh realities of postwar Germany.
Moving on to the 1960s. It’s the beginning of the cold war. Non-repressive artists like Eugen Schönebeck and Georg Baselitz belong to an aspiring circle of the New Figuration that are notorious for a newly found social criticsm. Even though all these abstract works stand for a new beginning I can still sense the despair of the previous decade. There’s also some postwar architecture such as buildings designed by Hermann Henselmann and Hans Scharoun. Whilst architecture of east Berlin displays a neo-classicist style, the West prefers the style of the avant-garde such as Otto Baritta’s Wohnhaus series, black and white photographs of Plattenbau buildings.
Der Gekreuzigte, 1964
Come the 1970s and Berlin’s art scene boosts a new confidence. Michael Schmid captures people from diverse social backgrounds in his Wedding series. There’s the local politician, the social worker and the educational psychologist amongst others, both captured behind their desks at work and, in the evenings, on their sofa at home. The double portraits convey a sense of double life, allowing access to someone else’s public and private lives.
Aus der Serie: Wedding, 1977/78
© Michael Schmidt
Upon leaving I am very sure that Kunst in Berlin 1880 - 1980 will do very well. The exhibit offers a brief Zeitreise through 100 years of art history and through the social and political upheavals of Berlin. Revolutions, wars, demonstrations – this exhibition has it all. One thing for which Art in Berlin 1880 - 1980 has to be criticized, however, is its newly renovated exhibition space. On grounds so well covered by such a diverse blend of artists and artefacts, the most frustrating aspects of Kunst in Berlin 1880 – 1980 is clearly not its content but its confusing architecture. Architect David Saik’s spatial concept of 17 connecting art spaces aims to enable visitors to enjoy an organised visit. But this openness can quickly lead to some confusion, especially when used for a chronologically structured exhibiting like Art in Berlin 1880 – 1980. Loosing track of the room numbers leads to skipping one decade of art history.
Nonetheless, if one cares about German art, history and anecdotes, Art in Berlin 1880 - 1980 deserves every penny. Be it Avant-garde, Expressionism or Dada - it's good to know that innovative art movements will never die. And nor, for that matter, will Berlin’s buzzing art scene.
Alte Jakobstraße 124-128
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