A Busy Week for Painting in Berlin! Let’s look at the romantic side of life, and go on a journey « anywhere but out the world » as Baudelaire would have said. This week, the Sun might shine on the Hauptstadt, but there is much to see Inside. My first tip is a mega-show called Preparing for Darkness with exciting contemporary artists. And the other one – called Wanderlust, at the Alte Nationalgalerie – is giving me Voyager-Fest, wandering expedition, and vagabond adventure on the pathways of European Painting.
1. Preparing for Darkness at Kühlhaus am Gleisdreieck
You might remember my interview with Jens Heller. He’s a unique painter who balances uncomfortable subjects (baked beans on skulls???) with a perfectly smooth touch and equally polished varnish. In the show Preparing for Darkness, our Jens will be in good company.
Brought together by the curator and collector Uwe Goldenstein, the exhibition is a giant machine with a vision. For years, Goldenstein has been assembling a rigorous selection of contemporary works that deal with post-history, melancholy and the aesthetic of disappearance, in a self-proclaimed posture of opposition with the present. I bet he would agree with the French painter Thomas Levy-Lasne would recently stated on the National Radio that 9/11 was good news after all (wink!). Well hello! It killed post-modernism and brought back history!
The whole operation promises to be a whimsical journey in the eerie meadows of melancholy. Will gloomy European Realism sooth our existential angst? I don’t know, but the sheer intensity makes it worthy of a visit.
Preparing for Darkness opens on the 11th of May on 6 floors and 4000 m². It features works from Nicola Samori (I’m drooling), Simone Haack, Jens Heller, Alexander Tinei, Miriam Vlaming, Flavia Pitis, Radu Belcin, and many many others.
What? Preparing for Darkness
When? Opening: May 11, 6pm – May 12 – 13, May 16 – 21, 11am – 7pm
Where? Kühlhaus am Gleisdreieck, Luckenwalder Straße 3, 10963 Berlin – U1/ U2: Station Gleisdreieck
2. Wanderlust at Alte Nationalgalerie
From Darkness to the Sunny Mountains, the exhibition Wanderlust is a nice compilation of the concept of wandering in the 19th century. The team borrowed cool works from European Museums, and the whole exhibition will make you feel rejuvenated as if you had just been marching the mountains yourself – minus the sore muscles. I’m down with that.
For the first time, the legendary paintings Bonjour Mr Courbet and Bonjour Mr Gauguin are united in the same space. Courbet painted The Encounter (AKA Bonjour Mr Courbet) in 1854. The flamboyant French painter depicts his encounter with his supporter Alfred Bruyas, his servant named Calas and his dog. It is a visually beautiful painting and a powerful image.
Its initial narrative comes from a popular engraving of the early 1830’s called The Bourgeois talking the the Wandering Jew, who shows a seemingly vagabond dude lowering the head in a posture of inferiority and submission and two well-off gentlemen gracing him some coin I assume. Here, Courbet rephrases the dynamics of the picture. The painter is in the place of the Wandering Jew. For a second, it all seems to fit: he’s dressed simply, has a cool backpack, a stick in one hand, a hat in the other. The Bourgeois also seem fitting : they are two, in a well-adjusted costume, and have shiny buttons on the side of their jackets. But there’s a twist!
Thirty-five years later, Paul Gauguin is showing us a much different picture. The dog is still in the vertical middle of the composition and the painter is also a wanderer, but we are back to the poor poor fellow. Gauguin might nowadays be one of the most beloved painters, but it took a long long time before he could make decent money with his work. In 1886, he moved to Bretagne, and it was not for the landscapes, but because he needed a cheap shelter – now I go camping there every summer, but back then Bretagne was the Marzahn of France. In our painting, he seems to be asking his way, or perhaps even hospitality to a woman whose face is hidden from us (knowing Gauguin’s taste in women, we hope for her she’s not too young…). Dressed in a heavy coat, lost in the middle of Bretagne, he’s looking for his fate. A rainbow in the back gives us hope. Is this the encounter Gauguin is talking about? Between rainy days and shiny colours, the unfortunate painter is on a quest for a better world.
There is much much more to say about the exhibition, and I strongly advise you to get your hands on the Welt Kunst to have more in depth insights. I was just so excited about those two paintings that I just had to tell you guys about it (what do you think? drop a com’!).
The show has also some severe weirdnesses : only European paintings, but a strange tiny vitrine with books about Lao Tseu walking in the woods? I’m like : why? If they wanted to include other cultures, then why only this? There would have been many others to include then. That just feels odd. Also a big problem: no women artists. And there are some who have painted the Wanderlust : Louise Breslau, Marie Bashkirtseff, or the great Norwegian painter Kitty Lange Kielland? Next time, next time, next time should be now!
What? Wanderlust. From Caspar David Friedrich to Auguste Renoir
When? May 10 – September 16, 2018 – Tuesday to Sunday 10am – 6pm
Where? Alte Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Museumsinsel Berlin, Bodestraße 1-3, 10178 Berlin