Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Postcard from Berlin, 2. (Inc. Hamburger Bahnhof and Boros Collection)

Brandenburger Tor
Day 2 in Berlin began with a visit to the Hamburger Bahnhof: Museum für Gegenwart (Museum of Contemporary Art). The building is a converted C19 railway station in neoclassical style - its facade now handsomely adorned by a Dan Flavin neon light installation.
Time was limited, so I gave my attention entirely to the displays from the permanent collection rather than the temporary installation by Mariana Castillo Deball: Parergon, an examination of the lives and status of museum objects - interesting though that sounds. The permanent collection is currently represented principally by works by Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, William Kentridge, Cy Twombly, Anselm Kiefer, Dan Flavin and Joseph Beuys (the latter occupying a whole wing of the museum).
Andy Warhol, Big Electric Chair, 1967
Cy Twombly, Empire of Flora, 1961
William Kentridge, still from Journey to the Moon, 2003
Dan Flavin, installation in Hamburger Bahnhof, 1996
Joseph Beuys, Unschlitt, 1977 (detail)
The Beuys installation is impressive: I found Unschlitt (Tallow) particularly interestng. Originally made for an exhibition in Munster in 1977 it comprises 20 tons of beef fat, cut into blocks, which (allegedly) 'never get cold'. The original plan had been to fill a 'dead space' of a pedestrian underpass with beeswax; in the event a mould of the space - a wedge 10 metres long and 2 metres high - was made and filled with tallow. The wedge was subsequently cut into blocks - though the hardening process took longer than expected - and presumably, 40 years later, they remain susceptible to changes in ambient temperature.
From the Hamburger Bahnhof we walked to, and crossed, the Spree, past the new buildings for the Chancellery (Bundeskanzleramt) designed by Charlotte Frank and Axel Schultes, past the Reichstag, the Brandenburger Tor, through the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (designed by Peter Eisenman and Burro Happolt, past Michael Wilford's dramatic building for the British Embassy, and onto Unter der Linden.
On Unter der linden we visited the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle to see “…..Höhere Wesen befehlen”: Works on Paper from the Frider Burda Collection. This featured work by Willem de Kooning, Georg Baselitz, Gerhard Richter, Sigmar Polke, Neo Rauch and Arnulf Rainer. In each case the artists were represented by a single 'exemplary' painting and a set of drawings. (Watch a video of the exhibition.)
Gerhard Richter, 3.5.88, 1988
Arnulf Rainer, Profil oder Palletenwurm, 1977
Also while on Unter der Linden we visited Bebelplatz - the site of one of the Nazi's book burnings, now memorialised by the Empty Library  by Micha Ullman: a glass plate set into the cobbles looking into a room of empty shelves, big enough to hold the estimated 20,000 burned books. (Our view was not as clear as this photograph shows despite Jack's heroic efforts to clean the muddy window!)
Also on Unter der Linden we dropped into the 'Neue Wache', the sublime neo-classical  memorial to victims of war, by Karl Friedrich Schinkel: the interior is an austere, plain but beautiful space containing only Käthe Kollwitz's Mother with her Dead Son and lit by a central, circular opening in the ceiling. 
Heading north, we visited a number of galleries on Auguststrasse, the most interesting of which was the Alfred Ehrhardt Foundation which featured an exhibition of dramatic landscape photographs by Jörn Vanhöfen.
Jörn Vanhöfen, Grande Dixence #413, 2013
Jörn Vanhöfen,Gotthard #45, 2014
Finally, and one of the highlights of the week*, we visited the Boros Collection. This is a private collection of contemporary art housed in the extraordinary 'Bunker'. This five storey, concrete structure was built in 1942 as an air-raid shelter to accommodate up to 3,000 people, and is said to have walls up to 2 metres thick. After the war it served as a warehouse and in the 1990s as a Techno club and venue for fetish parties. Christian Boros acquired it in 2003, installed a penthouse on its roof and his art collection in the building. The current display was first presented in 2012 and is the second to be shown. Artists include a few names familiar to me - Ai Weiwei, Olafur Eliasson, Roman Ondák, Thomas Ruff, Thomas Scheibitz, Wolfgang Tillmans, Cerith Wyn Evans  - but most were not: Awst & Walther, Dirk Bell, Cosima von Bonin, Marieta Chirulescu, Thea Djordjadze, Alicja Kwade, Klara Lidén, Florian Meisenberg, Stephen G. Rhodes, Michael Sailstorfer, Tomás Saraceno, Danh Vo, Thomas Zipp. Of these, the most exciting discovery for me was Alicja Kwade.
Alicja Kwade
Alicja Kwade
Thomas Ruff
Thomas Scheibitz
Michael Sailstorfer
Ai Weiwei
Danh Vo
Cerith Wyn Evans
*Thanks to Nick for organising the visit to the Boros Collection
See Postcard 1, below. 

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