Thursday, 18 February 2016

Postcard from Berlin 2016 (2) - Hamburger Bahnhof

Given that a whole gang of my favourite artists – Joseph Beuys, Dan Flavin, Anselm Kiefer, Cy Twombly, Andy Warhol – are generously displayed in the Hamburger Bahnhof, as far as I was concerned a good time was guaranteed. Given, too, the sheer scale of the collection displayed in the former dispatch warehouses located behind the main building, I could probably have happily spent much of the week just here.
The building is a converted C19 railway station in neoclassical style - its facade now handsomely adorned by a Dan Flavin neon light installation.
The East Wing is dominated by Andy Warhol’s vast Chairman Mao who shares the space with excellent examples of the Electric Chair, Flowers, a Double Elvis and, pleasingly, a portrait of Warhol’s peer, Joseph Beuys, whose own work dominates the West Wing.

Andy Warhol, Big Electric Chair, 1967

Andy Warhol, Double Elvis, 1963

Andy Warhol, Flowers, 1967

Andy Warhol, Joseph Beuys, 1980 (?)
The Beuys installation includes Unschlitt (Tallow). Originally made for an exhibition in Munster in 1977 it comprises 20 tons of beef fat, cut into blocks, which (allegedly) 'never get cold'.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.

Joseph Beuys, Unschlitt, 1977 (detail)

Joseph Beuys, Unschlitt, 1977 (detail)

Joseph Beuys, Felt Suit, 1970 (?)
In the main concourse were two intriguing installations: one by an artist new to me – Richard Jackson – which comprised a walk-in spiral construction made out of 5050 stacked paintings!

Richard Jackson, 5050 Stacked Paintings, 1998

Richard Jackson, 5050 Stacked Paintings, 1998 (detail)
The second installation was Saloon Theater by Paul McCarthy – a wonky structure entered by saloon bar style swing doors leading into a claustrophobic maze of corridor spaces in which (predictably, given this artist’s track record) a wilfully perverse and suggestive film is projected.

Paul McCarthy, Saloon Theater, 1995-1999
Amongst the huge array of work in the spaces behind the main building Dieter Roth’s crazy Gartenskulptur was particularly engaging.

Dieter Roth and Björn Roth, Gartenskulptur, 1968 ff

Dieter Roth and Björn Roth, Gartenskulptur, 1968 ff (detail)

Dieter Roth and Björn Roth, Gartenskulptur, 1968 ff (detail)
There was too little time to give more than a cursory look at the special exhibition, Neue Galerie: The Black Years Histories of a Collection: 1933–1945. This is the first of a series of exhibitions from the Nationalgalerie’s modern art collection to be shown while the wonderful Mies van der Rohe building undergoes renovations.

Mies van der Rohe, Neue Nationalgalerie, 1968; currently closed for renovation until c2019
The Black Years features works from the Nationalgalerie which were either created between 1933 and 1945, acquired by the collection during this period, or seized by the National Socialist regime. Read an interesting article about the exhibition here.

Karl Hofer, Die Schwarzen Zimmer (detail), 1943
Altogether, a fabulous museum and collection!

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