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First Exhibition Covering Entire Oeuvre of Herlinde Koelbl Opens in Berlin
Angela Merkel, Bonn, 1991 and 2006 © Herlinde Koelbl.
BERLIN.- Berlin’s Martin-Gropius-Bau is mounting the first exhibition of works by the German art photographer Herlinde Koelbl. This is the first time her oeuvre is being shown in all its variety. The exhibition presents over 450 photographs covering a period of three decades, including famous icons of portrait photography, as well as many hitherto unknown shots. Herlinde Koelbl began her career as a photographer in 1976. She soon discovered her passion for the medium and how it could enable her to get particularly close to people. With great vitality and energy she went her own way, pursuing projects at her own risk without the financial back-up of a contract. This exhibition tells the story of how Herlinde Koelbl’s unusual vision and productive curiosity made her one of Germany’s most important art photographers. The show is organized by theme, illustrating all facets of her work. There will be much to discover that is new and experimental. The exhibition is intended to show how Herlinde Koelbl works and what principles she feels pledged to uphold. Her credo: “Freedom of thought, the freedom for my work has always been of crucial importance to me. To learn more in the course of my work, to expand my horizon, and also to make every theme the start of a new mental adventure, so to speak – an adventure that is open-ended.” Thus in the Martin-Gropius-Bau press photographs rub shoulders with portrait studies, and abstract works with video projects.

The visitor will naturally encounter classics of the Koelbl oeuvre. These include her familiar series The German Living Room (1980) and Photographic Bedroom Tour (2002), for which Koelbl toured many of the world’s greatest cities in order to document the patterns of living and behaviour, the status symbols, the secrets of successful careers, and the codes of allegiance, to a degree that was positively ethnological. The political and business elites of the Federal Republic of Germany were captured by the photographer in the cycle Traces of Power. This is a unique long-term study of people who hold the reins of power in their hands. Over a period of eight years, taking such figures as Angela Merkel, Gerhard Schr„der and Joschka Fischer as her subjects, Herlinde Koelbl documented how high office changes individuals mentally and physically.

This show is devoted to a photographer who right from the start selected her own themes, often working on them for years in order to probe deeper and filter out the essence. Herlinde Koelbl’s projects bear a wayward and unmistakable artistic signature. Her style is imbued with a spirited frankness and unadorned clarity. By adding a new dimension to her mode of expression the media of film and video enabled her to broaden and deepen her art. In many of her images one senses this intensive preoccupation with her subject, sharing moments of intimacy and gaining a fascinating insight into the intensity of the photographic idiom. What we have here is not the fleeting glance, but a long process of acquaintanceship.

Herlinde Koelbl has held various visiting professorships (from Hamburg and Vienna to New York and Sydney) and received prestigious prizes and distinctions, such as the Dr. Erich Solomon Prize in 2001. Her works have been shown in numerous international solo and group exhibitions in such places as Rotterdam’s Kunsthal and Shanghai’s Art Museum (both 2008); Munich’s Haus der Kunst (2000); or Chicago’s Spertus Museum (1991).

The first show of Herlinde Koelbl’s work will be on view in the Martin-Gropius-Bau until 1 November 2009. It will take visitors on a fascinating and stimulating voyage of exploration through the human psyche and physis. It is the voyage of an art photographer who throughout the years has always been true to her credo: “I am interested in people. But it has to go further than just scraping the surface. That is the whole secret.”

Martin Gropius Bau | Herlinde Koelbl | Federal Republic of Germany | Dr. Erich Solomon Prize | New York | Sydney |


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