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Hamburger Bahnhof Opens Exhibition from its Collection that Aims to Cast it in a New Light
Cy Twombly, Thyrsis, 1977, Orion II, 1968. Sammlung Marx © Cy Twombly, Michelangelo Buonarotti, Sterbender Sklave, 1513-1516. Gefesselter Sklave, 1513-1516. Gipsabgüsse nach den Originalen im Louvre, Paris © Skulpturensammlung, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Foto: Thomas Bruns, Berlin

BERLIN.- The 4 September 2009 marks an important opening for the Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart – Berlin with a new presentation of works from the collections spanning some 10,000 square meters of exhibition space. True to the motto "DIE KUNST IST SUPER!" (Art is super!), this exhibition is one of the most significant measures for the repositioning of the Hamburger Bahnhof under the new director of the Nationalgalerie, Udo Kittelmann. Employing a broad range of thematic, monographic and motivic constellations, surprising dialogues and associative interpolations, the exhibition endeavors to cast works from the Nationalgalerie, the Marx Collection and the Friedrich Christian Flick Collection im Hamburger Bahnhof as well as the Marzona Collection in a new light. At selected points throughout the display, the museum’s collections are complemented by works loaned by artists, some of them having been created especially for the rooms at the museum, as well as loans sourced from the rich collections comprising Berlin’s museum landscape. In all parts of the museum, the vast new presentation of the collections builds upon a vibrant interplay of references and associations, correspondences and contrasts which extends throughout the various parts of the museum.

Fluxus and Happening, presented on the ground floor of the main building, emerged during the 1960s and soon evolved into international movements which sought to expand and dissolve the boundaries of art. Artists including Nam June Paik, George Brecht, Daniel Spoerri, Wolf Vostell and Allan Kaprow began to explore new materials such as everyday objects or food products as well as media such as television or video. The presentation of art was no longer confined to conventional institutions, with actions now being performed in public space or in university auditoriums as well. Inspired by the words of Heraclitus “All is in flux, nothing stays still,” Fluxus opposed traditional approaches to art and the treatment of material with which they went hand in hand. New emphasis was placed on fleeting events, the humorous investigation of patterns of thought and perception, and the latent poetry of everyday experiences and objects. The concept of “Fluxus” gradually established itself as a designation for the many different activities of an international network of artists who joined forces to explore the interstices of music, visual art, literature, dance and theatre at concerts, events and exhibitions. The Fluxus movement centered around the cities of New York, Tokyo, Cologne, Düsseldorf and Wiesbaden, although there were also ties to the Viennese Actionists and to Joseph Beuys. Fluxus manager George Maciunas published action scores, games and editions which were intended to be used playfully. These were sold for nominal sums in order to allow ordinary people to buy and use them. The Happening artists, on the other hand, aspired to provoke new ideas and change audience behavior with their complex theatrical actions. In keeping with the motto “Art is life; life is art,” the spectator became a participant in artistic activity.

On the occasion of the exhibition “Die Kunst ist super!” the major ensemble of works by Joseph Beuys is being newly presented in the rooms of the west wing. Occupying a unique position in the world, this collection of installations, objects and film documents impressively demonstrates Beuys’s efforts to expand the concept of what constitutes art. His provocative sculptures made from unusual materials such as fat and felt and the film recordings of his performances and political actions offer an insight into the totality of Beuys’s artistic practice. For example, the sculpture Das Ende des 20. Jahrhunderts (The End of the Twentieth Century. 1982-83), which is exhibited here for the first time in its original version, clearly shows the “directional forces” within his utopian thinking which figured each human being as an artist. Beuys was convinced that, if we are ever to achieve freedom, humanity must intervene and shape evolution by means of artistic action. He saw art as providing the only chance to positively counteract the destructive aspects of human coexistence.

In parallel with the important series of works by Joseph Beuys, the Kleihueshalle also brings together major works from the Marx Collection under the theme of “Vanitas”. Vanitas is a term used to denote pictorial themes and symbols (like skulls, clocks or mirrors) that recall the transitory nature of all earthly things and caution of the meaninglessness of all striving for riches, sensual pleasure or fame. Here, questions are raised about the vanity and the glamorous, yet simultaneously productive, aura of the idol – one of Andy Warhol’s central themes. His painting Cagney (1962), which shows the famous screen gangster in a shooting scene, both introduces this part of the exhibition and offers a modern take on Vanitas. The human being, caught in the hubris that lies between death and vanity, is one of the recurring themes in art. In the context of the current display, it can be witnessed in the self-exaltation through the criminal and political use of force, in the vain self-presentation of superstars, or in the abysmal depths of history and culture and their holy places. The metaphorical aspect of the presentation is underscored by the dialogues between works from the Marx Collection with plaster casts of famous works and death masks from the Gipsformerei der Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin (Replica Workshop of the State Museums of Berlin). This can be seen, for example, in the juxtaposition of a plaster replica of the popular Nefertiti with an image of Marilyn Monroe by Andy Warhol.

Elevated to mythical status and at the same time degraded to the level of mass-produced product, both of these “goddesses” embody the felicity and the tragedy of idolization in their own different ways. Two historical copies of Michelangelo’s unfinished slave for the sepulchre of Julius II stand at the center of the gallery featuring paintings by Cy Twombly: the one hopelessly struggling, the other dying.

The main hall is devoted to two large-scale installations revolving around the themes of models and reconstructions, illusions and artistic reproductions. Roman Ondák’s installation It Will All Turnout Right in the End (2005-2006) appears at first glance to be no more than a large box, deposited behind the columns of the side aisle. Yet the simplicity of its external appearance is counteracted as soon as one enters the installation and finds oneself inside a replica of the famous Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern in London. For the installation Waggon (2006) Robert Kusmirowski reconstructed a historical goods wagon of the type used in the days of the Second World War as a 1:1 model using simple materials. In this work the artist quite consciously uses a sensory illusion to draw the viewer into an interplay between reality and illusion and between history and the present. The installation was recently purchased for the Nationalgalerie by the Stiftung des Vereins der Freunde. These works are accompanied by a work that has shaped the history of twentieth-century art: Bicycle Wheel (Roue de bicyclette, 1913) by Marcel Duchamp.

On the upper floor of the main building works by Alfred Keller, Gerd Rohling, Lyonel Feininger, Hans-Peter Feldmann and Jochen Alexander Freydank are assembled under the title “Modellversuche 1 + 2” (Model experiments 1+2). Model experiments are a means of achieving a more profound and comprehensive understanding of reality. Famed as a “scientific sculptor” during his own lifetime, Alfred Keller created a range of fascinating models of various insects and micro-organisms in the course of his many years of service at Berlin’s natural history museum, the Museum für Naturkunde. Keller, who regarded himself as a sculptor, spent up to a year working on a single model. Even today his insect models remain state of the art and are unique in their degree of technical perfection. The form of presentation in illuminated showcases creates a formal link between Keller’s models and Gerd Rohling’s Kollektion (Collection, 1989-2009), a collection of colorful vessels from around the world. The exhibits are spotlighted, making them appear precious and, at first glance, to be objects from another time – archaeological artifacts or historic glasses which, like the insect models, seem to have been transferred to contemporary surroundings from another museum. Their true nature and the actual process of creation are only revealed at second glance. The works by Lyonel Feininger, Hans-Peter Feldmann and Jochen Alexander Freydank transport us into the realm of childhood imagination, a place governed by its own very unique manifestations of reality. In his Schattenspiel (Shadow Play, 2002-2009) Feldmann has developed a lively “world theatre” which captivates the viewer. Simple light sources transform a moving collection of toys and knick-knacks into a neverending cycle of shadows which emerge and disappear, increase and diminish, always remaining intangible. During the 1940s and ’50s he produced a group of 68 hand-carved, painted figures and houses. Entitled Die Stadt am Ende der Welt (The City at the End of the World), the work was named after a drawing by the artist dating back to 1911. Viewed in connection with his earlier paintings Karneval (1908) and Dämmerdorf (1909) it offers a glimpse at the existential experience of loss and exclusion, while simultaneously invoking the artist’s romantic yearning for and sense of belonging to the German towns and villages which were the basis and motif for so many of his paintings. Freydank, whose Spielzeugland (Toyland. 2007) was awarded the Oscar for best live-action short film in 2009, set the action of his film in Nazi Germany in 1942. The sons of two neighboring families, Heinrich and David are friends. When David and his parents are about to be deported, Heinrich’s mother invents a story and explains to her son that his friend will be going to a place called “Toyland”. She has no idea of the irresistible pull triggered by the supposed Toyland in the mind of the child.

The Friedrich Christian Flick Collection has been presented at the Hamburger Bahnhof since 2004. Comprising some 2,000 works by 140 artists, the collection centers on works of art produced during the closing decades of the twentieth century. The works from the collection are gradually being presented to the public in a comprehensive series of exhibitions. These exhibitions seek to present the collection from a variety of different perspectives in formats ranging from thematic survey shows through to monographic presentations. In the spring of 2008 Friedrich Christian Flick donated 166 works from his collection to the Nationalgalerie. Among these were outstanding works by Absalon, Richard Artschwager, Isa Genzken, Martin Kippenberger, Dieter Roth, Wolfgang Tillmans and Franz West which are currently on show in the Rieckhallen alongside works from the Marx and Marzona collections as well as the Nationalgalerie’s own holdings. It is a presentation that takes up and varies the theme of Vanitas raised in the main building. Indeed, the perpetually shifting form of Dieter Roth’s Gartenskulptur (Garden Sculpture, 1968-) is defined as much by processes of growth and expansion as it is by those of decay and decomposition, for the ongoing addition of new elements to the work over the decades of its evolution continues to keep the work alive today. What emerges overall is a dialogue in which the wildly proliferating structure of the Gartenskulptur meets the stringent formalism of Minimal Art, and the sense of anxiety engendered by the works of Absalon and Bruce Nauman is dispelled just as quickly as it takes hold of the viewer by the colorful lines sent dancing across the walls by Otto Zitko.

In an age that has seen supposedly stable systems of values collapse into crisis, their underlying instability laid bare, this new exhibition at the Hamburger Bahnhof presents art as a dependable variable. In all its flexibility and complexity, its creation of fictions and disillusionment of the same, whichever way you look at it: ART IS SUPER!

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