Exhibition explores the relationship between East and West from the perspective of art history

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Exhibition explores the relationship between East and West from the perspective of art history
The Cool and the Cold. Painting from the USA and the USSR 1960–1990. Ludwig Collection, Installation view, 24.9.2021–9.1.2022, Gropius Bau.

BERLIN.- The Cool and the Cold. Painting in the USA and the USSR 1960–1990. Ludwig Collection, exhibited at the Gropius Bau in collaboration with the Peter and Irene Ludwig Foundation, is a substantial group exhibition bringing together art from the Cold War’s two duelling global powers, exploring the relationship between East and West from the perspective of art history.

Peter and Irene Ludwig were among the first collectors in the world to collect art from the United States and the Soviet Union at the same time. Their extensive collection offers a critical juxtaposition of paintings from the two opposing sides of the East-West conflict. This show presents about 125 works by 80 artists from the Ludwig Collection held in six museums of international calibre. Among them are Jo Baer, Erik Bulatov, Ivan Chuikov, Helen Frankenthaler, Jasper Johns, Ilya Kabakov, Lee Lozano, Natalia Nesterova, Viktor Pivovarov, Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol. The dual line-up, occupying the entire ground floor of the Gropius Bau – which looks onto remnants of the Berlin Wall and the memorial museum Topography of Terror – illustrates continuities and contradictions in artistic thought and practice. The exhibition examines how Cold War-era artists responded to the political and aesthetic issues of their time, negotiating ideas of personal and social freedoms. Caught between the styles, isms and philosophies of three decades, these works can also be read as expressing and commenting on ideologies.

Stephanie Rosenthal, Director of the Gropius Bau: “The specific location of the Gropius Bau, sitting directly at the former border of East and West Germany, plays a pivotal role in our exhibition programme. Remnants of the Berlin Wall can still be seen from our main entrance and from the exhibition rooms. That is why reflections on borders and boundaries, as well as on national identification and ownership, feature frequently in our programming from a variety of angles. We are particularly pleased to be putting on this exhibition unprecedented in scale contrasting works from the Cold War’s two centres of power. The Cool and the Cold will combine not only artistic perspectives from the East and West, but also famous masterpieces by artists such as Erik Bulatov, Helen Frankenthaler, Roy Lichtenstein, Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol with hitherto unknown works.”

Brigitte Franzen, co-curator and former chairwoman of the Peter and Irene Ludwig Foundation (2015–2020), says of the show she conceived while in her previous role: “The Russian avant-garde, with its long tradition, and the ground-breaking aesthetics of American Pop Art are both core elements of the Ludwig Collection. Not so many people realise that the Ludwigs were also avid collectors of art from the Soviet Union and the United States after the Second World War up until the 1990s. This permits a juxtaposition revealing continuities, contradictions, apparent opposites and significant historical reference points in the Soviet Union and the US as reflected in painting. The exhibition will illustrate the ideologies that confronted one another and indeed clashed, the forces at work behind them, and how the impact of the Iron Curtain affected art. I am so happy that the Ludwig Foundation has allowed me to complete this project – which I prepared for a long time and which seemed uncertain due to Covid-19 – with the Foundation’s team in Aachen, now led by Carla Cugini, and the team at the Gropius Bau with Stephanie Rosenthal.”

Carla Cugini, who succeeds Brigitte Franzen as chair of the Ludwig Foundation on 1 September 2021, is thrilled by the venture: “Peter and Irene Ludwig were among the first collectors in the world to adopt a truly global approach to collecting. They were always abreast of the times. This attitude has bequeathed the Foundation a tremendous treasure – and a unique, complex set of holdings which, today, enables us to read and understand contemporary global history. It is a real stroke of fortune that the Ludwigs collected art from both hemispheres in the former world order, the United States and the Soviet Union, making this juxtaposition possible now. For me personally, it is hard to imagine a more exciting prelude to my new job.”

The exhibition is curated by Benjamin Dodenhoff, the Peter and Irene Ludwig Foundation, and Brigitte Franzen, currently director of the Senckenberg Museum in Frankfurt, formerly of the Peter and Irene Ludwig Foundation. Organised in partnership with the Peter and Irene Ludwig Foundation.

The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue published by Verlag Walther König with contributions by Boris Groys, Brigitte Franzen and Susan E. Reid and short texts by Benjamin Dodenhoff and Victoria Haas.

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