Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Berlin, Berlin

I had a week in Berlin, before going to my conference in Bremen.  I've really only had a couple of single days to myself in Berlin before this.  This time I wanted to see some of the collections from antiquity, and I began with the Pergamon Museum, which is named for the material it has from the ancient Greek altar of Pergamon, including quite a lot of a large and dramatic frieze in high relief showing the battle between the Gods and the Giants.  The realism and freedom of the figures is astonishing.  I also saw the gate of Ishtar built by Nebuchadnezzar, large and impressive, but only a part of a once much larger structure.  Here there is also an interesting collection of Islamic work, including carved stonework (part of the Mshatta fort), ceramics, metalwork and carpets.  Some highly abstracted designs, and the remarkable stylised Kufic scripts.  Later I went to the Neues Musem to see the head of Nefertiti and the other Egyptian antiquities.  Nefertiti was a very beautiful woman, and the sculptor has even shown some slight wrinkles - no Photoshopping in 1340 BC!

Then I looked for modern and contemporary art, starting with the Museum am Hamburger Bahnhof, which I had visited before - but the works by Anselm Kiefer, Joseph Beuys, Cy Twombly, Andy Warhol and more are worth a second look.  Also I hadn't previously seen the large room/sculpture of Bruce Nauman called Room with My Soul Left Out, Room That Does Not Care, nor the extraordinary 40 metre long Gartenskulptur (Garden Sculpture) by Dieter Roth.  There was also a special exhibition on Martin Kippenberger, a wild man of 1980s German art with a chaotically varied output, who died of "an excessive life" at the age of 44.

For abstract art there were two exhibitions that particularly interested me.  One was a large exhibition showing works of Paul Klee and Johannes Itten, with special reference to their use of colour.  The two artists knew each other and both worked at the Bauhaus.  I had vaguely heard of Itten as a colour theorist, but he was painting fully abstract works by 1915.  The works by Klee generally have some figurative reference, but there were a couple of abstract works by Klee in the exhibition.  The other "abstract" exhibition was a smaller exhibition of contemporary abstract drawing (not computer-generated), including works of Carsten Nicolai, whose large projection I had seen in Frankfurt.  No photographs for these exhibitions, unfortunately.

The last thing I went to was a strange hybrid, partly a collection of art installations and partly an extended ad for Olympus cameras.  You received a camera on entry, which of course you had to give back, but you were allowed to keep the memory card.  In general the installations were conceptually simple, but effective.  There was one from the British group United Visual Artists using lasers to make an illusory perspectival space.  Perhaps the most engaging was from the sound artist known as Zimoun, which consisted of a sort of tunnel made of large cardboard boxes.  Each box had a ball attached that was agitated by a small motor and drummed on the box.  The combined effect was meant to sound like a rainstorm, and it succeeded.

I haven't mentioned everything I saw, but a year in Berlin would not be enough to see everything.  I'm pleased with what I did manage to see.

Turkish carpet from around 1500 AD

Zimoun's sound installation

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