Currents: Painting

Painting Forever! in Berlin

Install_BubeDameKönigAss_DvB-(78)_CMYK.jpg

BubeDameKönigAss, 2013, Ausstellungsansicht, Neue Nationalgalerie

BubeDameKönigAss, 2013, exhibition view, Neue Nationalgalerie

This year’s autumn art season in Berlin seemed to adhere to the nesting principle of Russian matryoshka dolls: everything was broken down, large to small. Within Berlin Art Week hid Painting Forever! Within Painting Forever! hid four Berlin institutions primarily presenting the work of painters living in Berlin. At a further remove, this communal exhibition project – whether it intended to or not – also reflected the art market’s actual (or alleged) hierarchies: the established (and consistently male) positions were presented in spacious settings (Franz Ackermann in the Berlinische Galerie) or with large-format works in museums: Martin Eder, Michael Kunze, Anselm Reyle, and Thomas Scheibitz for BubeDameKönigAss (JackQueenKingAce) at the Neue Nationalgalerie. Meanwhile, the ‘others’ either had to jostle for space with more than 70 artists in a salon-style hang at KW Institute for Contemporary Art (Keilrahmen [Stretchers]) or ended up in the ever-aspirational Deutsche Bank KunstHalle. To Paint Is To Love Again was the name of the exhibition on display there, curated by Eva Scharrer, showing the works of four female artists – a sort of touchy-feely all-female counterpoint to the ostentatious guy party in the Nationalgalerie. Unsurprisingly, the arrangement drummed up old gender stereotypes. In an interview in Der Tagesspiegel, Udo Kittelmann went so far as to declare Painting Forever! well-balanced: ‘I see Painting Forever! as a whole; the four female artists in the DB KunstHalle even it out.’ Keilrahmen, in contrast – the group show curated by Ellen Blumenstein – gave the impression that someone had simply walked through all of the capital’s studios collecting works in a large net and then installed as many of them as possible on a wall. (With this, Keilrahmen fatally recalled Macht Kunst [Make Art], a populist art event that took place earlier in the year at KunstHalle.) A question rumbled behind all of this: is it still possible today to make painting itself the subject of a mini biennial?

Franz-Ackermann_Installation_CMYK.jpg

Franz Ackermann, Hügel und Zweifel, 2013, Ausstellungsansicht, Berlinische Galerie

Franz Ackermann, Hügel und Zweifel, 2013, exhibition view, Berlinische Galerie

The project disregards these sorts of basic, urgent questions as well as questions of proportion, in a way that seems symptomatic of the haphazard operations of Berlin’s cultural politics and the weaknesses of its institutions. The institutions carrying out Painting Forever! set forth a Berlin-centric plan, and in return, the city proved itself willing to underwrite the entire operation with half a million euros and a region-wide marketing campaign. The calculation: make up for the absence of a popular, multi-faceted art fair (one missed in the city since Art Forum Berlin was discontinued in 2011) with a blockbuster exhibition like Painting Forever! which ought to make Berlin’s autumn art season relevant and attract as many foreign visitors to the city as possible. Viewed in this light, the exhibition’s inherent thesis – that there exists the genre of ‘underappreciated painting’, which can now finally get the attention it deserves – can be turned on its head: it’s precisely its popularity that predestines painting to this sort of grand exhibition. It remains a mystery, however, why all four exhibitions limit themselves to artists that live in Berlin. Is this perhaps an effort to construct something like a ‘Berlin School’?

DBKH-PF-IN-305o_CMYK.jpg

To Paint Is To Love Again, 2013, Ausstellungsansicht, Deutsche Bank KunstHalle

To Paint Is To Love Again, 2013, exhibition view, Deutsche Bank KunstHalle

Meanwhile the actual discourse of painting is moving in a different direction. Painting has long since freed itself from its frame; today, it relates to the manifold contexts in which it floats – be it the market, the spaces of galleries and museums in which it is shown, or the various social networks through which it circulates. All of this was only reflected in Ackermann’s contributions – who, for Hügel und Zweifel (Hills and Doubts), covered the walls of the large entrance hall in the Berlinische Galerie with giant, abstract, landscape-like murals – and in the works of Antje Majewski at the KunstHalle. The exhibition there presented Majewski’s pieces alongside those of Katrin Plavcˇak and Giovanna Sarti, as well as late paintings by the little-known Berlin artist Jeanne Mammen (1890–1976). In the ’60s, Mammen worked small pieces of tin foil from chocolate wrappers into her abstract-figurative compositions. The transfer of the everyday into one’s own production takes different forms in the works of the other artists: news images of the whistleblower Bradley Manning appear in Plavcˇak’s work, for example, while Majewski paints ‘worthless’ found objects like shells and integrates small piles of broken bricks into her installations.

Keilrahmen and BubeDameKönigAss, in contrast, limited painting to the framed canvas, and with that, put an obsolete and conservative conception of format on the agenda. But it’s precisely this definition that has no chance at longevity. This approach to the field that – due to ulterior motives – simply ignored its plurality and interconnectedness was one predestined to fail.
Translated by Jesse Coburn

Kito Nedo lives in Berlin where he works as a freelance journalist for several magazines and newspapers. In 2017, he won the ADKV-Art Cologne Award for Art Criticism.

Issue 12

First published in Issue 12

Dec 2013 - Feb 2014

Most Read

The rapper and artist have thoughts about originality in art; Melania Trump tries graphic design – all the latest...
The dilapidated Nissen hut from which Rachel Whiteread will take a cast
Yorkshire residents complain that the concrete sculpture of a ‘Nissen hut’ will attract excrement, vandalism and litter
Poul Erik Tøjner pays tribute to Denmark’s most important artist since Asger Jorn
Toyin Ojih Odutola’s portraits of a fictional aristocratic Nigerian family push toward an expanded definition...
Photographer Dragana Jurisic says her account was deactivated after she uploaded an artwork depicting a partially naked...
In further news: open letter protests all-male shortlist for BelgianArtPrize; Arts Council of Ireland issues...
From Sol Calero’s playful clichés of Latin America to an homage to British modernist architect Alison Smithson
Everybody’s favourite underpaid, over-educated, raven-haired art critic, Rhonda Lieberman, is as relevant as ever
‘Prize & Prejudice’ at London's UCL Art Museum is a bittersweet celebration of female talent
The curators want to rectify the biennale’s ‘failure to question the hetero-normative production of space’; ‘poppers...
A fragment of the brutalist Robin Hood Gardens will go on show at the Venice Architecture Biennale
‘Women's role in shaping the history of contemporary art is being reappraised’
Three shows in Ireland celebrate the legendary polymath, artist and author of Inside the White Cube
The legendary performance artists will partner up again to detail their tumultuous relationship in a new book
An open letter signed by over 100 leading artists including 15 Turner prize-winners says that new UK education policy...
Naturists triumph at art gallery; soothing students with colouring books; Kanye’s architectural firm: your dose of art...
Avengers: Infinity War confirms the domination of mass culture by the franchise: what ever happened to narrative...
The agency’s founder talks about warfare in the age of post truth, deconstructing images and holding states and...
From hobnobbing with Oprah to championing new art centres, millennial crown prince Mohammed bin Salman is following a...
A juror for the award last year, Dan Fox on why the Turner Prize is and always will be political (whatever that means)
The argument that ancestral connection offers a natural grasp of the complex histories and aesthetics of African art is...
One of most iconic and controversial writers of the past 40 years, Tom Wolfe discusses writing, art and intellectual...

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

March 2018

frieze magazine

April 2018

frieze magazine

May 2018