So very ?
Ever since I saw Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado racing a couple of years ago, not even 20 years old and smashing it in the Under-23 and Elite levels (’cos of course women’s cyclocross is only now beginning to approach parity with the menz) she became my Number 1 fave. Yes, I am a fan. Her 2018-19 season was what gets called a breakthrough, but this season ?. Currently she’s 1st in the DVV Trofee, 1st in Superprestige, was so close to winning the UCI World Cup until that last off-camber at Hoogerheide, ending 2nd there, 1st also in UCI Under-23 World Cup, Netherlands National Championships, UEC European Under-23 Championships, plus enough 1st’s and podiums in so many races she could retire now, at age 21, and still be one of the all-time greats.
And today, having decided a couple of weeks ago to race in the Elite UCI World Championships and not the Under-23s, on an utter slog of a course, where her mad technical skills were going to once again come up against Annemarie Worst’s sprint, in a race which came to those two in a sprint, she utterly fucking smashed it.
World Champion right there.
I did not expect her to win the rainbow bands this year. On a muddy, sandy, cold, technical, up and down course like Namur, against Annemarie Worst or Lucinda Brandt, yes, but this flat grind which would always favour sprinters, I thought she’d need another off-season to work out how to do that. Maybe it was Hoogerheide, which she was going to win until that slide out of the muddy rut blew it all apart, the first time all season she’d had such a catastrophic wipeout. This was her comeback race and for those three riders, it was a truly brutal one from start to finish.
And yes, it’s so important she’s Dominican-Dutch, one of the only brown riders in a sport that’s so white — historically cyclocross is a sport for weird Belgian and Dutch farmers in winter, but even in the UK, US, Canada, and elsewhere where’s it’s become huge, it’s dead slack on diversity — and the only one at that level who’s getting any regular attention. Plus I will always rate big curly hair.
Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado 🌈🥇🇳🇱🇩🇴 2020 UCI Cyclocross Women’s Elite World Champion.
3:30am up and off to Flughafen Schönefeld, cheap easyJet and exit row seat for 3 hours to Malaga, taxi pickup to Marbella and further on to Puerto Banùs, 3 hours being scanned and having consultations while squalls blow in and beat the mountains behind the town into a dark haze, back to Marbella for a museum, because of course I do, fall asleep in an apartment by the marina early-evening, up again in the darkness for another pickup back to the airport, another flight and exit row seat, and Berlin’s loveable bus and U-Bahn home, 36 hours later. Yes, I did go for a ride after. Yes, that is the Matterhorn almost dead centre, flying over the border of Switzerland and Italy.
A month after I was in Wuppertal, I finally finish editing all the images from the Von der Heydt-Museum, which I sprinted through on a Friday morning before Gala and Michael’s dress rehearsal, two hours of indiscriminate camera-ing. Michael said, “I’ve lived here two years; never been.” Well it’s a regional museum, so you never know if it’s going to be banging, sad, or somewhere in-between.
Somewhere in-between, with moments or rather bloody good, plus fuck that was well done why don’t more museums do it like that? Lighting was a bit crap, lots of the natural stuff, which is good, but not diffused enough and pointing at heavily varnished old paintings, which is not, and some rooms where the clowns took over the illumination, so I’m wondering if the museum people even look at their own art. They don’t like people photographing though, that’s for sure. Cheap entrance price and utter thieving gouging ten euros to flop out a camera. Kinda stunned at that, like, you’re not the Louvre, you know that, eh?
Not much mediæval stuff, which is always my first stop, but there is a 1563 print of Martin Luther (minus nail holes), plus a stack of Albrecht Dürer copper engravings, which are achingly beautiful. I especially love the bagpipe player and the more disturbing works that didn’t photograph well, so no wild boar with an extra set of legs on its back, nor his mythological stuff. Past the wooden sculptures covering 500 years in a room, and into into another dim room with holy crap!
Francisco Goya’s Los caprichos. Everyone knows him for his Los desastres de la guerra series, but Los capricos was the my inspiration for bitches 婊子 and is by far my favourite work of his. And here’s half a dozen (they probably have the whole series buried somewhere) lined up along a wall.
Then what happens is that “Why don’t more museums do it like that?” thing. Nearby a Rembrandt engraving (the Zweiter Orientalerkopf one) is a 19th century Japanese watercolour, heavy orange sun setting over a turbulent wave, followed by Jan van Bylert’s Singende Hirte. It’s just the beginning. Some rooms later, when we’re deep in 20th century German Expressionism and Neue Sachlichkeit all over the walls, the centre of the room is Japanese and South-East Asian sculpture and works on paper. I’m trying to think if I’ve ever seen artwork from across the globe arranged like that in the same room … same museum? Coming up a blank. It’s rare even to see, say, Buddhist sculpture in the same museum as European art, outside of monster museums like London’s V&A where multiple departments are under one roof, but even there that former stuff is anthropology or The Asian Collection, and somehow implicitly not art — it’s craft or religious iconography, or Other … anything other than proper art coming from proper artists. So to put the two together, two thousand years East and South-East Asian mingled with half that of European; the head of a stone Ghandara Buddha figure from the first to third century next to Adolf Erbslöh’s Blaue Reiter period Schwebebahn; Javanese Wayang kulit shadow puppets and a folding screen by Kano Mitsunobu beside hard 21st century works by Sabine Moritz, Tamara K.E., and Tatjana Valsang; they work together so well and it isn’t an imperative to see the former as art like the latter but it becomes very uncomplicated and unremarkable to do so.
To see this stuff that’s always less art than art because it’s ‘for a purpose’ or whatever, be seen firstly and even solely as art is unexpected and radical. See the colour and that delicate but relentless Expressionism in the tapestry of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s from his time in Switzerland, facing off an equally colourful and delicate Chinese or Japanese Buddha / Luohan from centuries earlier. If nothing else, even if this arrangement does nothing for you, at least these works are being seen. And I’d totally be up for a big museum that does it like this. Imagine being in the Louvre or on Museum Insel in Berlin and not going into separate museums for each arbitrary delineation, but wandering through European mediæval art, and Ghaznavid Islamic art, and Japanese Kamakura art, and Chinese Song and Yuan, and South-East Asian, and the mediæval Americas and Africa and Australia … a global mediæval art exhibition mashed with a 20th century one. Sometimes I think museums are just going through the motions of museum-ing and exhibition-ing — however awesome their collections are — and then I find something like this, not this neo-liberal museum bollocks infestation, but something profoundly Museum: here is art, let’s look at it all together and find out what that looks like, what it causes, how it enriches all the artworks.
Complete divergence here. Back whenever Alte Nationalgalerie had the Impressionismus – Expressionismus. Kunstwende exhibition (almost two years ago), amongst all the sublime brilliance they had this Degas piece. He’s a sleazy tosser, but I have a love for his ballet pieces, like Tänzerinnen im Probensaal, which I cried over. Fucking art. So I’m in Von der Heydt-Museum, and there’s a Degas! And it’s the same one. Didn’t cry this time, I’m hard, me. There was another of his too. Yeah, I know he’s a cliché, but it’s because he started it. All of that was to say, same work, different exhibition, different museum, different wall, different lighting, different companion works, different audience (a lot smaller and quieter for one), all that makes a different artwork. I didn’t even recognise it as the same one. I was talking with Robert Bartholot about this, how to photograph art, and how the work changes as fast as the light moving outside, and I dunno, maybe compare the two. Same, different.
Other special works. Besides Adolph Erbslöh’s Schwebebahn, cos I was in Wuppertal and the Schwebebahn is the best Bahn. How about Bahnhof Gesundbrunnen? My home station. I know that bridge so well even if that station hasn’t looked like that since the ’40s. There was also an Edvard Munch, which I got mad excited about, cos I don’t think I’ve ever seen his stuff on a wall. A whole bunch of 20th century post-war German art, almost all by men until the century flips over, Kuno Gonschior’s massive yellow minimalist / colour field / abstract expressionist piece was definitely a fave. So much I missed and haven’t even mentioned.
Worth going to? If you’re in or near Wuppertal, then yeah, says Frances who lived in Melbourne and went to the NGV maybe once — and didn’t pay attention. It’s difficult to modulate this for people who aren’t like me, who don’t travel hours with an agenda of binging art. If I was in the Ruhrgebiet or Düsseldorf for a bit, then it’d be a no-brainer: go to Wuppertal, see museums, see Pina Bausch. See Pina Bausch, ride the Schwebebahn.
That’s what one of the pair of old, white-haired German women said across the gallery to the other while standing before the pink and blue scribbling of Zwei Badende. Shortly after, she snorted at Max Liebermann in seinem Atelier, offered the faintest of praise for Sängerin am Piano, and as we tacked our separate ways through the exhibition continued her derision, as if she was a good jury member for Entartete Kunst. I’d like to think she was unaware of the irony, but this is Germany at the end of 2016 and even in the heart of Berlin there are Nazis who tell themselves and each other they’re not Nazis.
So, me at Neuen Galerie im Hamburger Bahnhof seeing Ernst Ludwig Kirchner: Hieroglyphen, and also my first museum visit where I arranged to bring my camera. Most of the special exhibitions in the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin are No Cameras Allowed. Without photographing plus subsequent blogging there isn’t much point to my museum trips, thanks then to the Kommunikation department for making it easy (even though it turned out cameras were anyway allowed).
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner is one of my favourite artists. Maybe an easy choice, but my favourites tend to be six hundred years or so earlier. Twentieth century art, particularly the earlier part, and the pervasive white male bias doesn’t hold so much attraction for me. I’m happy to write off entire movements (Impressionism, Surrealism, Cubism, several other –isms, for example), but Expressionism, I keep coming back to this and him. I’ve seen him in Museum Kunstpalast Düsseldorf, at the huge Alte Nationalgalerie exhibition Impressionismus – Expressionismus. Kunstwende, in Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, Albertinum Galerie Neue Meister where I was mad for his Eisenbahnüberführung Löbtauer Straße in Dresden. Works like Potsdamer Platz I never tire of seeing; others like Nackte Mädchen unterhalten sich (Zwei Mädchen) or Unterhaltung; Liegende Frau (both in Dresden) stun me every time with their colour and movement, it’s so fucking radical. Oddly I haven’t made it out to the Brücke Museum yet.
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner: Hieroglyphen presents the 17 works in Berlin’s currently closed for renovations Neue Nationalgalerie collection, plus works from Kirchner Museum Davos, Brücke Museum, and private collections. Besides the core paintings, there are sketches and works on paper, wood sculptures, photographs from Kirchner’s various ateliers, books, and some dancing. It’s not a huge exhibition, if you were slamming Hamburger Bahnhof you could whip through in 15 minutes. I spent an hour there and could have easily used up another. These works and the accompanying text deserve contemplation.
Kirchner used the word Hieroglyph himself in articles published under the pseudonym Louis de Marsalle, to describe how he worked with a symbolic language in his work as part of “the radical abbreviation and reduction of his imagery.” The exhibition starts with this text, and an essay in a book, accompanied by the sketch Tanzduo. Which I thought looks exactly like Dasniya, down to the face and bloomers under tutu.
In this first section are works I’m most familiar with of his, Haus unter Bäumen, Badende am Strand, both from Fehmarn, up on the Ostsee north-east of Hamburg. It then returns to dance. He, like many artists then, frequently painted dancers, possibly the influence of Ballets Russes who blew away the ballet world in 1909.
Opposite the dance section is Davos, where he moved after having a breakdown and while dealing with drug addition and alcoholism. There was a beautiful, huge tapestry hanging on the wall, unfortunately under perspex and unphotographable — the only work to suffer this, all the other artworks were under that magical unreflective glass — and probably the pick of the exhibition. His style changes here too, the late-’20s, early-’30s of Wiesenblumen und Katze or Sängerin am Piano flatter and with Cubist elements, almost alien to his earlier frenzy.
Berlin forms its own section, with some of my favourite pieces I would love to steal. The incredible Potsdamer Platz is here, as is Rheinbrücke in Köln and Der Belle-Alliance-Platz in Berlin. These form yet another distinct style, at first glance not different from the Fehmarn works, but they’re far lighter, faster, almost like watercolour on paper. Erna Schilling also arrives, his life partner from then on. These aren’t easy works. Kirchner populates the cityscape with what he called ‘Kokotte’, coquettes, sex workers, and the men, always diminished figures on the sides carry an anonymous menace.
Around the next corner, and one of the contextually most interesting for me. But first, Sitzender Akt mit erhobenen Armen, which I cannot help look at and see a nice plate of two fried eggs, sunny side up beside the naked woman. I know they’re supposed to be flowers in vases, but it’s all eggs to me. What’s more pertinent here is his use of colour on the shadows outlining her body. They’re a turquoise that contrasts the apricots and light salmon colours of her skin. When I look at this and compare it to Zwei weibliche Akte in Landschaft, with the hallucinogenic greens, yellows, pinks, blues of their bodies, it becomes clear how the latter in no way denotes a non-natural skin colour, nor do the greens and yellows of the Potsdamer Platz women or other portraits.
This painting was in the section called “Signs of Other Worlds” and discusses the influence of non-European art and culture on his and other Brücke artists’ work and life. Both African and Oceania form influences, and both were sites of German Colonialism until the end of World War I. It’s difficult for me to know where Kirchner sits in this. On one side he was horrified by the treatment of Jewish Germans even in the early-’30s, and was expelled by the Nazis from the Prussian Academy of Arts when they came to power in 1933, yet he also saw what he and the Brücke artists were doing as encouraging “truly German art, made in Germany”. So there’s this tension between radical aspirations and uncritical nationalism and colonialism.
Carl Einstein’s (a German Jewish writer, art historian, anarchist and critic) book Negerplastik is described as an important influence, and two copies are presented alongside Kirchner’s work. This influence is immediately apparent in his sculpture, even without prompting, but I like that this connection was explicitly made.
There’s also one photo that achieved the glorious down-the-rabbit-hole I love about museums. All the photos are postcard-sized, and being a hundred years old, not sharp or clean at all. This one, from Kirchner Museum Davos was captioned “Die Artisten Milly und Sam in Kirchners Atelier, Berliner Straße 80, Dresden” from circa 1910/11. It’s set in a chaotic room, artworks, hangings, and sculpture propped up against walls, littering the floor. There are two naked figures, Milly, in the bottom-left corner, and Sam, standing, one arm on his hip, the other stretched along the top of a painting. Both of them are black. They have names, are called ‘artists’ (Artisten), so what were they doing in Berlin in 1910?
For a start, this isn’t the only work they appear in. Milly is the subject of Kirchner’s Schlafende Milly in Kunsthalle Bremen, both were the subjects of numerous sketches by Kirchner, and Milly probably appears in more than one work without being named. Both of them are said to have also modelled for Erich Heckel. An alternate title for the photo is “Sam und Millie vom ‘Zirkus Schumann’”, and they are variously described as ‘circus’, ‘jazz dancer’, and ‘Black American’ artistes in sources cited in Face to Face? An Ethical Encounter with Germany’s Dark Strangers in August Sander’s People of the Twentieth Century. So there’s this whole history of early-20th century Afro-Germans, colonialism, immigration in this one small, easily missed photo, which is a lot to put on a naked man and woman, about whom not much is known. It’s these traces though that history is all about. A single photo, a name, and a world opens up.
A little note on the nudity: Kirchner and friends were all down with getting naked and running around. Freikörperkultur (Free Body Culture) was and is a deeply German thing. There were several photos of “naked but for a cigarette” in the exhibition. It might be this one was only one of a series, though how comfortable they were with nudity, whether they felt objectified, how Kirchner and the other artists regarded them, I can’t speculate.
A final note: Shortly after Nazi Germany annexed Austria in the Anschluss, Kirchner, living in Switzerland and fearing a similar invasion, killed himself.
@medievalpoc said, “This has gotta be in the top ten ugliest arts I’ve ever seen and I love it.” Robert and I thought it was pretty freaky also. When we visited the Grassi Museum für Angewandte Kunst last Thursday it was unchallenged as the most wtf? of anything we saw. It’s deeply entrancing with its sheer strangeness.
So, with all the attention Der Kaminbehang got, I started to poke a little deeper. Turns out the Grassmuseum appreciates its weirdness, devoting an entire Digital Kinderkatalog (digital children’s catalogue) to the work. I can totally see kids going bonkers over it.
I’m not sure the Kaminbehang.pdf answers all questions being asked, but anyway, I slapped up a quick and rough translation. I also did a number on the text above each figure. I think it’s in Frühneuhochdeutsch, but there’s some words that are either Süddeutsch, imports from other Germanic languages, or possibly (in the case of the Roma figure) not German at all.
A couple of notes: These translations are on the literal side, not trying to dress them up beyond getting the meaning across. For the Kaminbehang, all characters are in uppercase, which can lend vastly different translations based on whether a word is noun or verb (e.g. herkommen/Herkommen). I presume this would be easier to differentiate for a German speaker, but even Robert had trouble teasing out the meaning. Words are separated with small stars. But not always. There are no umlauts, ‘V’ is used for ‘U’; ‘I’ is used for both ‘I’ and ‘J’ and sometimes ‘L’; some of the letters are so worn it took a while to work out what was what; there are both standard-ish Early New High German spellings (from what I can tell — not my thing at all), plus variations that seem according to how much space there was. I’m giving the original text (as close as I could work it out) plus a flat translation to English. I also did a translation to Standard German, but not including it.
First, the text above each figure, in original Frühneuhochdeutsch followed by my (literal) English translation:
Der weise Mor bin ich vorogen
alle ins Vien bin ich durch Zogen
mit meinem Pfeile und Bogen in meiner Hant
The white Moor I am before others’ eyes
all in my veins can I be seen through to
with my arrow and bow in my hand
So bin ich der Unger geant 1571
an meiner Kleidung wol bekant
durch deutsch und welsch Lant
So am I the Hungarian named 1571 (date of manufacture)
by my clothing well-known
through German and foreign lands
So bin ich der Zegeuner vor Hant
den deutschen nihi bkat als voe Jaren
da sie an uns kein Gelt deten sparenn
So am I the Gypsy before hand
the Germans are not generous as years before
since they no longer spare money on us
Ein Welscher bin ich bei zimlichen Jaren
und bin von Welschen genomenn
trag Kleidung nach unserm Herkomen
A Welsh am I for quite a few years
and am from foreign lands come
I wear clothing according to our tradition
So bin ich von schwartzen More genom
kein Kleidung drag ich in meinem Lant
von der sonnen Hitz die mich vorbrant
So am I known as the black Moor
no clothes do I wear in my country
from the sun’s heat am I burnt
Ich bin Frantzose wol bekant
meinem Herrn dem diene ich
bei meiner Kleidung bleibe ich
I am French, well known
my Lord do I serve
by remaining in my apparel
Einen langen Spies fur ich vor mich
ein Schweitzer und trever Helt
meine Kleidung mir also wol gefelt
A long spear for me before myself
a Swiss and loyal hero
my clothing pleases me indeed
So bin ich der Turck gezelt
kombt ein Christen meine Hant
er mus mir lasen ein teur speant
So am I the Turk tented (i.e. enveloped in a tent-like cloak)
a Christian comes to my hand
to leave he must make an expensive donation
So bin ich der hohe Deutsche genan
aller Nation Kleidung gefelt mir wol
weis doch nicht wie ich machen sol
mir doch ein bas dan die ander gefelt
damit ich ein Ansehen hab als ein Helt
so will ich hin zum Werckman gan
und im die Sache selber zeigen an
So am I the High German named
all nations’ clothing pleases me greatly
but I have no idea how I should wear them
first one then another enjoyed
thus I have the reputation of a hero
I will go to the artisan
and in these items display myself
And then the text from the Kaminbehang.pdf. This is intended for children or school groups, not sure what age range, but presuming pre-teens. It includes each of the figures, but their text does not correspond entirely or at all to the actual text on the Kaminbehang. It does provide additional information to its history, as well as elaborating on the figures, for example describing the first figure as Albino. I’ve also translated the figures’ nationalities or ethic groups literally. Some, like Moor or Gypsy or Turk are pejorative, either within their use context here or generally. German — the language as well as the thinking, people, country — still has ‘issues’ with both words used as well as concepts behind them. Let’s just say it’s late-’70s here.
The fireplace hanging
The fireplace curtain on display probably originates from southern Germany and was manufactured in 1571. It is 40cm high and 284cm wide. Previously it was used to decorate a fireplace in summer, when it was too warm for heating. It belonged to the old art collection of the Leipzig Town Hall (Leipziger Rathaus), the so-called Leipzig Council Treasure (Leipziger Ratsschatz). This work of art which we will look at in more detail together dates back to the Renaissance era.
It is meticulously made of precious materials such as silk, velvet and linen. Gilded metal wires along with real gold and silver thread were also used in the process. The figures’ weapons are comprised of metal or carved from wood.
It consists of nine alternating yellow, white, and black fields, on each of which a male figure is identifiable. The embroidered figures were stuffed with linen and paper, and are semi-sculptural in shape — that is, they lie like bisected puppets on the cloth.
Shown are different nations in their country’s traditional clothing. As early as the 16th century, people in Germany were interested in knowing how other peoples lived. In addition the artist was making fun of the vanity of the people of the time.
What is important is:
- The individual figures are representations of how foreign peoples and cultures were imagined in the 16th century.
- The European peoples are depicted as very rich and progressive; the Africans however, as a wild and impoverished people.
- Today we are fortunate to know much more about other nations and the similarities or differences between our lives. Have you ever thought about this?
The White Moor
“Although I am an African, I have a fair complexion. They call me Albino. Not only in the 16th century were there often people like me on the west coast of Africa. I am depicted half-naked, like a wild hunter, clothed only with a hat and loincloth. In my left hand I carry a bow, and in the right an arrow.
“My clothes are a long, colourful coat, a scarf around my neck, white trousers and short boots. In my hand I have a war hammer.”
”I wear a pointed cap, a striped cloak, short trousers, and shoes. With my hands I open my cloak a little — can you see my naked belly?”
“I prefer to dress myself very elegantly — according to the latest fashion, all in black with a flat hat and long hose. To this attire also belongs a long dagger, which I hold in my hand.”
The Black Moor
“I am also an African and on my naked body wear nothing but armlets and a torc. In my hands I have two arrows. The white blemishes do not mean I am wearing a leopard skin, rather the black fabric is worn out in these places. Now the light linen base shines through.”
”Like the Italian, I am very fashionably dressed. On my head sits a beret. In addition, I wear a ruffle at my neck, slit trousers, and dainty shoes. My bright hose are especially striking. My left hand rests on the hilt of a sword.”
“With a long, forked beard, I have been depicted in the colourful garb of a mercenary. This includes a beret, doublet, funny knickerbockers, decorated hose, and elegant flat shoes. Sword, dagger, and a long spear are my weapons.”
“I wear a moustache and a cap, a wide collar over my coat, long hose and ankle boots. In my left hand I hold a small, naked baby by one leg. The scimitar is my weapon.”
“I am still naked, but over one arm I carry many items of colourful clothing. But for which of the different fashions should I decide upon? Best for me to go to a tailor and avail myself of him for advice. After all, I will not get warm by looking at the clothing!”
Thursday night. No Limits Festival. Two of my favourite theatre groups get together for one night of three productions: Berlin’s Das Helmi and Zürich’s Theater HORA. Together, they are a force for theatre equal to Castorf in the Volksbühne. Nah, seriously, if I was Staatsministerin für Kultur und Medien I’d kick out the illiterate appointment of the Dercon-Charmatz clique, keep Castorf and add the Helmi-HORA supergroup. That’s how good they are.
A little (hopefully correct) backstory: After their first collaboration in Zürich, Mars Attacks! they came together again for two this past summer for Ding Dong Dom in Berlin’s Holzmarkt, creating and performing five new works. Now it’s November, and the awesome No Limits Festival, so they’re back together for Schlafe kann ich, wenn ich Tot bin, three “anarchic theatre seances”: American Beauty, Hunger Games, and Ein Bett mit 1000 Kerzen. (And if Jennifer Lawrence ever reads this, Gianni, who directed Hunger Games and plays Katniss, was kinda upset your crew was so slack when you were in town.)
I was also slack, only staying for American Beauty. Which has a priceless insert of Dasniya Sommer doing Nijinski’s L’Après-midi d’un faune—about the only thing my poor camera managed to make look half-decent (one day I’ll blow some euros on a proper rig that laughs at fast movement and theatre light). Matthias Grandjean is there, also Gianni Blumer, Julia Häusermann, and Tiziana Pagliaro plus the Helmi mob, Cora Frost, Solène Garnier, Brian Morrow, Felix and Florian Loycke. Total supergroup.
What else? Mars Attacks! is on tonight in Balhaus Ost, it’s fucking legendary; the HORAs have shows on almost every night—a retrospective of their work since Jérôme Bel made Disabled Theater with them they’ve called Jérôme doesn’t ask the actors anymore (burn much?); and No Limits Festival runs ’til the 15th. Go to all of it. Berlin’s festivals are small and it’s easy for one to be over before you’re aware it exists, but they are gems, especially this one.
Last Tuesday, I took the day off, went climbing in the morning, waited for the rain to stop, spent the late-afternoon with Dasniya, and in-between went to one of my favourite museums, the Bode-Museum on Museumsinsel. The Bode was the first museum I went to, when I began my museum pilgrimage at the end of 2013, prior to my head-over-heels into mediæval art. Back then, I was trying to get into the Pergamon or somewhere on a Sunday, Totally queued out. I wandered up to the Bode; no idea what I was getting into, thinking myself so damn special for finding the one Sunday museum without a queue. Then I saw all the religious bollocks. Much disappointment. I’ve been back four times now. Religious bollocks. I can’t get enough of it.
I was going this time especially for the temporary exhibition, Sammlerglück. Meisterwerke der Sammlung Marks-Thomée, more of that mediæval religious stuff. Of course I made a round through the Northern European and Germanic stuff. I have a feeling they’ve changed some of this, not that it matters, I find new stuff every time, fall in love with a different piece. I was also going as a kind of “Fuck you” to Der Spiegel and the crap of their hatchet-piece, Why Berlin Is the Most Boring Museum City in the World. If I ever get back to serious blogging, I’ll go the hack on that, but as the wonderful people from Stockholm’s Historiska museet said (paraphrasing here), these collections are comparable to the major, internationally known ones, it’s just that mediæval art is not as easily to access as say, Italian Renaissance Masters or the Dutch Masters, or Impressionists, or … I mean, look at me, 18 months ago I was all sadface on my first visit to the Bode; now I schlepp to other cities and countries to gawp at the mediæval stuff.
Some of that Spiegel piece did touch on pertinent issues, which for me are questions of context, and accessibility. The latter first. I heard about the exhibition from a couple of places, the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin mailing list, Museumsportal Berlin. Outside and in the main foyer were three large banners, one each for the Ein Gott (disappointing), Das verschwundene Museum (beautiful and poignant), and Sammlerglück. Then there’s only two banners. Where’s Sammlerglück? Fuck knows. For a long while I thought maybe it was a ruse to get people into the permanent collection, but then I found it near the East Wing entrance. Accessibility. This is something SMB is capable of, which they so often slip up on in small yet important ways.
Context, then. I’m thinking of Historiska museet, and Muzeum Nardowe we Wrocławiu (fucking brilliant, one of the absolute best), and wondering for SMB if it’s to do with, “Well, the Gemäldegalerie is for painting, so we’ll put sculpture in the Bode,” so you get altarpieces with paintings on the wings in one place and altarpieces with sculpture around the frame in the opposite because no one can really decide where the objects that are mixes of both belong. Then you get a small handful of Byzantine works that could probably go in the Altes Museum, because they pretty much belong in the Antikensammlung, leaving more room for paintings (harhar) on loan from the Gemäldegalerie. There’s a lack of conceptual overview of what each museum is, what each collection is (i.e. where one bleeds into another), whether to group works by region or era or type that makes a bit of a mess of what are nonetheless—in the Bode-Museum and Gemäldegalerie—incredibly beautiful and rich collections. It makes what’s on display poorer also.
If I had my way with the Bode, I’d shift all the non-Northern European stuff out, and all the Byzantine, anything pre- say, 9th century or so. I’d plunder the Gemäldegalerie for all those glorious works, raid the SMB’s archives for any and everything, raid the Kupferstichkabinett also (which is pretty much inaccessible anyway) for works on paper, and throw down on Wrocław and Stockholm. I’d put together works from the masters of Lübeck, works of the era of pilgrimages, of Bynums, works documenting the very specific representation of St. Mauritius as a black African which came out of these regions, of Magdeburg, of the northern trade of artworks with Sweden, of the north-south and east-west routes which meet in the swampy plains of eastern Germany, all of this history that the museum is more than capable of exhibiting, which for whatever reason I learnt more about from a trip to Stockholm than I have from Berlin’s museums.
Then I’d get lighting and exhibition designers who know you don’t bounce harsh fucking light on lacquered paintings into the eyes of visitors, nor do you put them opposite windows, and who know how to use non-reflective glass for works that can’t be left naked. I had a few hissy fits in the Sammlerglück exhibition over this, some of the works were simply not possible to view from anything less that 45º off to one side. And follow all that with masses of information on walls and beside the works (yes, and those SMB audio guides) so you’re sweating with the magnificence of it all.
Anyway, the Sammlerglück exhibition! Strange and rare thing that it is. It’s the private collection of a Westphalian politician from the early 20th century, Fritz Thomée. He started with mediæval art, became friends with the director (and his assistant) of the museum, Wilhelm von Bode, expanded into Italian, Renaissance, and other art (not the collection’s strong point), even picked up some Asian pieces. There’s a large photo of him at the start of the exhbition, sitting in an armchair, smoking, his house full of bits of altarpieces, retables, old stuff. It’s dead strange.
There’s a lot of exceptional work—mostly small scale—in the one large room of the exhibition. It’s mostly presented with care and attention, and looks beautiful. I ended up photographing almost all of the 90-ish pieces (exceptions being a few pieces that were destroyed by glare or glass) because it might be once this closes, they won’t be easily seen again, and together they do make a very fine collection.
Imagine the whole Bode museum like this, it’d be utterly fucking sublime.
Friday night’s performance of Mars Attacks! had a new ending. It’s a bit of a hidden track and may or may not appear in subsequent performances (or at least that’s how I understood it). Also the last night I was taking photos. I’d extended my time in Zürich – flying back to Berlin Sunday instead of Friday – so I could film a couple more nights and make sure I got everything. Funny that even with around 180 gigabytes of images and video, I’ll be sure to have missed something. For the moment, back in Berlin, certainly missing the Horas and the Helmis.