Trip to Berlin

I spent four or five days in Berlin. I saw lots of good stuff.

The Hamburger Bahnhof is probably my favourite of the Berlin Museums. They have a really good permanent collection of post-1960s art, like they have cherrypicked all the best stuff. Of particular note are the giant Anselm Kiefer pictures, though I was not such a fan of the works by Joseph Beuys. I also liked seeing some vintage Rauschenberg and surprisingly the 1972 giant Mao painting by Andy Warhol; I usually think most of the work he made after being shot was pretty terrible, but this one had an interesting scale if you look directly up at it.

placeholderThe Hamburger Bahnhof.

There was also a fantastic temporary exhibition by the lunatic expressionist Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. Coming out I am convinced Kirchner is the best of the true German Expressionist gang, he was a true nutcase. Photographs of his house, which he heavily decorated with mock African furniture of his own construction, was a particular highlight.

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Ernst hanging out in his weird house accompanied by friend with a wicked haircut.

Elsewhere at the excellent Bauhaus Museum I saw a really cool small exhibition by the great photographer Lucia Moholy. It turns out she was also the author of a really good early history of photography. The Bauhaus Museum collection is also amazing, a real greatest hits, and it’s a really fun place to hang around.

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Portrait of Florence Henri, 1930 by Lucia Moholy.

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At the Berlinische Galerie I saw an interesting early work by Hannah Hoch, unusually not a collage but a painting. The influence of collage however is still really evident. Hoch had really great painting skills which was interesting to see.

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The Journalists by Hannah Hoch.

A good accompaniment to these grotesques was the installation of the great Ed Kienholz’s immersive sculpture The Art Show. I really loved seeing this, it really was impossible to tell real people apart from the rather disgusting sculptures, and there were so many tiny details to explore as the viewer. I would love to make a piece of work with this immersive quality.

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The Art Show, 1963-77 by Ed Kienholz.

Finally at the Helmut Newton Foundation, possibly the best photography museum in Berlin, I saw pictures by the photographer Alice Springs. My favourites by far were her fantastic pictures of street weirdness in Los Angeles, the bulk of which unfortunately appear not to be on the internet.

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Pictures by Alice Springs.

What I was most enamoured with in Berlin was the city itself. The streets are constantly interesting, there is so much variety and life, and regular people still live in the very centre of town. The atmosphere, especially at night, is fantastic, streetlights seem to stretch off infinitely into the distance and everything is bathed in weird white light. I was also really drawn to the subway, which for long periods travels above ground, and is full of really interesting people.


Paris Visit: “Spectaculaire Second Empire” at the Musee D’Orsay

The Musee D’Orsay is probably one of the best museums on earth for it’s collection of 19th century French painting alone. Ingres rubs shoulder with Monet, who collides with Cezanne having a friendly parlance with Van Gogh, who is admiring a giant work by Gustave Courbet. Anyway.

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Cor blimey.

Everybody knows about the amazing permanent collection at the D’Orsay but what I really like is the top notch temporary exhibitions they show. The breadth of the collection allows them to stage massively in depth studies of classic French art, and the exhibition style is very inclusive, featuring pieces of design and photography alongside the paintings.

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This blog post is becoming it’s own blockbuster exhibition. Or blogbuster? Ha ha HA?!

Last time I saw possibly my favourite exhibition ever on prostitution in art, from which I left completely convinced modern art was basically the product of prostitution. Anyway.

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My love for the Musee D’Orsay is ever in the month of May.

This year the big blockbuster is on the French Second Empire, which in some ways is a slightly ignored period. The curators showed off the massive excesses of Louis Napoleon’s France, where 19th century art reached a peak of mannerism via architecture like the famously gaudy L’Opera and the horribly over-academic art of painters like William Bouguereau.

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Cabanel’s Birth of Venus. When seeing this in person I was really struck by just how close to very poor pornography this sort of picture really is. Berger was more or less correct in this regard.

This was all done in a really captivating way, including a room recreating the Salon of 1863 complete with Manet’s Dejeuner sur L’Herbe, and a room recreating some of the massive industrial exhibitions that took place. There were some great obscure pieces, including a room devoted to a hilariously tasteless revival of Greek theatre that took place among the French aristocracy.

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“You looking at me? Eh? EH?”

Not all of the riches were tainted; Ingres’ famous portrait of Madame Moitessier still dazzles, but what was really interesting about the exhibition was that it showed what it was that artists like Manet were rebelling against, namely a horrendously excessive and stuffy imperial society that was limping into a modern world where empires no longer existed. The seeds of revolt were shown in works like Courbet’s portrait of the anarchist theorist PJ Proudhon and some early impressionist pieces. Overall then, another definite success.

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Paris Visit: Centre George Pompidou

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The Pompidou Centre as seen by Brion Gysin.

This museum is amazing. It’s also amazingly hard to get into. The queue goes round and round forever, and once inside you’re into another queue. But I digress.

I spent a few hours in the modern art permanent collection here which was absolutely brilliant.

Ascending the famous escalators one gets a great panoramic view of the city below. This is great considering the giant contribution the city has made to the art inside, a theme which is continued when walking between rooms, Paris always outside through big windows.

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Photo: Paris Digest

On show is the expected classic history of modernism shown through a series of masterpieces. It was great going without knowing what’s on show, every room a new surprise.

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Raoul Hausmann- Mechanical Head

It’s hard to pick highlights, but seeing large Matisse works in the flesh was great, seeing all the Braque/Picasso classical cubist works was great, seeing Hausmann’s famous mechanical head was great. Everything was great.

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Yves Klein- Grande Anthropophagie bleue Hommage a Tennessee Williams

Another big favourite was seeing this huge work by Yves Klein. Yves Klein was an amazing artist, completely nuts. He was a master at Judo, claimed he could fly and invented his own shade of blue, the famous International Klein Blue. His work, and the nouveau realisme movement he founded, tried to find a new realist art away from soviet realism and avant-garde abstraction. He seems like the archetypal dumb modern artist, my-kid-could-have-done-that, but a little more research makes him seem like one of the most intelligent and funny artists of the second half of the 20th century, particularly his photo-backed claim to be able to fly.

Paris Visit: “Uprisings” at the Jeu de Paume

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Photo: Gilles Caron

Located in the Jardin des Tuileries, the Jeu de Paume is one of the main museums in Paris for photography and video art.

The current temporary exhibition “Uprisings” features a more expansive collection of artefacts, including drawings, paintings and mixed media pieces alongside the usual selection of photographs and films.

As the title suggests the exhibition focuses on works that deal with uprisings; the curators have attempted to deal with phenomenons like gesture or thoughts, but inevitably the exhibition quickly becomes dominated by politically themed art.

There were some interesting pieces on show, including Cartier-Bresson’s great photographs of the 1968 Parisian student revolts. I also really liked a piece by Sigmar Polke, an artist whose work I haven’t seen much of. Polke spray painted an image of protesters on to a large sheet made up of different sections of newspaper, with the resultant visual effect gritty and iconic.

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While there were some good works on show, this exhibition left me slightly cold. Despite a large space and lots of rooms, nothing particularly jumps out as really great, and the overall effect feels slightly muddled, the variety of pieces slightly too large for any kind of coherent message.