Monday, May 29, 2017

Great Art in Small Places - bye:myself at Bremen and Wolfsburg

Although over the past couple of years Berlin as the German capital has swallowed a lot of important artists and exhibitions, Germany is still not as centralized as many other European countries. You do find surprisingly often important, international art events in rather small, neglectable places. This Sunday, the interest for great art took me to Bremen und Wolfsburg.

Hans op de Beeck: "The Collector's House"
at the Exhibition "Out of the Ordinary"
Just for you to know: this is a color picture...of a room in black and white.

I cannot think of a reason someone out of Germany might have heard of Bremen unless you are a great Elvis Presley fan: It was in Bremerhaven, the other city forming the federal country of Bremen (yes, like Hamburg and Berlin, Bremen with its population of only little over 500,000 inhabitants, is not only a city, but at the same time one of Germany's 16 federal countries) where 'the king' came ashore to do his military service in 1958. And at Bremerhaven, too, is a very interesting and nicely set up museum, the German Emigration Center, opened in 2005. In the 19th century, more than 7 million people migrated via Bremerhaven to the New World; this museum is practically the antipole to Ellis Island in New York.

These guys, the 'Bremen town musicians' from a fairy tale by the brothers Grimm, are probably the city's main tourist attraction.

While you'll probably have no clue at all what and where Wolfsburg is, everybody knows its signature product: the Volkswagen headquarter and plant is located there and they top it up with the 'Autostadt', a mix of museum, amusement park, show room and cultural center - everything about Volkswagen.
But where there's money, you often find the arts, and therefore there is the privately owned Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg (Wolfsburg Art Museum), financed mainly by the Volkswagen charitable foundation.


Auto Vision. Madia Art from Nam June Paik to Pipilotti Rist

So anyway, this Sunday's art trip began at the Kunsthalle Bremen, the city's art museum. Even though their permanent collection is neither particularly vast nor extraordinary, they make up for it by very thorough explanations regarding art epochs and educational descriptions. 
And most of all their special exhibits are worth the visit. Till September 3, they show media art from their collection, ranging from the 1960s presenting the pioneers like Nam June Paik to the presence. 

Nam June Paik: Three Camera Participation - and I am participating, indeed!

Some of the works - like Hiroyuki Masuyama's 'Caspar David Friedrich: Rocky Valley' - are hanging next to the permanent exhibit and compliment the old masters thusly, which underlines the curator's point that media art is electronical painting after all, of course improved by the technical progress of the past decades.

Arnold von Wedemeyer: on-time, still life I

...and Arnold von Wedemeyer: on-time, still life I after around 8 minutes.
But how can an image, that morphs over 9:20 minutes, be a "still life" - it's far from being still.
Till July, there is in addition a special exhibition of Franz Radziwill, famous exponent of 'magic realism' and expressionism; and if someone can explain, why magic realism isn't simply surrealism, please drop me a line. This exhibition focusses on his home town Bremen, tracing not only its impact on his art, but also significant places. Significant for Radziwill, significant for Bremen - significant for you if you're a hard core afficionado of either.


In the afternoon, it was Wolfsburg time. After crossing the super dull and depressing city center, you reach an artsy pleasure dome. 

View of Hans op de Beeck's dreamlike "The Collector's House" from the opposite side.

Hans op de Beeck: Out of the Ordinary

Until September there is a truly overwhelming show by
Hans op de Beeck
on. It's called "Out of the Ordinary", and the Belgian artist created his installations according to this double meaning: making ordinary things and people by using ordinary mixed materials - covering everything with mostly monochrome satined paint; which lifts his work out of the ordinary. 

After having marveled at the installation "The Collector's House" - about 2,700 square feet of awe, you walk down the stairs into a pitch dark neighborhood. Since pitch dark is difficult to photograph, it was unfortunately impossible to take pictures. Just imagine an unappealing neighborhood with narrow alleys full of discarded wire, shopping carts, and burning garbage bins, arranged around a fountain - its rushing water accompanying the sinister ambience with a desperate sound of life.

The exhibits are either very dark like "The settlement"...

...ore extremely bright like "Table"
(built on scale of 1.5 : 1, so that the viewer sees it like a 7 year old child)

Each house, the entrance marked by a lantern, keeps a different oddity. Whether it's installations or films - thanks to his variety and many talents, op de Beeck surprises and indulges the visitor again and again. He invites you to his world that at first glance deems to be a fairy tale, but like many of these fictions, there is an enigmatic, irritating twist to it. Whether it's the leak of colors - op de Beecks sticks to black and white, mixing them to a solid, dead grey, or the extreme lighting - light is either missing or almost blinding. If it's the surreal dimensions - a winter landscape on approx. 6.5 x 6.5 feet, a table on scale 1.5 : 1 - or the mystical music and burbling and dripping of seen and unseen water: Everything consists of poetic beauty and dark secrets - like the fairy tales that amazed and scared us when we were small.

Pieter Hugo: Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

There is also Pieter Hugo's photo exhibition on display. His portraits of predominantly African people are certainly powerful, but in contrast to op de Beeck's however disturbing world of fantasy and awe, the images confront the viewer with an unjust, cruel, merciless reality. 
Although this grip on its viewers is part of the extraordinary quality, after having seen Hugo's photographs, I needed to go back to op de Beeck's wonder world for a couple of minutes before leaving; I simply didn't want to leave with the depressing notion.

I recommend to see these exhibitions preferably on two different days, or if this isn't an option, I would definitely see Hugo first and then op de Beeck.

Pieter Hugo: "Meriam 'Mary' Tlali, who spent her entire adult life working as a maid for my grandmother, Kroonstad"

Cheap and comfortable daytripping

Here's a special tip for you Germany-travellers: For about 25 Euro you can travel an entire day by train within every federal country; but you are only allowed to take the regional trains, not IC or ICE. The best part is: each further person pays only 4 Euro, up to 5 persons can travel on one regional day ticket. Due to its central position, Hamburg is automatically included in three tickets (Schleswig-Holstein, Mecklenburg Western Pomerania, and Lower Saxony (that includes also Bremen)).

It's like they say: The early bird catches the train.

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