Saturday, October 23, 2004

Gallery Opening

It's a good day that starts with me doubling my money. Here I was with that five cents in my pocket and I realized the laundry needed doing, so I opened the washing machine, and there was a five-cent coin that had apparently been cast off by a pair of pants I'd washed last time. A good omen, as was going to my bank's web-page and discovering that a magazine had made a deposit. So I was ready for anything.

Good thing I was, too: yesterday was the official opening of the Berlinische Galerie, the city's latest modern art museum. As an institution, it's been around for quite a while, but it's never had a home, displaying occasional shows on the upper floors of the Martin-Gropius-Bau, among other places. It was supposed to open at the Postfuhramt right near my house, but somehow that came to naught, and instead they built a brand-new building on Alte Jakobstr., sort of behind the Jewish Museum.

Apparently the concept here is to mix architecture, photography, and painting and sculpture into a collection reflecting Berlin's contributions to all of these, although press materials were thin on the ground. Also lacking was a coherent map on the invitation to the opening: a friend of mine and I set off to find it, and it turned out that about half the streets we needed to find in order to get there weren't on it. It's a fairly obscure corner of town -- the Jewish Museum at least now has signs to it, which helps a lot -- and we wasted about 20 minutes trying to find it.

Once we had, I began to wonder if it was worth it. The downstairs is spacious and has huge-ceilinged rooms, but they're filled with art of a nearly relentless mediocrity. True, there's a pretty good representation of adopted Berliner Wolf Vostell's Fluxus paintings, and a grouping of the huge photo portraits of young soldiers from Frank Thiel's "The Allies," two of which now adorn Checkpoint Charlie, but too much of it is given over to huge splashy over-theoretical contemporary works and silly abstractions by deservedly forgotten painters, and Emilio Vedova's hugely unimpressive "Absurd Berlin Diary" gets a whole room. A temporary show, "Architecture of the Homeless," is pretty incoherent; I'm not sure what it's supposed to prove, although Wolfgang Tillmans has a couple of interesting photos and Dayanita Singh has some wonderful photos from her book Myself Mona Ahmed, in which she spent two years documenting the life of an Indian eunuch. But probably the most telling work on display on the ground floor is Ed and Nancy Kienholz' "The Art Show," which consists of life-sized folks standing around with vents from cars replacing their faces (hot air, geddit?), holding glasses of wine in cheap plastic cups. If you press a button attached to a lucite box they each bear, you can hear them bloviate in perfect art-speak about...something or other having to do with art. Dang, I guess irony really is dead.

And so, with all the walking I'd already done, was I, very nearly, when I mounted the stairs and discovered that the real reason to come here is above ground-level. Here is an excellent overview of Berlin art from around 1890 until the immediate postwar era, including a semi-reproduction of the notorious Dada show, a whole bunch of Russian Suprematist and Constructivist paintings and architectural models, lots of Max Beckmann, Otto Dix, Hanna Höch, and Georg Grosz, a model of Albert Speer's projected Germaniahalle (I think that's right; there's no caption), with a scale-model Brandenburg Gate and Reichstag near it so that its idiotic hyper-grandeur is put into good perspective (apparently, one reason it couldn't be built was that moisture would gather up around the top of the dome and eventually the building would generate its own weather indoors -- the other reason, of course, was that Hitler never had the money or the time to build it), and a number of Arno Fischer's wonderful Situation Berlin, 1953-1960 photographs, mostly shot in the East.

Overall, I'd say the new Berlinische Galerie is a modest addition to the city's museum scene, but that modesty might be overcome if and when some more dynamic (and less academic) curation is applied to the ground floor. From the list of upcoming events, though, this doesn't look like it's going to happen any time soon. Why, they're even hosting this year's infamous Total Music Meeting, the corduroy-clad groovy professors' own jazz festival on Nov. 4-6. Ah, well. Given that the Hamburger Bahnhof museum wound up having to accept the Flick Collection, a oh-so-trendy what-money-can-buy troll through the least interesting trends of the past couple of decades, just to have something to keep their doors open, it could be worse. At least the Berlinische Galerie hasn't added Pipilotti Rist, the antichrist of contemporary art to its collection. Yet.

No comments: