I would like to share with you a couple of things that I noticed during my 5-day trip to Berlin.
This article will be less about my own art and more about the inspiration I drew from the trip for my upcoming projects.
At first sight, Berlin doesn’t seem to be the city renowned for its artistic explosion. The first thing you notice, especially if you look down from the plane when landing, are the deep scars that communism has left in the architecture of the city. There are neighborhoods of blocks and extremely wide boulevards that make you feel small and insignificant. The city is buzzing with galleries and art spaces but you must know where to look for them and many are closely tied to the contemporary art market. There are abstract works everywhere, sold for astronomical prices.
In February, the cold wind blows through your clothes, the rain is merciless and everyone is wearing black puffer jackets all united under one stern color in contrast with the surrounding graffiti. While exploring the city, I left sticky traces of my art wherever I went. Kreuzberg and Prenzlauer Berg are some of the neighborhoods in which artists are trying to keep the rent affordable, so they occupy houses and they display political statements against gentrification. On Saturday and Sunday there are markets in many of the green parks of the city – I recommend the Flohmarkt in Mauerpark on Sunday. You can find local artists who are selling their art there.
During the first day, we visited the Neues Museum which holds an impressive collection of Egyptian art. Most of the Pergamon Museum was closed for renovation. The meticulous stone and wood sculptures made by the Egyptians seem to be contemporary works created with the precision of a laser engraver. It’s very hard to imagine how these were made 3000-4000 years ago.
The main attraction is the bust of Nefertiti made in 1345 BC by the Egyptian sculptor Thutmose.
Before leaving for Berlin, I did my homework and I found an interesting exhibition on show at the Alte Nationalgalerie, entitled “Fighting for Visibility – Women Artists in the Nationalgalerie before 1919”. As the title suggests, the exhibition was very hard to find, a proof that the situation is still extremely worrying in regard to the representation of female artists in state museums. There were no signposts for the temporary exhibition inside the museum. I found it on the second floor, contained within the permanent exhibition, in a labyrinth of corridors. You had to actively search for the banner that indicated the beginning of the exhibition.
I especially liked three of the total of 60 exhibits.
Paula Monjé – Men at the Fireplace, 1904 (1)
Sabine Lepsius – Portrait of a Child, 1895 (2)
Augusta von Zitzewitz – Portrait of the Painter Jules Pascin, 1913 (3)
A friend who was born in Berlin and who lived for almost his entire life there told me that if he had to send me to visit a single place in Berlin, that would be the Käthe Kollwitz Museum at 24 Fasanenstrasse. I followed his advice and I am so glad I did… This museum erased some of the pain I felt after visiting the Nationalgalerie exhibition.
Käthe Kollwitz is the most well-known female artist from Berlin. She was the first woman to be elected as a member of the Prussian Art Academy in 1919 and the first female artist who became a professor at the same institution in 1928 where she taught until 1933 when the Nazis forced her to present her resignation. Her oeuvre includes lithographies, etchings, drawings and sculptures representing empathic scenes of death, hunger, poverty, motherhood but also the revolt of the proletariat. In fact, her most famous works are from the graphic cycle “A Weavers’ Uprising,” consisting of six works on paper based on Gerhart Hauptmann’s play The Weavers. For this series, she was almost awarded a prize by the jury at the Grosse Berliner Kunstausstellung, but Kaiser Wilhelm II opposed the award saying that orders and symbols of honor belong only to men.
On Sunday, we visited Kunstquartier Bethanien, a former hospital turned into a vibrant cultural center including artist workshops, many exhibition spaces and headquarters of several cultural and social institutions. It is a space open to the public where you can even print artist books and other things using different printing techniques for a decent amount of money. I missed out on the opportunity since you have to make an online booking 3 days prior to your visit.
Bethanien Hospital was almost demolished in 1970 but it was saved by an army of squatters, citizens' initiative groups and historic building conservationists and so Bethanien became a cultural center in 1973.
We attended the opening of DRIFT, an exhibition of the graduates of a photography class held by Ina Schönenburg at Ostkreuzschule der Fotografie and we explored the huge building, the last such oasis in the Kreuzberg neighborhood.
There are a lot of decommissioned factories and warehouses that have been turned into street art galleries. R.A.W. Gelände in Friedrichshain neighborhood is such a place where there’s always something going on… I took advantage of being there to enrich the street art walls with my own art.
Five days are not enough to immerse yourself in Berlin's atmosphere. If you want to visit Berlin, I would suggest you do it during the warmer months of the year.
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