Monday, October 12, 2015

Berlin Metropolis 1918-1933. Neue Galerie

          I was on my way to the Guggenheim on Sunday to see the Alberto Burri show, when I came upon the Neue Galerie where the exhibition Berlin Metropolis 1918-1933 is now on view. Since it was a few minutes before it opened for the day, and there was no line, I decided to jump at the chance to see this show and save the Burri for another day. It is a wonderful show in a very uncomfortable space. Think of being in a stalled crowded subway car or a guest filled living room of your rich aunt Yetta and you should get an idea of what it’s like visiting and viewing art in this elegant but claustrophobic space.
              That said as I said it is a marvelous show rich and full of great works including lots of goodies by some of my favorite all time artists including but not limited to George Grosz, who has a few untypical paintings (They’re softer and gentler in technique) along with several paintings done in his more familiar style.  Hannah the great Hoch gives us her haunting and imaginative collages along with several  paintings never before shown in this country that surprise and show us that she just wasn’t a femme collagist,  a maker of little “things”.  Strong meat  and potatoes are served on her plate. In fact women come off strong here and are even given their own gallery titled ‘The Neue Frau” or New Women and it’s here that many of the sexually exciting and erotic works by both female and male artists (including Hoch) are displayed including some small drawings that look like they are about to morph into pornography and  Christian Schad’s  sexually explicit and beautiful painting “Two Girls” painted in 1926. Its also in this gallery that bits and pieces of fashion and jewelry are displayed along with some nice publicity portraits of  the Jewish actress and cabaret performer Valeska Gert who of course was banned from performing when the Nazi’s came to power.
            Also in the show is a beautiful suite of lithographs titled “Trip to Berlin” by the great Max Beckmann in which he shows us the city from day to night as does Walther Ruttmann in his superb 1927 film “Berlin Symphony of a Metropolis” which is screening in one of the galleries. I saw it a few years back at the Small theatre in Carnegie Hall with music supplied by a live orchestra and it was thrilling. Along with the film the original striking poster is also on display. 
                Film and photography play a big part in the exhibition. There are film sequences from  “Metropolis” and “M” two films that I have seen many times along with original color drawings for the costumes from “Metropolis” that look like they were done yesterday and wonderful original stills and a poster from “M” along with sketches for sets and stills from less known films which should thrill movie lovers. Also on view are photographs and drawings of the beautiful movie theatres that once were part of the Berlin landscape. I also was delighted  to see many works by  László Moholy-Nagy  which should wet your appetite (it did mine)  for his retrospective due at the Guggenheim next year, and the political collages of the great John Heartfield who bravely took on the fascists in his still potent collages and graphic works.  I’ve used the adjective great quite a bit here, but there is no getting around the fact that this is a show of great things.
              There were several artists I had not known before like Oskar Nerlinger and some that I knew but was pretty much in the fog about their work like Heinrich Heckroth. The show is broken up into themes 6 to be exact that fill the small galleries and even the corridors with work installed salon style that forces you to move back to see some of the higher placed pieces and if you’re not careful knocking into someone also trying to get a better view.  I did like and appreciated their use of labeling which uses small photo images of the works along with information about each piece that  are placed on the wall at the beginning of each display and not next to each piece, maybe other institutions and galleries should pick up on this use of labeling instead of those awful pieces of paper they hand out  with diagrams and outlines of the works (the Picasso show at the Moma is guilty of this) that are confusing and confounding but seem to be all the rage these days.
            And then there’s Hitler. Always Hitler.  The final heartbreaking gallery is titled “Into The Abyss” and we all know what happened to this once glorious city. I have always been fascinated by Berlin before the 2nd world war and my shock and despair over the destruction of this once beautiful city always saddens and unnerves me especially when seen in newsreel footage. There are no photos of the final outcome for Berlin, after all it’s a show celebrating what it was and not what it became and stops at 1933, but the outcome is there in our minds and visions. I went to Germany once in 1971 for an exhibition of mine in Cologne but didn’t travel anywhere else in the country, because to be honest about it, I didn’t like being there, and I wanted out asap. You can read about my experience there on my blog at this link.
This great exhibition runs through January 4th 2016.


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