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A Unique Show of Modernism

Berlin beat London and Paris to host to the MoMA collection. The exhibition is a unique opportunity to see van Gogh's "Starry Night" or Cézanne's "The Bather" outside the U.S.

"MoMA in Berlin" takes visitors on a tour through the most important artistic epochs of the past century. Beginning in 1880 with artists like Gaugin, Kandinsky, and Munch, whose works presaged the modern period, the exhibition also features the master of the modern period, Picasso, and surrealists like Miró, Tanguy, and Dalí. It moves on to display the work of representatives of the New York School, including Pollock, Rothko and de Kooning – who became the first Americans to develop their own brand of modernist style. Beyond that, visitors can take in the works of contemporary artists such as Richard Artschwager or Bruce Naumann.

Broken Obelisk vor der Neuen Nationalgalerie in Berlin

Obelisk in front of Berlin's New National Gallery

Pieces that have never left or rarely leave MoMA are also on exhibit. Among them are the "The Dance" by Matisse, van Gogh’s "Starry Night" and Cézanne’s "The Bather." Extensive renovation and expansion of the museum in New York has created the opportunity for the collection’s Berlin sojourn. The exhibition treats expressionism, though very much present in Germany, only marginally. Yet it does focus on a cycle of politically significant post-war paintings by Gerhard Richter titled "October 18, 1977". The theme of Richter's work is the Red Army Faction, or RAF, a group of young western German terrorists also known as the "Baader-Meinhof gang".

The items in the collection were flown to Germany in installments, secretly and under the tightest security. In the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the costs of insuring the transatlantic transport of priceless works of art would have been prohibitive, were it not for the pledge of Christina Weiss, the German Minister of State for Culture and Media Affairs, that the German government would assume responsibility for the safety of the paintings and cover the damages if anything were to happen to them.

MoMA's historic Berlin connection

It is no coincidence that Berlin is the sole stop this sensational exhibition will make abroad. The German capital has something special that London and Paris lack -- a unique bond with MoMA dating back to the 1920s. During that time, Berlin was one of the world’s leading intellectual centers. It was also when MoMA’s founding director, Alfred H. Barr, Jr., visited the city. While there, Barr went to the Nationalgalerie's Gallery for Contemporary Art at the Kronprinzenpalais. There he had an experience formative in establishing his knowledge and understanding of the art of the European avant-garde. Since MoMA was founded in 1929, its canon has been modern works.

The Bauhaus movement is credited with giving Barr the idea of setting up the museum as an interdisciplinary institution placing film, photography, printmaking, design and architecture on an equal footing with painting, sculpture and drawing. But Barr was unable to fulfil his wish to have the director of the Bauhaus at that time, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, design the MoMA building in New York. Now, as it celebrates its 75th anniversary, the MoMA collection can be seen in a building designed by van der Rohe, the Neue Nationalgalerie.

A symbol of close cultural ties

MoMa Collin Powell und Joschka Fischer

Colin Powell, left, and Joschka Fischer

“MoMA in Berlin” is therefore a cultural and an historical event. Politics is also playing a major role. The patrons of the exhibition are no lesser figures than U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer. In his welcoming speech, Powell emphasized that the exhibition is another indication of the close ties between the two countries extending beyond the arts to many other areas. Powell said he hoped the cultural event would further enrich bilateral relations and transatlantic dialogue. “MoMA in Berlin’s” theme, “Berlin – New York, Germany – USA”, illuminates the multi-facetted relationship between the two countries from an artistic perspective. A comprehensive, multi-disciplinary event called “american season 2004” is being held in conjunction with the exhibit. It is the brainchild of “MoMA in Berlin” patron and Germany’s Minister of State for Culture and Media Affairs, Christina Weiss, and the Berliner Festspiele. Among the other cultural institutions joining in the program to present an overview of 20th century American art will be the Akademie der Künste, Art Forum Berlin, the Deutsche Oper Berlin, the Berlin Philharmonic, Filmmuseum Berlin, literaturWERKstatt Berlin, the Neuköllner Oper, the Sophiensæle, the Volksbühne on Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz and many more.

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  • Author Stefanie Zobl
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  • Author Stefanie Zobl
  • Print Print this page
  • Permalink http://p.dw.com/p/4fkp