Reflections of Germany – Six Artworks Charting the Evolution of the New Germany
The Berlin Wall fell twenty years ago: How has Germany changed since then? In six episodes, ARTS.21 charts the evolution of reunified Germany with reference to six works created between 1989 and 2009 that reflect the country's main preoccupations.
"Blossoming Landscapes" – Christian Wolter's Post-reunification Photograph Series
Christian Wolter, 'Blossoming Landscapes'
It was during the period of reunification that chancellor Helmut Kohl coined what has since become an infamous phrase: forecasting growth in the former East within just a few years he promised the emergence of "blossoming landscapes". 15 years later, photographer Christian Wolter set out to see what progress had been made and called his series "Blühende Landschaften" – inspired by Helmut Kohl's premature promise. A slick-looking and very expensive climbing tower in Wolfen – Nord, a satellite town created to house East German chemical workers, is the subject of one of his photographs. Not a soul was in sight on the day when Christian Wolter took his picture. The tower is rarely used because local people cannot afford the equipment needed to climb it. Wolter's series is a catalogue of ill-advised investments and post-industrial ruins in eastern and western Germany – and a testimony to unfulfilled post-reunification promises.
Welcome to Capitalism – "Old Europe" by artist Johannes Spehr
Johannes Spehr, 'Living Pproject Old Europe / Living In Humus'
The Frankfurt-based artist Johannes Spehr specializes in small monochrome drawings that look something like scenes from comic strips. At first glance, they might seem anodyne, but they aren't! Take a closer look and the fine satirical detail of these drawings will suck you into a world full of symbolism. In the work LIVING PROJECT OLD EUROPE / LIVING IN HUMUS we see a man who has settled into his own grave. Spehr shows a country without a vision. Capitalism has won and yet is not victorious. There are no longer any goals, there is only the fear of losing what we have. In spite of globalization, people are retreating to the trenches.
Utopia: The Vanished Pictures Series by Photographer Margret Hoppe
Margret Hoppe, 'Werner Tübke, Five Continents', 1959 - Interhotel Astoria, Leipzig
The title of one photograph in this series by the Leipzig-trained Margret Hoppe is "Werner Tübke, Five Continents, 1959, Oil on wood, Interhotel Astoria, Leipzig." When we look at this photograph we see nothing – or, rather, not much. An empty room, a cracked ceiling, a scuffed floor. But five rectangular patches on the wall, with holes where screws have been removed, suggest something was attached here. For her "Vanished Pictures" series Margret Hoppe revisits public spaces in what used to be East Germany. Her works show the gaps that were left after most Socialist artworks were removed in reunified Germany. Hoppe's photographs document how the visual memory of communist East Germany is being lost and with it the cultural inheritance of this era.
Confronting the Past: Peter Eisenman's Holocaust Memorial
Peter Eisenman, Holocaust Memorial in Berlin
How do Germans look at their history, twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall? Perhaps no work of art gives a clearer answer than this Berlin landmark. Only completed after 17 years of discussion, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe designed by American architect Peter Eisenman is dedicated to the victims of the Nazi Holocaust. From a distance the field of steles, or upright concrete slabs of differing height, looks almost poetic, reminiscent of a small stone forest. But the moment you step into the concrete woods, you're overcome with the feeling that you will never find your way out. The light of day is near, yet impossibly far away. It's rare that a monument affects visitors like Germany's Holocaust Memorial. Some visitors move forlornly through the stone field, others sit on top of the slabs, while children climb around on them. Hardly any other architectural creation in Germany is subject to as much interpretation and emotion as this spot – even though, or perhaps precisely because – on the surface, at least, Eisenman shunned symbolism. The site remains a place of confrontation.
"Reserve" by Kerstin Drechsel
Kerstin Drechsel, 'Reserve'
We are in a cluttered apartment full of books, clothes and wrappers. Only a small area of the bed is not occupied. But this is not garbage, what we see are piles of consumer goods - substitutes for human relationships. Artist Kerstin Drechsel's enormous oil canvases are intimate portraits that do not show the actual occupants. The apartment as retreat, a refuge for disorder in an otherwise tidy country.
Paule Hammer's "Ausflug"
Paul Hammer, 'Der Ausflug' 2005
A young, ape-like man in a T-shirt and jeans sits on a motorcycle and revs the engine. But the man in Paule Hammer's painting wears no protective gear and the garage door is closed: he'll be driving right into the door. Hammer's provocative work seems to holds up a mirror to society, arguing that though we may think we are on a great journey, we are in fact trapped in a small, narrow-minded country.
Power and Violence: "Dog Planet" by Daniel Richter
This is a belligerent picture. The dogs bare their teeth, heavily armed police officers raise their clubs threateningly, with a quick pose for the camera. The strange color contrasts suggest it is an infrared camera. Daniel Richter says his works are not the products of his imagination, but are based on reality. The painting "Dog Planet" seems to show a nightmarish, brutalized world. Daniel Richter's subversive look at Germany.
Daniel Richter, "Dog Planet"