How do we wish to live? What roles should do politics, the state and society play, in helping us to live out our lives, as worthy human beings? What is freedom? What is equality?
These are the some of the questions explored in a new exhibition at the German Historical Museum in Berlin. A collaboration between the 36 member states of the Council of Europe, "The Desire for Freedom. Art in Europe since 1945" comprises of works by 113 artists from 28 European countries.
Examining themes like Reason, Utopia and Consumerism, the exhibition traces the common roots of the two Cold War power blocks, East and West, in democracy and socialism - both borne out of the Enlightenment.
Click through the pages to view a selection of artworks from the exhibition.
Finnish artist Aurora Reinhard's (1975-) "Flowers" (2006) consists of six pairs of Lycra gloves complete with blood red artificial nails. Much of Reinhard's work deals with the construction of gender and identity in society, including the commercialization of female sexuality. The synthetic materials used in "Flowers" are a play on the artificiality of the western concept of femininity.
The order of things
Italian artist Mario Merz (1925-2003) was famously imprisoned during the Second World War for his anti-fascist political activism as a member of the Giustizia e Libertà group. He later became associated with the anti-establishment Arte Povera ("Poor Art") movement, whose members often made use of found objects. Fascinated by architecture and entropy, as well as the processes in the physical and social order, Merz is best-known for his igloo sculptures. Making use of both industrial and domestic materials, works such as "Objet cache-toi" ("Object hide yourself") from 1968 illustrate Merz's interest in the dematerialization of the art object.
Born in Moscow in 1928, Oscar Rabin was the central figure of a group of Soviet non-conformist artists known as the "Lianozovo Group." In keeping with the spirit of non-conformism, Rabin's painterly style is highly unique. As in his 1972 oil painting "Le Passeport" ("Passport"), Rabin often depicts everyday objects in order to the reveal the "anti-humanity" of the modern environment. Censored by the Soviet authorities, the issue of freedom of movement was a pressing one for the artist. Rabin was the first "unofficial" artist to exhibit abroad and in 1978 he defected from Russia while on vacation in France. Rabin's later works depict his memories of life in the USSR and his current life France.
Dutch painter and writer Herman Dirk van Dodeweerd (1929-), better known as Armando, witnessed the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands - an experience that would always affect him. His thickly-painted, tortuous 1987 canvas "Het schuldige landschap" ("Guilty Landscape") depicts a Dutch scene, guilty because it was witness to atrocities. Armando was a founding member of the Nederlandse Informele Groep in 1957 and joined the revolutionary group Situationist International in 1959. He now lives and works between Potsdam and Amsterdam.
Fallacy of enlightenment
Belgian surrealist painter René Magritte's painting "Memory" was created in 1948, just a few years after the end of the Second World War. In the painting, a sculpture of a female head is depicted before a bright blue sky with blood dripping from the one side of its face - a symbolic memorial to the values of enlightenment and reason after the barbarities of war.
Scottish artist and poet Ian Hamilton Finlay's (1925-2006) neon "Je vous salue Marat" ("Hail Marat") is a tribute to the French journalist, physician and revolutionary Jean-Paul Marat. Marat was famously murdered in his bathtub by Charlotte Corday, a Girondist, an event depicted in Jacques-Louis David's canonical painting "The Death of Marat" (1793). The French Revolution and the Second World War are two recurring themes in Finlay's work, which employ a wide range of materials from stone-carvings to neon lighting.
Tadeusz Kantor (1915-1990) was a Polish artist, set designer and theater director. He came to prominence in Poland and abroad with his politically radical theater pieces. "The Dead Class" (1975) is one of his most famous plays, incorporating Kantor's own texts and those of the Polish playwright Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz. Focusing on memory and death, Kantor called the piece a "dramatic séance," in which the actors carried effigies of their younger selves. "The Desk" (1975) was made for the performance of "The Dead Class." Kantor said that his work was motivated in remembrance of the "Jewish, amputated part of Polish culture."
Christo (1935-) is an internationally renowned Bulgarian artist who worked for the majority of his life together with his wife, Jeanne-Claude, who passed away in 2009. Christo made "Wrapped Oil Barrels" in 1958, the year he met Jeanne-Claude in Paris. Christo said that wrapping objects helped one to see familiar objects afresh. The artist duo famously went on to wrap the coast of Little Bay in Sydney (1969) and Berlin's Reichstag (1995). Art critic David Bourdon described their wrapped works as a "revelation through concealment."
"The Desire for Freedom. Art in Europe since 1945" runs through February 10, 2013 at the German HistoricalMuseum in Berlin.