In 1955 the Documenta was launched by Arnold Bode, to show mainly art which was banned during the Nazi regime. Since then, every 5 years, the Documenta is held in Kassel, exhibiting works in multiple venues across the city for 100 days. This time, part of it was held in Athens earlier, and excerpts integrated to enrich the German event. Even this triggered a bit of discussion among the citizens of Kassel, I liked the concept. We unfortunately only had the chance to gain a one-day impression this year (and we did not go to Greece). The overarching themes are fear, violence, refugees, deterioration of civil rights, environmental degradation, and coping with the world's changes and their impact on human lives. I liked quite a few individual works, more for their innovation than for their beauty though. I don't need to be convinced further, that there is far too much tragedy in the world and that we are not doing enough to resolve it. But as so many things appear to go in the wrong these days, this art is much needed, and should be shown and seen more. In terms of curation, I would have needed a bit more guidance. At least labeling all the art works would have been helpful. But never mind. Perhaps I did not prepare myself well enough, or ISO 9000 left a life long mental disability with me, spotting these things even. The Documenta 14 is very worth seeing. It is still on until September 17th. The website is a nice teaser.
The Wolfsburg Art Museum exhibits multiple installations by Hans Op De Beek, still on until September 3rd, and very worth visiting (even for me, who is not very much following such art installations normally). I liked the multiple levels of space and time, wondering through while walking along. You may enter through an installation called "The Collector's House" and then continue into the main exhibition hall, descending a staircase. It is rather monochrome and dark down there, and time stands still in a way. I really had no sense, of how long I was walking through the alleys, and there is also no obvious way out. You have to find the hole in the fence.
Excellent exhibition at the the Museum für angewandte Kunst: early photos, prints and sketches from the time Japan was opened to foreign influences, and reformed subsequently. Curated by Stephan von der Schulenburg. It is still on until January 29th. A pity I missed all the lectures and workshops, which came along with the exhibition.
The Städel Museum is one in a row of museums on the Southern bank of the river Main in Frankfurt. But it is for sure the most outstanding one, and among the top arts museums in Germany. We took the chance for a visit on a still relatively sunny day, having also our "annual sandwich lunch at the river" this time at the Main. This comes in the row of Northern Canal in Beijing, Trent, again Northern Canal in Beijing, and the river Lahn. The museum really has an impressive collection. And also the attached book shop is of a quality which most of today's museum bookshops don't reach. Only little disappointment was, that Vermeer's Geographer has been lent to a partner museum in Russia until next year. Another good reason to come back.
"Geography of Time" was a solo exhibition which made me want to visit the Frankfurt Museum of Modern Art (Museum Moderne Kunst). Fiona Tan was born in Pekanbaru (Indonesia) and lives and works in Amsterdam and Los Angeles. I liked her installations and videos around the topics time, memory and identity. Still somehow my morphology of time is different, and found it hard to connect. Also I strolled through the rest of the museum, which is a quite concise one. Liked some of the photography work shown, but most other things I do not fancy too much.
About 2 weeks ago, we had the chance to visit the former Horressen Ammunition Depot, which has been converted by Jan Nebgen and his wife Leisa in 10 years of hard work into an Art and Design Center. I was serving there in the mid 80s, at the end of the cold war, in the Rak. Art. Btl. 350 which was operating MGM-52 Lance Rockets and missile launchers for conventional and chemical warheads, as well as for the nuclear W70 warheads of our American allies. The W70-3 was a warhead which had enhanced nuclear radiation, and was often described as some kind of neutron bomb. But while the real neutron bomb was designed to discriminate between people and hardware, and only kill biology by radiation, the W70-3 actually destroyed everything and by radiation just "made sure" nobody was left behind alive. The conventional heads were designed for fire support and carried so-called "cluster bombs" which have the purpose of devastating indiscriminately large areas. As the Lance rockets only had a medium range, our potential targets were in the Communist German Democratic Republic, today the "Neue Bundeslaender", and for many of us aiming at our family members who remained East of the Cold War's Iron Curtain. As I was serving in encrypted communication, I knew what our Commanders were talking about during maneuvers. We sometimes called Dresden "Slaughterhouse Number 6". It was meant to be a kind of humor. And I think when you put 19 to 20 year olds in such an apocalyptic scenario, regularly at three in the morning, they tend to make bad jokes to cheer themselves up a bit. We were not there to maintain peace in the way it is tried today in some unfortunate countries. We were the threat of total destruction of all life on earth. And we hoped that we were scary enough, that nobody would every try it out. So far my little personal history with this place.
Since the depot is abandoned, Jan & Leisa found this a perfect site to be converted into an Art- and Design Center. And it is. The region is developing economically quite well, but when we are there, we always look for something cultural, and find there is a serious under-supply. This is where B-05 could play an outstanding role. There were excellent events there, for example the Apocalyptic Opera with Werner Herzog. But there are many problems the two are facing. First of all the former top secret site, is obviously not easy to find. But even more, the extremely tight budget, has been dropped by the main sponsor (Skoda) recently. It is a gloomy place, yes. And for a car brand, I understand that marketing departments are questioning whether this is doing their positioning good. The government budgets are small and not available. The public institutions spend their time on talking about the problem and are (again) pretty useless. And the local business people don't understand what's happening and are too busy building shopping malls. If this place would be close to Berlin, it would have a great future. But out here, it would need committed financial support to launch something which is not a missile.
Yesterday night we went with friends to see the Tango Fire Company of Buenos Aires in the Opera House of National Center of Performing Arts (NCPA) in Beijing. The show was called "Tango Fire and choreographed by the Argentine choreographer and dancer German Cornejo. It was amazing. If you are in Beijing, get a ticket and go. Besides what happened on stage, I also enjoyed that the Chinese audience got really excited and some even dropped their smart phones into the pockets. Excellent.
This weekend was the "Beijing Affordable Art Fair" in the so-called Space of the 798 Art District. This is a catory of works selling between about 1000 to 5000 US$. I was expecting this event to be something like a show of artistic talent. But when you take away the Cultural Revolution re-makes, the pseudo-intellectual social criticism, the plain copies of others, and the nude paintings, then there is not much left to look at. A handful, perhaps, but nothing really distinct. There are very good young painters in the pipeline, but they were not exhibited here.
798 is becoming more and more an entertainment district, which develops all kinds of disciplines from galleries, over design studios to theatres. Some people complain about this development, but I think by this it becomes actually more interesting. It is anyways a necessary change for the district to survive, because it can not compete with the real art centers. In terms of entertainment it adds nice elements and increases diversity of options to choose from (specially for those who do not like shopping malls, bars and KTV which you find more than enough in any Chinese city). Everything is here: from serious, over dramatic to funny.
Works of the American painter Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009) are exhibited in Beijing and Hong Kong as preparation for a New York Auction. The venue is the YUAN Space and it is jointly coordinated by Christie's and Andelson Galleries from April 14th until May 12th. It is located at the 20th floor of Jiaming Center, Tower B, 27 Eastern Ring Road North, Chaoyang District, Beijing. Wyeth often painted and portrait people living and being around him, famously his muse Helga Testorf. Some of his paintings of her, and related studies were shown in the exhibition. One of his very famous pictures is the painting Christina's World showing a woman from his neighborhood crawling home over the fields. The picture is inspired by Christina Olson (1893–1968) who is believed to have suffered from polio. There are a few books available on Wyeth. One of them is John Wilmerding's Andrew Wyeth: The Helga Pictures, which shows 240 only in the late 1980s disclosed pictures and renderings of Helga, out of which you find some in the Beijing exhibition.
In the Orchard, 1973
Study for On her Knees, 1975
Study for Overflow
Beijing's third international photography festival is staged in Coachangdi by Thinking Hands and the Three Shadows Photography Art Centre from April 21st to May 31st. All together thirty galleries and exhibition centres take part in the initiative which are spread over Caochanghdi and also the 798 Art District.
The centre is the Crossover Three Shadows Photography Award Exhibition. I specially liked the photos of Zhang Jin, which he took walking alone along the eastern section of the Silk Road from Chang'An to Yangguan. The pictures capture a lot of the landscapes mood in a timeless manner. He still prints in gelatin silver process, and it is even more fascinating to see that these pictures have no digital touch. Zhang Kechun's series The Yellow River I also liked a lot, as well as some of the dreamy pictures of Yi Hui's. A few photographers also touch on topics of Chinese society, which did not draw too much of my attention, except Wang Lin's Tulip in the Clouds project showing the life of Chinese Stewardesses beyond their neat appearance on airports and in planes. Definetly one of the highlights of the Photospring is Hisaji Hara's Symphony of Time and Light, which is a solo exhibition also on the compund of the Three Shadows
Photography Art Centre. In this he is re-staging scences from Balthus paintings. Looking at these photos closely, they are really amazing. They look simple and plain, but the photographer used multiple focussing and exposure in such a manner that he absolutely streches what I thought is possible with a camera. These pictures are perfect, but beyond a perfect photo. It is really a bit like a merge between photo and painting, achieved by a brilliant mastering of photography. The scenes themselves are for me too many school girls for my taste, but I still spend a lot of time at every picture, just trying to figure out how he did it.
The Chaochangdi Photography Spring 2012 is really worth spending a lot of time at, or going more than once. As the centre is North of 798 Art Zone in Beijing, it is not crowded and you find mostly people appreciating photography. The main cluster of galleries of Caochangdi are in walking distance of The Three Shadows with a lot more to see. Transportation is a bit difficult, but that's the price for keeping the "folks" in 798 out, which is really worth a bit of hassle.
Shortly after the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, a gigantic Chinese-Soviet military and industrial co-operation program was launched in the Dashanzi district North-East of Beijing. You find the site at N 39 Deg. 58.972' / E 116 Deg. 29.571' and it is now called the 798 Art Zone (798艺术区). The People's Liberation Army's demand for electronic components was not fulfilled by the Soviet partner to the extend required, so that China turned to then Communist Deutsche Demokratische Republik (German Democratic Republic) which just had been formed out of the Soviet Occupied Zone in Germany. To make it easy for foreign intelligence services, the Chinese numbered military factories starting with the digit "7". It started in the district with factory 718 and by time grew up to 798. Operation of 718 lasted from 1957 and the uncompetitive nature of the state owned complex did not survive the opening and reform policy and declined until it was largely abandoned in the 1990s.
This was also the time when first artists were moving in looking for cheap space. In 1995 also the Chinese Academy of Fine Arts moved workshops there and a nucleus for a growing cluster of artists was laid. In 2004 it was achieved that the destruction of the buildings was halted and a bill passed to develop the site into an Arts District. As a consequence the owner of the buildings did not renew lease contracts to have the chance driving out tenants and redevelop the land in a more profitable modern format. In 2007 though it was decided to keep and refurbish the Art Zone.
Today it is a lively place full of galleries, studios, workshops, design centres, cafes and restaurants. It is amazing what amount of space and hardware is available. Here is where you find everything from pretty nice galleries to Mao Kitch. There is not one list of galleries available online. So, the best thing is to go there and have a look.
Dafen Oil Painting village is the place in Shenzhen, where 60 % of the world’s cheap oil paintings are produced. The term “village” is a bit misleading. However, Dafen has some nice views and last year made first attempts to move “upstream” in terms of what is called arts. According to today’s issue of the South China Morning Post, in 2006 about 500 million RMB worth of paintings were exported from Dafen. The main clients were American property owners and Hotels. But since September, sales literally collapsed by 70 %. And even prices eroded 30 % still the volume keeps low. Also domestic sales is weak. Last year, even in the boom times, I felt that Dafen is a village of broken dreams for artists. So much skill and so poor living and working conditions, painting all the time the same motives. But now even this went down. The artists get laid off. And the income which was around 200 RMB per painting is now down to 20-30 RMB. It really did not take long until the financial crisis moved from Wall Street to Main Street. But here it is hitting the rice bowl now.
If you want to go there from Shenzhen by taxi and do not speak Chinese, print this for the taxi driver: Long Gang District, Da Fen Oil Painting Village, 龙岗区大芬油画村