Art is in the Air ?

Dear friends and Art lovers,

Its that time of the year again… Art week is in town.

This year’s Berlin Art week, starting officially today, offers an extensive program with a lot to see: two art fairs, eleven private collections, art awards (I counted five), countless openings and more…  I was also very happy to notice a wide (and blessed!) presence of female artists in this year’s program, such as Lee Bul at the Gropius Bau, Angiesyka Polska at the Hamburger Bahnhof, Geta Brătescu at the n.b.k, Evelyn Taocheng Wang at the KW, Cecilia Jonsson at the Schering Stiftung, just to name a few.

Since it is simply impossible to visit it all, I usually put my main focus of attention on the events and exhibitions taking place exclusively during this weekend. The other exhibitions which continue after the art week – I leave for later. Less queues, less hassle. Here are my 5 highlights for the Berlin Art Week 2018:

  1. Put on your walking shoes and get ready for the two art fairs – art berlin and POSITIONS opening tomorrow. Both will be held for the first time this year at the Hangars of the historical Tempelhof airport until sunday. art berlin (Hangars 5 & 6), in cooperation with Art Cologne for the second year – will present around 120 galleries from 21 countries and will be divided into three sections – “Galleries”, “special projects” (galleries that will show individual artists) and “salon” – a section curated by Tenzing Barshee which brings together several, mostly young, galleries. Positions Berlin Art Fair (Hangar 4) will present around 70 galleries, showing more than 200 artists. On Friday from 18:00 to 21:00 all the Berlin participating Galleries will be opening their exhibitions across the city.
  2. Don’t miss a chance to visit some of Berlin’s private collections, many of them are opening their spaces exclusively for Berlin Art Week. A highly recommended private collection is the Ivo Wessel Collection – Wessel is a software developer and a creator of watch apps and echo devices. He collects contemporary art and literature since his school days and always try to reconcile his three obsessions art, books and computers. His collection includes painting, photography, conceptual, media and video art. His private collection will be open to the public on Saturday and Sunday between 14:00 and 18:00, this year the focus is on two early 4-channel video works by Julian Rosenfeldt.
  3.  The Gropius Bau under its new director Stephanie Rosenthal, keeps on providing us with a fascinating program. On Friday evening “Crash“, the first solo exhibition of Lee Bul in Germany is opening. Lee Bul is one of the most important Korean artists of her generation. I was lucky enough to get a sneak peek to the exhibition’s installment process and it was super interesting for me to see the work in progress of such an establish museum. This large scale exhibition includes installations, landscapes, sculptures and more. Believe me – it will blow your mind! Blessed with tones of talent and imagination, Bul is dealing with the ideas of Utopian worlds, futurist theories and science fiction while using a variety of materials such as glass, leather, pearls and hair.
  4. The Swiss French artist Julian Charrière is the winner of this year’s GASAG art prize, which is being awarded for the fifth time within the partnership between the Berlinische Galerie and GASAG – the Berlin based energy service provider (and also Berlin Art Week’s main sponsor this year). Every two years, an artist who works at the interface between art, science, and technology is being awarded. In his multimedia spatial installation “As We Used to Float” Charrière will take the visitors of the Berlinische Galerie underneath to the pacific ocean by creating a physical three dimensional experience inspired by Bikini Atoll – the US nuclear weapons testing area. Another intriguing event takes place tonight 23:00 at the Berghain – Charrière will show his work “An Invitation to Disappear” – an 80 minute multimedia work, consists of a film and a live set performed by the DJ and producer Ed Davenport (“Inland”), inspired by the eruption of the Tambora volcano in 1815, that created a world of darkness and extreme weather.
  5. PalaisPopulaire – the much anticipated opening of the Deutsche Bank’s new Art hall, not far from their former kunsthalle, at the historic Prinzessinnenpalais on the Unter den Linden.  Kicking off with “The World on Paper” – a beautiful exhibition of around 300 works on paper by 133 artists from the Deutsche Bank Collection such as Anish Kapoor, Rosmerie Trockel, Leiko Ikemura, Katharina Grosse and more. Free admission between the 27th of September and the 1st of October.

Curious to know what was YOUR favorite experience during Berlin Art Week, please don’t hesitate to leave your comments.

Wishing you all inspiring days of good Art and culture! Hope to meet you at one of the venues!

The unfinished business of World War II

I went to see the exhibition “Gurlitt: Status Report” which opened a few days ago at the Gropius Bau. The 200 works shown, from a wide range of eras and styles, are spectacular and beautiful. However, the story behind this exhibition is what intrigues me the most as it involves two of my big passions – art and law, or shall we call it simply justice?

In order to understand the background of this extensive exhibition we should go back eight years ago to 2010, when an anonymous 77 year old pensioner by the name of Cornelius Gurlitt was caught during a routine customs check on a train coming back to Germany from Switzerland, with an unexplained amount of 9.000 Euros in cash in his pocket. 9.000 Euros, which were below the legal limit but enough to raise the suspicion of the German prosecution authorities and eventually lead to a treasure worth so much more.

As part of the investigation, the authorities arrived two years later to search Gurlitt’s three room apartment in Munich. They didn’t expect to find the following – an apartment packed with more than 1200 paintings, drawings and prints – some by renowned artists such as Pablo Picasso, Claude Monet, Henri Matisse, Paul Klee, Mark Chagall and many more. Some of the works were stored between food cans and juice boxes, full of dust…  Another 238 works were found later on hidden in Gurlitt’s small house in Salzburg.

When realizing that Cornelius Gurlitt inherited all those artworks from his father Dr. Hildebrand Gurlitt, who was Hitler’s art dealer, the works were immediately suspected as being confiscated or looted by the Nazis before and during the Second World War. For some reason, the discovery was kept in secret for more than one and a half years. it was only November 2013 when the public learned about the “Munich Art Hoard”, a discovery that stunned the art world.

Hildebrand Gurlitt was approved by the Nazis to be their art dealer despite his Jewish background (his grandmother was Jewish). He was dealing in works that were either looted from Jewish families or sold at lower-than-market prices under extreme duress by desperate people preparing to flee for their lives. After 1938 it became illegal for Jews to buy and sell art. Some private collections were confiscated.

Hildebrand also dealt with another type of artworks,  which were determined as “Degenerate Art”, and therefore were forbidden to be exhibited and supposed to be destroyed (in short: “Degenerate Art” is the term the Nazis used to describe modern art, that was considered as not matching their aesthetic Aryan norms and insulting German feelings. Works by Jewish or communist artists were included under this term as well. It is also the title of an exhibition held by the Nazis in Munich 1937, consisting 650 modernist artworks which were shown as insane and viewed as an evil plot against the German people, who were encouraged to mock them). From 1943 Hildebrand Gurlitt was one of the privileged few given a commission to purchase works for the “Führer museum”. It is clear that he also took the opportunity to expand his own collection…

After the war ended, Gurlitt managed to convince his American captors that most of his collection was destroyed during the firebombing in Dresden. Instead he clearly managed to hide it and later on pass it on to his son after his death. Recently, it has become apparent that he gave some to his daughter Renate as well.

To investigate the suspicions that the art works found at Gurlitt’s apartment in Munich were looted by Nazis, the German government provided funding to establish an international team of experts  in order to investigate their provenance. Cornelius has accepted an agreement under which any work identified as looted or confiscated will be restituted to its owners. After his death on May 2014 kunstmuseum Bern, which was his sole heir, ensured its commitment to fulfill the agreement as well.

unfortunately, the provenance of a great number of works is likely to remain unclear. It is very difficult,  almost impossible, to trace the owners of the majority of these pieces. Some of them did not survive the holocaust or had died already. Others were children at the time. How can they remember precisely what a painting looked like? Where will they find the documents to prove ownership? How can they prove after 70 years that the works were sold under pressure? And as expected, to this day only four works of the Gurlitt Trove have been returned to the descendants of their rightful owners.

Another example of how complicated it is to claim ownership in such cases can be found in the recent decision of a federal appeals court in New York that has rejected a claim of a Matisse painting owned by the National Gallery in London – read here.

I find it sad and astonishing that after more than 70 years this “unfinished business” is still alive and kicking. I hope that the descendants of those people who lost everything – their families, their identity, their property – will still receive some late justice.

  • Gurlitt: Status Report, An Art Dealer in Nazi Germany“, until the 7th of January 2019 at the Gropius Bau.
  • For those of you who want to delve more into this fascinating story, I highly recommend the book “The Munich art hoard – Hitlers dealer and his secret legacy” (Thames & Hudson) by Catherine Hickley, which I was so lucky to be recommended by my friend Sandy.