An Invitation for Intimacy

One of the two greatest pleasures in life is having an intimate conversation with a close person

This sentence is taken from “The Last Interview” – a book by the Israeli author Eshkol Nevo I’ve read lately. Many words can be written on the other greatest pleasure in life. In fact, I am not even sure there’s a consensus on what the second great pleasure actually is, but here I would like to focus on the last part of this statement (I promise to write a special post about the other one soon…). I find myself thinking a lot these-days about friendship, about relationships, about what is meaningful in life. In our busy days of text messages, emails and social media, the quality of personal encounters may sometimes be forgotten.

Though I haven’t checked statistically, it seems that in most theories and approaches dealing with happiness and fulfillment in life, the significance of having authentic, deep relationships is quite consistent. It reminds me of a sentence someone once told me – happiness is other people.

Personal encounters, intimacy and contemplation are some of the ideas which the artist Lee Mingwei deal with in his work. Born in 1964 in Taiwan and now living in Paris and New York City, Lee creates participatory installations, where strangers can explore issues of trust, intimacy and self awareness and one-on-one events where visitors contemplate these issues with the artist through eating, sleeping, walking and conversation. From the 27th of March till the 7th of June 2020, the Gropius Bau will present a solo exhibition by Lee Mingwei, showing his installations and performances from the last thirty years (Curated by the Director of the Gropius Bau, Stephanie Rosenthal and Clare Molloy). Central to the exhibition is an exploration of art’s potential to be a transformative gift.

And why am I telling you about this exhibition now, you probably ask yourselves? That is because you (or items which belong to you) will have an opportunity to be a part of this unique exhibition, which seems like an incredible experience to me. The artist is putting out open calls inviting people from the local community to take part in three of his participatory projects.

The project I personally find as most intriguing is The Mending Project, which was already shown in various museums as well as at the Venice Biennale in 2017. It is an interactive conceptual installation where simple elements such as thread, colours, sewing – serve as the point of departure for conversations between strangers. Lee Mingwei invites visitors to bring clothes in need of attention to the museum. Either the artist himself or chosen menders then sew these articles. The sewn clothes are then attached by threads to spools on the wall, forming an ever-growing installation. For this project the artist is seeking hosts to engage in conversation with the visitors while mending their textile items. While the mender sit with threads and needles, repairing pieces of clothing, the owners of the items will be asked to share a personal story about why this piece of clothing is special for them.

Mixed media interactive installation
Table, chairs, threads, fabric items
Installation view Lee Mingwei and His Relations, Taipei Fine Arts Museum, 2015
Courtesy: Taipei Fine Arts Museum

The second project is The fabric of memory, which reveals how personal histories can be archived in objects. Ahead of the exhibition the artist invites the local community to submit personal clothing and other fabric items that were made for them. These items will then be displayed in wooden boxes. When a museum visitor opens one of the wooden boxes, they find not only the fabric object, but a very personal story which reveals the intimate relationship between the object’s receiver and its maker.

The third project is The Living Room, in which the artist transforms a museum gallery into a living room, allowing volunteers to act as hosts. These individual hosts are invited to bring in their own collections of objects that have a personal or aesthetic significance to them, and to engage visitors in dialogue about their objects.

The volunteers will be needed for around two hours. The deadline to apply for all three open calls is Tuesday, 3rd of December at 17:00 (>>>Update: The application deadline has been extended and is now until the 17th of December). In order to apply you simply have to follow the links I attached to each project – it is quick, simple and written both in English and German.

Good luck and please let me know if you are planning to apply!

… And in case you still haven’t been to the exhibition “Garden of Earthly Delights” at the Gropius Bau, go see it! It is on until this upcoming Sunday, 1st of December. I loved it!

Back from Oblivion

As I left the Berlinische Galerie, after visiting the much anticipated exhibition of Lotte Laserstein, I was feeling overwhelmed and a bit melancholic. Overwhelmed – by Laserstein’s extremely powerful yet intimate works that drew me in as I passed from one exhibition hall to another; and melancholic – realizing how absurd it is that such a significant artist was unknown for so many years and almost forgotten. Who knows how many similar stories exist out there, waiting to be told? How many artists waiting to be rediscovered? Lotte Laserstein for sure is not the only one.

Lotte Laserstein, Liegendes Mädchen aud Blau, Ausschnitt, um 1931, Privatbesitz Berlin, Courtesy Das Verborgene Museum, Berlin, Foto: Das Verborgene Museum, Berlin,
Lotte Laserstein, Liegendes Mädchen aud Blau, Ausschnitt, um 1931, Privatbesitz Berlin, Courtesy Das Verborgene Museum, Berlin, Foto: Das Verborgene Museum, Berlin,

Lotte Laserstein was born in 1898 in Eastern Prussia (today’s Paslek in Poland). Her father who died when she was only three years old, was half Jewish. Her mother moved together with Lotte and her sister to Danzig to share a household with their aunt and widowed grandmother. It was quite a female dominated environment. Laserstein started taking lessons at her aunt’s private school of painting, becoming more and more confident of her artistic abilities. Later on, the family moved to Berlin and Laserstein was one of the first women who were accepted into Berlin’s Academy of fine Arts in 1921. She even won the Academy’s gold medal for outstanding artistic achievement, despite the conservative bias against women. Her career was promising – she showed in different galleries, took part in various competitions and ran a private school of painting. She owned her own atelier, actually located not that far from where I live, in west Berlin. Lotte Laserstein was a star indeed. However, as the NS regime got in power, her Jewish roots turned out to be a serious obstacle. Classified as “three quarters Jewish” it became more and more complicated for her to work as well as show her art. Eventually she was banned and forbidden to work and exhibit.

In what seems to be a remarkable ability to predict the future, Laserstein decided to flee from Germany, taking advantage of an invitation to exhibit in Stockholm. She left in 1937 (the same year the Nazis held their “Degenerate Art” exhibition) and never returned from Sweden. All her attempts to help her mother and sister to escape from Germany failed. Her sister managed to survive as she went into hiding in Berlin, while her mother was deported to Ravensbrück concentration camp, where she died in 1943 aged 75. Although Laserstein managed to start her life in exile, she was never as successful as she was in Germany, mostly producing commissioned portraits and landscapes. She was struggling both professionally and personally. Her works weren’t shown outside Scandinavia for 50 years.

Laserstein regained international recognition in 1987, with two exhibitions in prominent galleries in London. She was already 89 years old at the time but it didn’t stop her from flying to London to attend the opening. Her rediscovery in Germany though began only later, 10 years after her death, around 2003, with a major retrospective of her works. The exhibition was organised by Das Verborgene Museum (same one I wrote about on my previous blog post) at the Ephraim Palais.

In the past few years the art world is dealing with exile in different contexts. I have visited a few exhibitions dedicated to the rediscovery of artists who were forced into exile and therefore disappeared from public eye (for example: New/Old Homeland in Kunsthaus Dahlem). If those artists were not forced into exile, they would have surely had a significant part in the narrative of the German art history. Moreover, a new “Museum of Exile” is planned to be opened in Berlin in a few years. The museum will be dedicated to the commemoration of the hundreds of thousands of Germans who fled Nazi Germany to begin new lives abroad, among them artists, scientists etc. The initiators of the museum are Bernd Schultz, an art dealer and the co-founder of the “Villa Grisebach” auction house and the Nobel Prize for literature winner, Herta Müller.

“Face to Face” – the exhibition of Lotte Laserstein at the Berlinische Galerie, in collaboration with the Städel Museum, is definitely one of the largest exhibitions dedicated to an artist who was forced into exile, and rightly so. Comprising more than 60 of Lotte Laserstein’s excellent works, mainly portraits, full of warmth, sensitivity and empathy. Laserstein was highly skilled at both traditional and modern techniques yet her works were very different than the ones of her male contemporaries, such as Otto Dix and George Grosz which often dealt with political issues. In her works, she showed life as it is, without romanticizing or idealizing it. Furthermore, the presence of strong women is felt in her oeuvre as she often painted “the new woman” – androgynous, short cropped hair. She never idealized her models but gave them dignity and powerful presence, whether they were clothed or naked.

“Face to Face” – until the 12th of August 2019 at the Berlinische Galerie – Alte Jakobstraße 124-128, 10969 Berlin (closed on Tuesdays). Tours in English are offered as well, please visit the website for further details.

The Hidden Museum

Maria Austria, Die Tänzerin Ellen Edinoff, Amsterdam 1965 ©Maria Austria/Maria Austria Instituut

Berlin never stops surprising me. After 8 years here I still manage to discover exciting hidden gems. It is one of the reasons I love Berlin so much. 

Das Verborgene Museum (The Hidden Museum) is an excellent example. Located only 5 minutes away from my house and still I had not even heard about it until a week ago. Don’t expect large, bright halls. The Museum is concealed in the inner courtyard’s ground apartment of an Altbau building in Schlüterstraße – nonetheless definitely worth a visit.

The Museum, which was founded 30 years ago, is devoted to rediscovering the works and biographies of women artists who have fallen into obscurity due to various reasons. The museum is not bound to a particular genre – the connecting thread between the exhibitions is that these women artists have all been forgotten. Frequently, the exhibitions taking place here are the first recognition of the artists’ work in Germany after the Second World War.

The current exhibition is dedicated to Maria Austria – a Jewish photographer who was born in Czechoslovakia in 1915 and studied photography in Vienna like many young women from the middle class at that time. Soon after she finished her studies in 1936, she and her sister had to leave Austria together with the persecution of Jews on the rise. They fled to Amsterdam where she  went into hiding and survived without any papers. She worked for the Resistance producing passport photographs for false ID cards and working as a courier.  

Maria Austria, Foto: Henk Jonker ©Maria Austria/Maria Austria Instituut

Maria Austria survived and pursued her photography career after the war, developing her own unique path and style. Her works are characterized by a human and compassionate perspective, capturing images of the daily lives of people and reconstruction after the war with a lot of sensibility and patience. Later on she specialised in photojournalism (being one of the few active women in this profession in the Netherlands) and in theater photography as well, covering hundreds of stage plays, concerts, opera and ballet performances. Another project, which has never  been seen in Germany before is Maria Austria’s series of over 300 photographs of the “Achterhuis”, the back annex that became a secret home for persecuted Jews, including Anne Frank and her family. They hid there, not far from the hiding place of Maria Austria, from 1942 until they were betrayed to the Gestapo in 1944. 

Such an inspiring woman and artist. Sometimes there is no need for enormous halls to be touched by the encounter with a wonderful, unexpected exhibition.   

Das Verborgene Museum, Address: Schlüterstraße 70, 10625 Berlin.                        Opening hours: Thursday, Friday 15-19 ; Saturday, Sunday 12-16.

The exhibition is on until Sunday, 10th of March.


  • Many thanks Sophie R. for reading and commenting ♥