February 2, 2015

Fancy Bizarre Brute: Cookie Mueller, Tabea Blumenschein, and the New German Design

This weekend I was too busy to think of going to the Transmediale at HKW. None of my art buddies ever mentioned going there. I guess that the Transmediale must be over with or I'm hanging out with the wrong crowd? No heartache though. I went to the Radical Philosophy conference at HKW a week before and it was so radically unradical that I just don’t want to go near HKW for a while. So I went to a part of the city that I hit only once a year: the area around the yellow cake called Schloss Charlottenburg. This was the last weekend to see the exhibition Fancy Bizarre Brute. New German Design at the Bröhan Museum. Its title says it all: the 1980s in Germany were freaky and weird, and full of purposefully bad taste. Whereas the rest of Germany has moved on since then, Berlin is stuck. Bad taste is its brand, and it consists of everything you can find on the flea market. It’s a lost case to organize a fashion week here: the Berlin context makes every attempt for high-end fashion look wrong.




During the little detour on my way to Bröhan Museum, I got really excited at the Walther König bookstore in Hamburger Bahnhof, acquiring a book on Cookie Mueller. Cookie Mueller was a performer, actress, fashion designer, health critic, and art critic in New York in the 1970s and 80s. Her art critique was upbeat, also known as “downtown writing” or “plastic writing”. She published books with crazy titles such as A Pool Painted Black, Garden of Ashes, Fan Mail, Frank Letters, and Crank Calls, and How to Get Rid of Pimples. In 1981 Cookie made a trip to West-Berlin and it turned out to be a legendary one. She had a welcoming crowd waiting in the airport upon arrival: “Dobermans in S&M gear  and aging uniformed Hitler youth cracking their knuckles like butchers snapping baby chicken wings gathered around us while visions of gas chambers danced in our heads.” Cookie Mueller had reason to sweat because her bra was stuffed with a drugstore. At the end of her trip a huge phone bill at the hotel made her crawl out of her hotel window and practically climb over the Berlin Wall: “I threw the bag over the side. That took a few tries, and when I finally got it over I didn’t hear it hit the ground on the other side for a very long time. That wasn’t great. Once I was on top of the wall, where would I be?” 

KAVALIER/Cavalier. A drawing by Tabea Blumenschein for the 2nd issue of Boingo Osmopol, the fanzine in the first LP of Die Tödliche Doris, 1982

In Berlin Cookie Mueller befriended underground actress and artist Tabea Blumenschein, who was part of the post-punk band Die Tödliche Doris. Cookie and Tabea were look-a-likes and hit it off. Cookie Mueller died of AIDS in 1989. Tabea Blumenschein moved in the 1990s to a GDR Plattenbau in Marzahn in the outskirts of Berlin. A few months ago I read an interview with her in the Tagesspiegel and Blumenschein still has this punk attitude (similar to band member Wolfgang Müller). She told the Tagesspiegel that nowadays her hang-outs are the tank station and the shopping mall. She visited the club Berghain once, and thought it was backwards that women were not allowed to enter the dark rooms. She also ignores Marzahn’s garden paradise: “I don’t feel old enough to take a walking stick and tell myself, now I’m gonna go for a walk in the garden.” Soit, when I finally arrived at the Bröhan Museum, I found myself, unbelievable but true, pitying poor Anselm Kiefer who, in the 1980s, was making in all earnest dramatic paintings of forests with the great German intellectuals burning in it, while, at the same time, the New German Design was giving the Heimat the finger. I’ll let the picture speak for itself:  


Wurst burning on the fire in Andreas Brandolini's German Living Room, designed for Documenta 8, 1987. In the background a painting from the series Die Gesamtheit allen Lebens und alles darüber Hinausgehende by Die Tödliche Doris


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