March 5, 2015

Gallery Hopping Johann König, KOW. And oh yes, Yael Bartana

There are two topics that I rather avoid discussing because they are so tricky that you don’t get anywhere discussing them anyhow, or so it seems to me. Exactly these two topics were talked about in the Yael Bartana show at Capitain Petzel: religion and national identity. So what about challenging myself, I thought, by getting interested in something I’m not interested in. Well, here I am, two weeks later, still trying to get my head around the two topics, and the Yael Bartana show has already finished. To make this blog post not sound too belated, I will also talk about some shows that are still on - actually, they just opened. 

Great architecture at Karl-Marx-Alee. Gallery Capitain Petzel

Because yes, I did some gallery hopping last Friday and I happened to be at the gallery opening of the year: the Alicja Kwade show at Johann König had more than 1000 guests on Facebook and in reality, the show was packed too. Alicja Kwade is popular, yes she is. Value seems to be added naturally to whatever falls into her hands. Kwade works on the aesthetics of materiality and she gives material a touch of the sublime. I must say that I like it, although it’s almost  too sublime for my taste. I wish that Kwade would do something ugly for a change. At moments, the artist gets too “fleißig” (studious, but in a German way), and I would rather prefer her to be lazy once in a while. Kwade is also very polite, even if she's breaking glass. This way she enjoyably brushes you with beauty. And that is wonderful, but it might not stick. 

Breaking glass in slow motion, by Alicja Kwade at Johann König.

At the opening at KOW I encountered the other topic I find difficult: political art. I might be (too) quick in making an opinion but the aesthetics of the collective Chto Delat is so predicable, old-fashionably revolutionary (check: color red, check: collage, check: 1920s) and, on top of it, how can you make art look so Russian? Sorry, but this is the 21th century - move on! And let’s simplify the revolution by writing a readable manifesto, I beg you! Gallery KOW has been disappointing me lately: the former show on Tobias Zielony was such a drag: aesthetic photographs of “outsider” groups... It’s so easy to get famous in this art world, just do the obvious and you’ll succeed. 

Yael Bartana's True Finn at Capitain Petzel

So how did Yael Bartana tackle her topics at Captain Petzel? Quite ironic to talk religion in a grand pavilion where communism once had its parade. The film Inferno is about the Salomon temple, built in Brazil with stones transported from Israel. Bartana envisions the future destruction of this temple in a style that is a mixture of Hollywood combined with Leni Riefenstahl. Even Salman Rushdie manages to say silly things when talking about religion: saying, for instance, that religion is unreasonable (as if the reasonable is so reasonable, a friend of mine replied). Yet, watching Inferno, the only thing I could think about, was the enormous budget that must have been spent in making this art film. The idea behind the work is good. Bartana aimed to produce a “historical pre-enactment” and the tension in that concept makes it already worthwhile. But I guess it’s hard to play tricks with Hollywood and in this film Hollywood definitely won. 

Yael Bartana, True Finn at Capitain Petzel

I liked True Finn, screened in the basement space of Capitain Petzel. Again, Bartana walks a fine line, dangerously nearing Colors of Benetton, but, nevertheless, pulling it off well. It depicts a gathering of eight Finnish people, each from a different ethnic, religious and political background, who discuss during seven days what it means to be a true Finn, and, more generally, what it means to belong. The participants do typical Finnish things, like going to the sauna and wearing traditional Finnish clothes, and they have to write a new Finnish national anthem. Bartana plays with the absurd without manipulating or exposing the people she works with. The discussions don’t really reveal anything new, but as a whole, it’s of interest: “If a true Finn is something other than skin color, then I am a true Finn” and “You should have to be a Finn to buy land - Finnland belongs to the Finns.” Now and then some beautiful thoughts are expressed like “I don’t like using the words human, woman or man. I prefer using the word creature.” In short: I wouldn’t dare to ask for more. 

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