Hamburger Bahnhof, Museum für Gegenwart

Trip Start Aug 11, 2007
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Trip End Aug 21, 2007


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Sunday, August 12, 2007

Berlin's major museum of contemporary art is housed in Berlin's oldest surviving train station, the Hamburger Bahnhof built in 1845-47. We saw all three of the temporary exhibitions in place on August 12, but alas saw very little of the permanent collection before we were herded out as closing time approached.

The first exhibition, which continues until October 7, was a Brice Marden retrospective, consisting mainly of paintings of squiggly lines, which reminded me alternately of Golgi-stained neural networks and string theory.

The second exhibition focused on three video installations by Matthew Buckingham, collectively titled "Everything Has a Name." (I'm not so sure about that premise--what about those things used to separate people's groceries on the checkout conveyor?) We were especially engaged by his latest work, "Everything I Need", consisting of two screens. One screen was a projection of autobiographical text detailing moments in the life of Charlotte Wolff, a Jewish doctor and psychologist, who fled Berlin in 1933 not only because of her ethnicity, but also her sexual orientation. She did not return to Berlin until 1978, when she flew back as a guest speaker for a gay/lesbian group. This return flight is the inspiration for the second screen, which shows a stream of images from inside a 1970s passenger jet. What struck me most was Wolff's statement that what gay and feminist activists were working for in the 1970s, she felt she already had in 1920s Berlin. She described what a wonderfully progressive and liberated time and place that was. And to think what happened there in the 1930s--it is astonishing and disturbing to reflect on just how ephemeral social progress can be.

The third and largest exhibition, entitled "There is never a stop and never a finish--in memoriam Jason Rhoades", explored the concept of trash in art. It included works by Rhoades, whose recent death was the impetus for the exhibition, and other artists who, according to the official statement, "incorporated the materials or imagery of trash into their art." This stuff was quite fun, especially the pieces that were sci-fi or comic-book inspired. Some included toy action figures, and one 1989 installation by Jason Rhoades, entitled "A Few Free Years", consisted of two rows of fully functional arcade video games. As I said, the collection was fun, but a tad insipid, especially when it came to framed subway tickets and used tissues. Terry was completely underwhelmed (except by the cyborg-pirate-centaur) and characterized the whole collection as "by and for adolescent boys" and a "celebration of male adolescence." Not that there's anything wrong with that.
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