Visual Arts in Germany: Exhibitions and Artist Portraits

Simply Art – Hans-Peter Feldmann in Hamburg

David vor den Deichtorhallen; © Deichtorhallen HamburgAt the request of the artist neither title nor year of creation are mentioned; © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Courtesy Hans-Peter Feldmann

An exhibition is being held at Hamburg’s Deichtorhallen Centre entitled “Hans-Peter Feldmann: Kunstausstellung” (Hans-Peter Feldmann – Art Exhibition) – a show that provides an overview of the artist’s complete works from the last four decades. Over the last few years the art of Feldmann, who was born in 1941, has attracted more attention than ever before. What is it however that makes Feldmann’s art so attractive?

Pots full of plastic flowers hang on the walls, a chair is wearing braces, the contents from ladies’ handbags are displayed in glass cabinets.

Hans-Peter Feldmann; © Matthias Schönebäumer/DeichtorhallenRight in the first room of Feldmann’s Art Exhibition you realise you have landed slap in the middle of his universe. The name of the exhibition speaks for itself and is characteristic of Feldmann’s laconic approach to his art. The Art Exhibition delivers what it promises – it shows art, in fact only the works that, at the artist’s request, almost always have no titles, dates or descriptions.

Made to measure exhibiting

Entirely in line with the overview approach to the exhibition the Deichhallen Centre has striven to show the many facets of Feldmann’s art: his portraits of cross-eyed, historical townspeople, series of images like Alle Kleider einer Frau (All The Clothes of a Woman) or also A Story – an arrangement consisting of three paintings that urge the observer to make up a suitable story by means of association.

Hans-Peter-Feldmann at the Deichtorhallen Centre

The artist’s approach to the way the exhibition was to be organised is equally as unpretentious as Feldmann’s art itself. According to Feldmann any ideas on any possible references to anything played no role whatsoever. He said he was more pragmatically interested in using the dimensions of the walls and positioned the works accordingly, measuring the number of centimetres with great precision. This sort of approach seems to be typical of Feldmann – no way does he intend to use too many words or charge his art with unnecessary significance. The images speak for themselves – and that works amazingly well at the exhibition.

Simplicity is bliss

The exhibition-goer strolls round the hall, again and again stopping to relish a work that makes him smile. For example, a checked tea towel á la Mondrian or portraits of the moneyed bourgeoisie of the 19th century wearing clown noses. Alongside these amusing pieces there are also some more serious works such as 100 Jahre (100 Years) – a series of photos showing portraits of people aged from one to 100. Then there is Schattenspiel (Shadow Play) – an installation using random objects that function like shadow puppets. They are all works that allow the observer to become immersed and movingly embraced.

In the dark ambience of the Schattenspiel (Shadow Play) the observer involuntarily sits there for a while and, yes, – he is delighted to watch the shadows, how they move, how they interact with each other and tell a story. Strange as it may seem, this fascinating piece has come into being by using simple objects, the debris of everyday life like the parts of a doll, for example. Pomposity, great gesturing are not Feldmann’s scene. He likes to keep things simple, to observe, to let everyday life take its course – as he says – to “breathe it all in”. Every now and then amongst all these everyday happenings he finds a moment worth preserving. For Feldman art is simply an opportunity presented by everyday life.

At the request of the artist neither title nor year of creation are mentioned; © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Courtesy Hans-Peter Feldmann

Everyday Beauty

The routine of everyday life often gives way to series like, Ein Pfund Erdbeeren. (A Pound of Strawberries), for example. The artist went shopping and bought a pound of strawberries, When he took them out of their bag at home he suddenly became fascinated by them. The strawberries were all the same and yet, at the same time, every one of them was different. Feldman photographed every one of them and, voilà, his series of strawberry portraits was ready.

The artist has always found this repetition of motifs interesting. That is why he is above all somewhat of a collector: be it thimbles or be it motives from newspapers. At the moment Feldmann is collecting seascapes and making a part of them his art by removing any ships or seagulls. One of the results can be admired in the Deichtorhallen Centre. Feldmann’s seascapes have been mounted close together in a style known as “Petersburg Hanging”.

This collecting of images is at the same time the point of origin for Feldmann’s creativity. He became famous in the 1960s with what were known as his Bilderheften (image books). The books showed images of pigs, chickens and even women’s legs in the form of a series, it was again a case of the unspectacular being spectacular. Feldmann, however felt that the medium of the book was not suitable for this exhibition.

Hans-Peter Feldmann, rückwärtsschreibend; © Birgit Hübner / Deichtorhallen

Closeness and distance

In the past Feldmann also used his photo series to comment on politically controversial topics, for example, Die Toten (The Dead) that dealt with the victims of Germany’s RAF terrorism. This exhibition also has a few individual works that, alongside the amusing ones, not only provoke the observer, but also give him quite a shock. He is, for example, disconcerted by head-shaped wig stands adorned with headdresses made of razor blades and pen nibs, shocked by a pair of golden high-heeled shoes with the foot bed spiked with drawing pins.

Feldmann openly admits that his approach to his art is driven by fears and constraints. Humour serves as a means to deal with more serious subjects. It is however these driving forces that create the closeness to be found in Feldmann’s works. At the same time the artist maintains a deliberate distance to the art business and sometimes even pokes fun at it by, for example, refusing to sign his works or to limit them – or by inferring that a painting might have been stolen by knocking two picture hooks into the wall at the side of a lighter, blank square.

Hans-Peter Feldmann: Kunstausstellung
Deichtorhallen, Hamburg
1st March until 2nd June 2013

Katharina Schlüter
has a doctorate in art history and works in Hamburg.

Translation: Paul McCarthy
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Internet-Redaktion
Mai 2013

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