Neue Nationalgalerie “Expansion of the Combat Zone”: Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue

“Extension of the combat zone. The collection. 1968-2000“, Neue Nationalgalerie Berlin, in front: Anselm Kiefer “Mohn und Gedächtnis” 1989, back: Werner Tübke „Frühbürgerliche Revolution in Deutschland, 1979-81“ Draft version 1:10 of the panoramic painting in Bad Frankenhausen
“Extension of the combat zone. The collection. 1968-2000“, Neue Nationalgalerie Berlin, in front: Anselm Kiefer “Mohn und Gedächtnis” 1989, back: Werner Tübke „Frühbürgerliche Revolution in Deutschland, 1979-81“ Draft version 1:10 of the panoramic painting in Bad Frankenhausen | © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, Photo: Sigrun Hellmich

In this third selection of its works on show the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin turns its attention to how artists addressed conflicts of society in the years 1968 – 2000.

What is the museum’s collecting policy for new acquisitions? Who makes the purchase decisions – in an art world with changing hype phases and exploding prices? The Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin is putting its cards on the table. And it is high time it did so. After more than 40 years the museum, that was built by Mies van der Rohe and opened in 1968, is no longer able to present its grown collection on 20th century art in an aesthetically appropriate form. It will be closed to the public as from 2015 for an extensive renovation lasting several years.

The extension plans have not yet been finally approved. This, however, is not the only reason for the museum’s exhibition trilogy that has been showcasing parts of the collection over several years. It also has to do with international standing. It is important to realise that artworks were collected differently in Berlin, say the curators. Up until the fall of the Berlin wall the Nationalgalerie was a divided museum. It has been reunited since 1990, but the way the collection grew in the East and in the West was based on different ideologies concerning art.

Neither museum nor artworks are neutral and objective

The third presentation – after Moderne Zeiten (Modern Times) (1900-1945) and Der geteilte Himmel (Divided Heaven) that addressed the post-war period – bears the provoking title Ausweitung der Kampfzone (Expansion of the combat zone). It sounds rather like a smart marketing scheme. But the reference to the German title of Michel Houellebecq’s novel Extension du domaine de la lutte, where Houellebecq’s protagonists are left depressed as a result of economic and sexual liberalism, has first and foremost been chosen to signify that neither museum nor art show neutrality. Within the short period of the last 30 years of the previous century, raging changes took place: these were brought about by the student movement, sexual liberation, armament rivalry, the threat of nuclear war, terrorism, environmental issues, the fall of the Berlin wall and the downfall of socialism. Driven by globalism, computerisation and the economic quantification of all domains of life. Do we find this reflected in art? The answer the exhibition gives is yes, and yes again.
 
  • Katharina Sieverding: Schlachtfeld Deutschland XI/78, 1978 Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2013, Foto: Jens Ziehe
    Katharina Sieverding: Schlachtfeld Deutschland XI/78, 1978 Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie
  • Bruce Nauman „Double Poke in the Eye II“, 1985, courtesy: Friedrich Christian Flick Collection im Hamburger Bahnhof © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2013, Foto: Stefan Altenburger, Zürich
    Bruce Nauman „Double Poke in the Eye II“, 1985, courtesy: Friedrich Christian Flick Collection im Hamburger Bahnhof
  • Joseph Beuys: Richtkräfte einer neuen Gesellschaft, 1974-1977 Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2013, Foto: Jens Ziehe
    Joseph Beuys: Richtkräfte einer neuen Gesellschaft, 1974-1977 Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie
  • Gerhard Richter: Studio, 1985 Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie © Gerhard Richter, Foto: Jörg P. Anders © Gerhard Richter 2014
    Gerhard Richter: Studio, 1985 Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie

It started with a utopian dream

At the beginning of the exhibition we see blackboards bearing cryptic writing that are mounted on easels or lying on the ground. This space-consuming installation Directive Forces for a New Society (1974) by Joseph Beuys is set up in the foyer, between the bookshop and the ticket counter. This is the place where Beuys, the shaman-artist und campaigner for a “social sculpture” once purposely placed the installation outside the actual showrooms, in protest against the museum’s acquisition policy in 1977. Now it is part of the exhibition.

The next room goes on to show the different ways in which art responds to societal conflicts. The photographer Wolfgang Tillmans was irritated by the number of pictures of soldiers in American and European newspapers. Collected, enlarged and pinned to the wall, it is a study into mediated portrayal: Soldiers – the Nineties. In 1986 Andy Warhol turned the military camouflage pattern into a meter-long abstract all-over design. Jenny Holzer had the words The Beginning of the War will be Secret engraved on a small memorial plate. The simple name Soldaten (Soldiers) is the title given to this first of altogether 18 topics in which 100 selected artworks are displayed. In the combat zone Atelier paintings by Gerhard Richter, Sigmar Polke and blunt concrete sculptures by Isa Genzken stand face to face.

Battlefield Germany and the Painting Maschine

Moving on we find Katharina Sieverding’s Schlachtfeld Deutschland (1978) (Battlefield Germany). A violet-alienated enlarged photo of the anti-terror unit GSG 9, who successfully stormed an aircraft hijacked by RAF terrorists in 1977. To the other side is Rebecca Horn’s Malmaschine (1991) (Painting Machine). Replacing the artist, an equally ingenious and subtle artist’s invention splashes paint onto the wall. Other artists, such as Marina Abramovic and Carolee Schneemann, chose the excessive use of their own bodies in the nineteen seventies to make their contribution to art history. Ulrike Rosenbach shoots at an image of the Madonna that she had superimposed with her own face.

Who’s afraid of colour

Right in the centre of the exhibition, with almost religious reference, is Barnett Newman’s Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue IV (1969/70), one of the major works of the Nationalgalerie’s collection. When purchased in 1982 for 1.2 million US dollars, with the support of Freunde der Nationalgalerie, it caused a public scandal. Several other works are on loan from private collectors. Bruce Nauman’s large stand installation is part of the Flick collection.

Anselm Kiefer’s Lead Bomber (1989) and his moving painting Maikäfer flieg! (May bug, fly!) belong to the Marx collection. Werner Tübke’s 1:10 Draft (1979–81) for the 123-metre long monumental panorama “Frühbürgerlichen Revolution in Deutschland“ (Early Bourgeois Revolution in Germany) and works of Wolfgang Mattheuer are from the GDR Nationalgalerie. Now shown together they are without ideological rigidity.

When works of Martin Kippenberger, Michel Majerus, Neo Rauch und Jason Rhoades come together under the title Ausgebrannt (burnt out), this is to refer to arguments for and against the art of painting.

Works by Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons and Andreas Gursky end the exhibition – their high price being more talked about than what they are saying.
 

Expansion of the Combat Zone. 1968–2000. The Collection Part 3
until end of 2014