Post-War Modernism at the Museo Barberini: Painting Here and Now – Culture

A light-colored painting by Janis Byala makes up the foreground. She was born in 1903 in Poland, then part of Russia, and immigrated to the United States with her family in 1913. In 1952 she painted the portrait that is now prominently displayed in the Barberini Museum in Potsdam.

Her name is not among the names mentioned in connection with post-war American art. Below are those of Hedda Stern, whose dark-colored painting “NY #7” was created in 1955 and hung nearby. Only the small-volume works of Jackson Pollock on the left (“The Teacup”, 1946) and Archil Gorky on the right (“Pastorale”, 1945), who died early, provide support for memory.

Rediscovered Artists

The beginning is the program. With the exhibition titled “The Shape of Freedom,” curator Daniel Zamani wants to introduce “post-1945 international abstraction,” from Europe and North America, and wants to walk the well-paved paths and leave them at the same time. Coming in by presenting works of all the famous artists as abstract artists, such as Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning or Barnett Newman, but departing at the same time by adding the overlooked works to the list of 52 participating artists. Most of them are female artists, and only a few, such as Lee Krasner Or Helen Frankenthaler, they achieved the same vision in the art world.

The opening with Janis Biala illustrates a second thing: the close connection that exists between ancient Europe and the young continent on the other side of the Atlantic in the development of abstraction. Europe, in this case, France, responded to the horrors of the dictators, not forgetting their collaborators with existentialism as a radical, albeit tragic, philosophy of freedom. In the transatlantic exchange, the United States relied on artists who had already fought for their freedom, in many cases, especially among immigrants of Jewish descent, through freedom from persecution and persecution. For them, for immigrants and therefore immigrants, the promise of freedom was fulfilled. Also for those who did not have to flee persecution, such as Willem de Kooning, who entered the country illegally in 1926, remained without a passport for decades and yet rose to worldwide fame.

In 1948, the first post-war Venice Biennale took place, with only 15 countries participating – but the University of Business Peggy Guggenheim, who used one of the empty pavilions and exhibited the work of Bullock, which she so unhesitatingly promoted, as well as those of those who were still unknown Rothko, Clifford Steel and Robert Motherwell in Europe.

Roots in Surrealism

The European scene noticed something new and radical. And although Peggy Guggenheim, who later moved her New York-built collection to Venice, never hid the roots of American abstraction in European Surrealism, Americans were seen as quite distinct.

Bullock became the central character. Tragically surrounded by his own psychological problems and constant excesses, he presented the excitement and danger of freedom in an exemplary fashion. His “drip paintings” had shed the eggshell of surrealism and became a pure “action painting”, in which the execution of the work of painting and its result on canvas became one and the same. Bullock lived “in” his paintings. It has been shown worldwide, with strong participation from the Museum of Modern Art and the US Information Service.

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Thank God the Barberini Gallery does not promote hero worship. Instead, Bullock’s partner, Lee Krasner, has an equal opinion and, as can be seen from a direct comparison of the photos, is of the same stature. In addition to ‘painting in motion’, the gallery gives a suitable space for color field painting, in which contemplative images of Rothko or Newman unfold; Particularly beautiful is Newman’s pair of “Adam – Eva” portraits from 1950-52, where the contrasting split into browns and reds creates tremendous tension.

The subtle color nuances are similar in Helen Frankenthaler’s “Blue Bells” from 1976. The year indicates that the curatorial curator does not stop at the post-war period, but paints an arc to the end of the twentieth century. Between the late 1950s and early 1960s, when American abstraction was already at the fore, buoyed by appearances in Documenta 2 in 1959 and 3 in 1964. Morris Lewis was added, most notably Sam Francis, whose Barberini was a founder who owned Hasso Plattner’s late work The Wall “My Shell Angel” from 1986, which was one of the reasons for this show.

France responds with “Art Informel”

and Europe? In 1958 Will Grohmann, who was already an important art critic of the Weimar period, wrestled with the judgment that one could “speak of an American school due to the great number of high talents”—and saw “the castle of the French school shaken”. First, France, and then all of Europe, responded with “Art Informel”, as was the catchy phrase. The difference in formats remains striking: Europeans initially painted small, intimate portraits, like the unfortunate Wols, who later achieved fame as a German immigrant in Paris. Three pictures of him, who took refuge from the Nazis, and three of his soul mate Jean Vautrier, who fought in the resistance, form such a heavy weight on the space of one wall of the gallery that many large American figures cannot be compared. .

[Potsdam, Museum Barberini, bis 25. September. Katalog bei Prestel, 34 €, im Buchhandel 42 €. www.museum-barberini.de]

Finally, the curator gives Zamani a well-deserved appreciation for the informal German language. Karl Otto Goetz, Ernst Wilhelm Ney, Fritz Winter, Fred Thaler, Bernard Schultz were all disfigured by war and understood “informal” painting, abstraction, and gesturing as liberation from their traumatic experiences. Winfred Gaul, one of the youngest members of the Flakhelfer generation, summed up the moral issue by asking, “Painting! (…) Isn’t that crazy after all that’s happened?”

“Madness” was prolific on both sides of the Atlantic and remained so for decades. The “abstraction as a universal language” proclaimed by the makers of the Documents in 1959 was not the only language at the time, but it was an incredibly powerful and polyphonic language. It was and remains a language that left narrow-minded nationalism behind like no art movement before. In it the artists spoke equally. The impressive evidence of this long-denied fact is perhaps the greatest feature of the exhibition at the Barberini Museum.

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