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Letter From BERLIN

Le Corbusier: Kunst und Architektur
Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin
July 9 – October 5, 2009

Two Berlin-oriented exhibitions at the Martin-Gropius-Bau seek to reevaluate the influence of Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, known as Le Corbusier (1887-1965), on the contemporary built environment and its social consequences. This is the most extensive presentation of the Swiss architect’s wide-ranging work in over twenty years. His connections with Germany are stressed, his stays well documented: his 1910-1911 sojourn with Peter Behrens; his experience of the Bauhaus and Werkbund movements during the 1920s; and the building in 1957 of the Unité d’Habitation near Berlin’s Olympic Stadium.

Le Corbusier Kunst und Architectur features journals, books, drawings, paintings, sculpture, furniture, plans, and models, many of which are original, from the Fondation Le Corbusier in Paris. They convey a voracious interest in creative strategies and a “unité” of mental and physical experience that culminates in an architecture both rational and contradictory. Issues could be sublated, despite contradictory natures, through explorations in drawing and painting. Buildings such as the chapel of Ronchamp consolidate the necessities of engineering with his p asticien sculptural approach. Also included are extracts from film the architect shot in Arachon and Rio de Janeiro, and a reconstruction of the historic model “Plan Voisin” (1925).

Le Corbusier has been much criticized as a contributor to the urban planning strategies that resulted in housing blocks built for immigrants and the working class, segregating them from the centers of cities. Given his onetime interest in the ideas of Hitler and Mussolini, and his attempts to gain favor with Stalin, these visions of social organization have become subject to rigorous scrutiny. While it is not inaccurate to make such connections with authoritarian regimes, it is an oversimplification to consider Le Corbusier a totalitarian responsible for the creation of the alienating modern city. Such antipathy can be traced back to the urban critic Jane Jacobs, whose 1961 book The Life and Death of Great American Cities attributes the destruction of inner cities to the modern urbanism of Le Corbusier and the CIAM (Congres Intrnational d’Architecture Moderne) under his influence.

Le Corbusier’s interest in organic forms during the 1930s, as well as his enthusiasm for new technologies and media, result in structures predictive of computer-assisted contemporary architecture and design. His openness to handmade and mass-fabricated elements also anticipates postmodern architecture.

Modell Bauhaus
Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin
July 22 – October 4, 2009

Modell Bauhaus rethinks the most influential school of avant-garde art of the 20th century as a conversation about the nature of art and its applications in the modern age.

The contemporary visual world we now inhabit has been profoundly shaped by Bauhaus experiments over a broad range of disciplines. The exhibition presents, as emphasized in its title, the Bauhaus as a conceptual model—experimental, interdisciplinary, and dedicated to the pursuit of answers to social questions. The dissemination of functional aesthetics and a commitment to exploring new techniques and materials in both architecture and design were the school’s major concerns.

This is the first time that the three Bauhaus research institutes, Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin, Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau, and Klassik Stiftung Weimar, have collaborated since the reunification of Germany. Celebrated faculty members as well as well-known students are represented, including Anni Albers, Herbert Bayer, Marianne Brandt, Marcel Breuer, Walter Gropius, Vassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, László Moholy-Nagy, Lucia Moholy, Lilly Reich, and Gunta Stolzl. The list is very impressive, as is the scope of their production: industrial design, furniture, architecture, graphics, photography, textiles, ceramics, theatre and costume design, painting, and sculpture. Each period of the Bauhaus, from 1919 to 1933, which spanned the life of the conflicted Weimar Republic, is considered a radical school in itself rather than a reified movement. The school had three directors: Walter Gropius, 1919-1928; Hannes Meyer, 1928-1930; and Mies van der Rohe, 1930-1933. The Bauhaus was founded in Weimar, home of Goethe and Schiller, then moved to the industrial city of Dessau before it was forced to leave, and then found a short-lived home in an abandoned telephone factory in Berlin before it was closed by the Nazis.

The conceptual model of the Bauhuas is considered over the course of the exhibition’s 18 rooms, and not only the structures of its workshops, which was the emphasis of previous Bauhaus exhibitions. The early years of the Bauhaus were inspired in part by the Bauhutte, a Masonic lodge concerned in particular with cathedral construction. These lodges were also an inspiration for the Nazis, a dark overlapping.

Kelm // Jensen // Breuer
KW Institute, Berlin
May 9 - July 19, 2009

Kelm // Jensen // Breuer at KW Institute divides the three floors of the exhibition space into three solo shows. In each case the artists link their work to craft and a social context, experimenting with very known means—photography, painting, and gallery installation—to arrive at something both familiar and strange, continuing in an oblique way the methodologies seen in the two exhibitions at Martin-Gropius-Bau.

Installationsansicht KW Institute for Contemporary Art/Installation view KW Institute for Contemporary Art. Foto/Photo: Sophia Kesting, 2009. Untitled, 2007, c-prints, 4 parts. 64,5 x 52,5 x 4 cm 64 x 52 cm Courtesy Johann König, Berlin.

Annette Kelm’s photographs are seen here for the first time in an institutional solo show. Each series of photographs varies its isolated subject by moving the position of the camera or by allowing another agent, such as the wind in the case of a palm tree, to vary the repeated image. Typically, subjects such as sun hats or palm trees are removed from their context and become mysterious “effigies” of their former selves.

Sergej Jensen, widely exhibited for some time, here presents work made in the last two years from linen, jute, colored fabrics, and found textiles stitched and stained to read as paintings. They are very much themselves materially, picturing nothing, only their own process of construction and history of use. They are both melancholic and beautiful. The floor and some boxlike objects that serve as seating have been covered in fabric and connect the idea of the exhibited object with the idea of an exhibition space.

Wolfgang Breuer’s “Organic Food Shop” is an installation of objects from the urban social environment—an empty bus stop shelter, steel security panels, disposal containers—and subtle, color-adjusted photos: a constellation of objects that conflate aesthetic and social spaces, successfully leading to questions rather than answers. It is also his first institutional solo show.

Since early 2007, Susanne Pfeffer (also a curatorial advisor to P.S.1 in New York) has been curator at KW Institute. She will continue her excellent program with Ceal Floyer’s exhibition, show, opening the new gallery season here at the end of August.


David Rhodes

David Rhodes is a New York-based artist and writer, originally from Manchester, UK.


The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2009

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