The Saatchi Gallery’s “Gesamtkunstwerk: New Art from Germany” opened today as a showcase for 24 of Germany’s best artists, and while some of the names are familiar — Julian Rosefeldt, Thomas Zipp, Josephine Meckseper, and Andro Wekua among them — others are decidedly under the radar, at least on the international level.
“We want the exhibition to give people a chance to see a wide range of new work from Germany by a diverse range of artists, many of whom aren’t well known and have not yet exhibited their work widely beyond where they live,” says the exhibition’s curator, Rebecca Wilson. Notable in this aim is the lack of certain Berlin-based artists like Cyprien Gaillard, Kitty Kraus, and Klara Liden, the German capital’s veritable trifecta of young artistic talent this year.
Wilson suggests that the exhibition’s title, pulled from Richard Wagner’s 1849 essay “The Artwork of the Future” (though often associated with the ideal of a total, all-embracing artwork), is a nod art “disregarding traditional art historical boundaries, combining different genres, high and low culture, the avant-garde and the historical, the everyday and everything in between.”
That may sound like a wild-west free for all. And so it is, reflecting the famously irreverent climate has allowed Germany, and Berlin in particular, to become an art-world-incubator: rules are thrown out the window. For example, figuration — something rather alien to most internationally aimed artistic roundups (hello, “Greater New York”) — features prominently in works by Dirk Bell, Andre Butzer, Stephan Kürten, and Zhivago Duncan.
Duncan’s work on view also includes “Pretentious Crap” (2010-2011) a nearly 9-foot-by-9-foot cubic vitrine containing a jagged mountain landscape of encircling train tracks, industrial cranes, and vintage airplanes flying overhead. Coming from a series of post-apocalyptic works shown last spring at Berlin’s Contemporary Fine Arts, the sculpture stemmed from the artist’s childhood dream of building a train set. “Being a child is being at the most perceptive and sincere stage in your life,” explains Duncan. “I am a child inside and will always be a child.” It is exactly that element of play that Williams sought to bring forth in the exhibition.
But it’s not all fun and games in the galleries. Political works by Meckseper comment on the current political turmoil across Europe and the phenomenon created by the worldwide “Occupy” movements with shiny-surfaced display cases “designed to be targets, like high-end shot windows being smashed.” Kirstine Roepstorff, who left Copenhagen 14 years ago to work in Berlin, shows messy, ideologically charged collages (try to find that combination elsewhere) that out-step her delicate materials. “It took me a while to understand why so messy!” she says, explaining her practice as a metaphor that allows “a balance between a play with the transcendental aesthetic and the actual construction of the work.”
Is there anything approaching a movement that can be gleaned from the show? Probably not. While there are certainly recurring themes, the ideal here seems mostly that of not having an ideal at all.