The Deutsche “Guggenheim”

This gallery has a big name but small scope. One usually associates Guggenheim Museums with vast collections, famous artists and notable works; the Deutsche Guggenheim has none of these. To be precise it has one room currently showing 8 works by relative newcomer Julia Mehretu. So for your € 4 entry fee you get each work for 50 cents (they are very big though). But here’s a tip; entry is free on Mondays.

Once you are settled with the fact that the Deutsche Guggenheim is not a proper Guggenheim Museum but a gallery born of some collaboration between Deutsche Bank and the Guggenheim Foundation (I’m not sure exactly what the details of this dark pact are, but there are more Deutsch Bank logos in the place than there are pictures), you’ll find current exhibition quite interesting.

Mehretu is an Ethiopian-American artist who was resident at the American Academy in Berlin in 2007, and her theme is the urban landscape and memory. Berlin, a city of layers and erasures of history, suits both her subject matter and technique. Her paintings are both abstract and exact, and while contemplating them amidst Deutsche bank logos, one begins to think about German Art – or lack of – and its relationship with history and money. Predictably, it’s got a lot to do with the Nazis.

Berliner Plaetze
Mehretu, Berliner Plaetze

The Nazis systematically tried to prove that all Modern art was degenerate, which, at a time when Germany (the birthplace of Expressionism) was home to many great artists including Max Ernst, Max Beckmann, Oskar Schlemmer, Otto Freundlich and Wassily Kandinsky was detrimental. Many of these artists left Germany, or were forbidden to work. The biggest devastation was that most Jewish artists either fled the country or were sent to concentration camps.

Not only did the Nazis get rid of Germany’s artists, they got rid of Germany’s art. They rounded up 650 works – including Picassos and Kandinskys – and chucked them into a Degenerate Art Exhibition, which opened in Munich in 1937 and was a propaganda stunt to prove just how mad and talentless all these modern artists were.  The idea was originally for the exhibition to run for only a few weeks and then to burn the whole lot, but it proved so popular that they kept it open and toured it throughout The Third Reich. Moreover, the Nazis received a lot of interest from buyers for these works, and subsequently started selling them off to finance the war.

On top of this, many works were physically destroyed during the war and after the war a lot of Germany’s remaining art works were taken as compensation by soldiers from the coalition armies – and that’s how Germany lost all of its art and artists and its best ideas, and why there are only 8 works – and even then by a non-German – in this gallery.

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