The Whole World in a Clover Leaf by Heinrich Bünting, Magdeburg, 1600, Woodcut © Jewish Museum Berlin Jens Ziehe
art, Berlin, history, Life in Berlin, Museum, politics, things to do

Welcome to Jerusalem at the Jewish Museum Berlin

The Jewish Museum Berlin is a disorientating place. It is made up of various buildings from different periods, most recently The Libeskind building.

Architect Daniel Libeskind created his design around a series of intersecting voids and straight and zigzagging lines. Corridors veer off at angles, and lights, mirrors and installations constantly make you aware of the strangeness of the space.

Shalekhet (Fallen Leaves) by Menashe Kadishman at the Jewish Museum Berlin
Shalekhet (Fallen Leaves) by Menashe Kadishman, Jewish Museum Berlin

One of my favourite installations in this are is Shalekhet (Fallen Leaves) by Menashe Kadishman. You hear it before you see it, a distinct clinking reminiscent of chains or shackles. The work consists of over 10,000 screaming faces cut from iron plates, which you walk over as you approach a dark void. It is a disturbing refection of victims of war.

Adding another layer to the confusion of space is the newly opened “Welcome to Jerusalem” exhibition in the old building. The exhibition transports you through the history, sights and sounds of the city in over 15 rooms. One room, dedicated to maps, displays The Whole World in a Clover Leaf by Heinrich Bünting, showing Jerusalem as the centre of the world. Disorientating again, from a geographical point of view, but accurate from a historical, religious and political point of view.

The Whole World in a Clover Leaf by Heinrich Bünting, Magdeburg, 1600, Woodcut © Jewish Museum Berlin Jens Ziehe
The Whole World in a Clover Leaf by Heinrich Bünting, Magdeburg, 1600, Woodcut © Jewish Museum Berlin, purchased with funds provided by Stiftung DKLB, photo: Jens Ziehe

 

The exhibition successfully shows the changing landscape of Jerusalem, from 5000 years ago to the present day, where old and new constantly overlap and collide. The exhibition is full of interesting insights and facts, for example, that the keys to one of the holiest sites in Christianity, The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, are held by two Muslim families, or that Muslims once faced towards Jerusalem to pray, before this was changed to Mecca, or that when the Jewish temple was destroyed, Judaism fundamentally changed to focus on the study of holy texts. In addition to all this, the exhibition provides you with a good understanding of the current conflicts that occupy the city today.

So, if you’re getting tired of the grey Berlin winter, take a trip to the Jewish Museum to be transported through time and space.

Welcome to Jerusalem is on at the Jewish Museum Berlin (Lindenstraße 9-14, 10969 Berlin) until 30 April 2019.

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art, Berlin, things to do

No Compromises! The Art of Boris Lurie at the Jewish Museum Berlin

It is rumoured that Boris Lurie’s No!art movement got its name when a woman entered an exhibition on 10th street in New York, looked his Railroad to America collage (below), and ran out screaming “No! No! No!”

Boris Lurie, Railroad to America, 1963
Boris Lurie, Railroad to America, 1963, © Boris Lurie Art Foundation, New York

Whether or not that story is apocryphal, the art of Boris Lurie is indeed provocative. Interestingly, he was very much against Warhol and the pop art movement, which also sought to be political and provocative. Perhaps this is because pop art lacks the harrowing depth of Lurie’s work.

This fresh, visceral quality is probably due to the fact that Boris Lurie, who grew up in Riga, was interned by the Nazis at Buchenwald and other concentration camps. His art is particularly Jewish – a visual and textual attempt to express a European Jewish experience. It seems apt, therefore, that the largest exhibition of his work – including pieces that have never been shown before – is now on at the Jewish Museum Berlin.

The retrospective presents an over-arching view of Lurie’s œuvre, consisting of over 200 collages, drawings, paintings, texts and sculptures, as well as documentary videos about the artist.  His vast body of work grapples with a number of subjects, from modern American society and politics, to concentration camps and depictions of women. Most impactful are his collages, combining photos of the Holocaust with pin-up photos from American magazines.

Perhaps the best sum up of the exhibition is the welcoming text at its entrance, by Lurie himself: If your eyes and mind serve you well, you will see something new. You will find no secret languages here, no fancy escapes, no hushed, muted silences, no messages beamed at exclusive audiences. Art is a tool of influence and urging. We want to talk, to shout, so that everybody can understand. Our only master is truth.

No Compromises! The Art of Boris Lurie is on at the Jewish Museum Berlin (Lindenstr. 9-14, 10969 Berlin) until 31st July 2016.

 

art, Berlin, Life in Berlin

Exhibition: Obedience at the Jewish Museum Berlin

God said, ‘Take your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains.’

Caravaggio, The Sacrifice of Isaac
Caravaggio, The Sacrifice of Isaac, ca. 1603. Videomapping auf Repro © bpk | Scala

The story of Abraham is one of the oldest and most intriguing in the Bible: God commands Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, and Abraham obeys, although ultimately a ram is killed in Isaac’s place.

The text, handed down in Judaism as the “Binding of Isaac”, is also significant in Christianity and Islam. All three religions interpret the episode, and the questions it raises, differently. In Islamic texts for example, Abraham’s son Ismail, not Isaac, is sacrificed, and there is no binding at the altar.

Multimedia artist Saskia Boddeke and British film director Peter Greenaway have revived this old text into an immersive installation. Their new exhibition Obedience, at the Jewish Museum, takes you on a journey through 15 rooms, focusing on the different episodes and characters of the story.

It is heavy subject matter, and the rooms are loaded – with video installations, music, objects, modern images and old manuscripts. Every room has different floors, lighting, smells, sounds and visual stimuli, resulting in a heightened sensual experience.

However, subtle aspects carry through, binding the narrative together. For example, the pebbles on the floor of The Devil’s Room, that glow like hot coals in the dark, red light, take on new significance when we read about Hajj pilgrims stoning the devil, like Abraham, in The Islam Room. The sacrificed ram of Judaism becomes the Lamb of God in Christianity; the firewood that Isaac gathers becomes the wood of the cross.

What becomes a constant, ever louder echo reverberating through all the rooms is a focus on Isaac / Ismail, the child Abraham was willing to sacrifice. Boddeke and Greenaway have interpreted the story as a human drama, in a modern context. Images of children and their parents make us question Abraham’s obedience, for which he was praised and rewarded.

A video of children from all over the world repeating the lines “I am Isaac” or “I am Ismail”, allusions to child refugees, and contemporary images of suffering children make us question whether we, like Abraham, are sacrificing children in obedience to wealth. Provocative.

Obedience: An installation in 15 rooms by Saskia Boddeke and Peter Greenaway opens at the Jewish Museum today and runs till 13 September 2015.

art, Berlin, Life in Berlin

R.B. Kitaj: Obsessions Exhibition at the Jewish Museum Berlin

The Unpacking my Library, 1990-1991 first large-scale retrospective of R.B Kitaj‘s work in fourteen years is currently on at the Jewish Museum Berlin.

R.B Kitaj (1932 – 2007), an American Jewish artist, spent almost 30 years in England. Like his friends David Hockney and Lucien Freud, he turned to figurative art in the 1960s.

His work is highly referential and collagic, drawing on a wide range of literary and artistic sources. He frequently uses newspaper cuttings and other texts in his work. Literature played a significant role in his life – he was a “self-professed bibliomaniac” and part of his huge collection of books are on display in the exhibition. The painting above is entitled ‘Unpacking My Library’, alluding to an essay by Walter Benjamin.

Kitaj’s circle of friends included philosophers, writers, poets and other artists. He drew from their work, and also represented them in his paintings. Below, ‘Two London Painters’, shows close friends Frank Auerbach and Sandra Fischer.

Two London Painters, Kitaj

Other friends and role models included Philip Roth, Joseph B. Soloveitchik and Ezra Pound.

Much of his work, such as The Murder of Rosa Luxemburg, La Pasionaria (a.k.a Isidora Dolores Ibárruri Gómez, a leader of the Spanish Civil War) and Dismantling the Red Tent, painted in the aftermath of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, refers to historical and political events. Another obsession of Kitaj’s was his Jewishness, reflected in works such as ‘Drancy’, which was an internment camp from where Jews were deported to death camps.

The last retrospective of Kitaj’s work, held at the Tate in 1994, received bad reviews and proved a traumatic experience for the artist. He blamed critics for his wife’s death following the end of the show, and left England soon after, never to return. For him, the ‘Tate Wars’ confirmed his position as an outsider. Several works made after this episode reflect his feelings – the most obvious being ‘The Killer-Critic Assassinated by His Widower, Even’ painted in 1997.

In 2007, Kitaj committed suicide. A couple of years ago, The Guardian blog asked, Did Art Critics Kill Kitaj? Whatever the case, the current exhibition proves he was unfairly judged. For more about the artist, read his obituary in The Guardian.

Obsessions is on at the Jewish Museum Berlin, Lindenstraße 9-14, 10969 Berlin, until 27th January 2013.