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>> Malevich and the Bolsheviks
>> Everything and Nearly Nothing: Malevich and His Effects
>> Russian Berlin in the Nineteen-Twenties
>> Deutsche Bank and the German-Russian Cultural Exchange

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Opening up to an Understanding:
Deutsche Bank and the German-Russian Cultural Exchange

The exhibition Kasimir Malevich – Suprematism in the Deutsche Guggenheim Berlin marks the continuation of a commitment that has already been in existence for over a quarter of a century: since the seventies, Deutsche Bank's commercial cooperation with its Russian partners has been accompanied by a bilateral cultural exchange. This was not always as self-evident as it is today: Oliver Koerner von Gustorf on the role art has played in this process of mutual approach.

The Russian Avant-Garde in Düsseldorf: F. Wilhelm Christians and the Costakis Collection

Georgi Costakis' Moscow apartment
Foto: Catalogue Artmuseum Düsseldorf

F. Wilhelm Christians

It was a "happy coincidence" that brought F. Wilhelm Christians, member of the board of the Deutsche Bank, into contact with the works of all the important members of the Russian avant-garde – yet it wasn't in a museum or a state gallery, but rather in a modest apartment in Moscow that this took place. The flat on Vernadsky Prospect, in which up to seventy paintings, drawings, collages, and watercolors by artists such as Wassily Kandinsky, Alexander Rodchenko, Marc Chagall, and Lyubov Popova were stacked up against the walls of each room, served as the private museum of one of the most extraordinary collector personalities of the twentieth century: over the course of decades, George Costakis, an ethnic Greek born in Moscow in 1912, bought works by Russian avant-garde artists wherever he could find them – often in the hands of relatives or friends – thus saving countless masterpieces no one seemed interested in anymore.

Whether inside or outside the former Soviet Union, there was no other place in the world where works dating from the Russian modernist period could be found in such quality and number. During the seventies, the high-rise apartment was known as a prominent meeting place for artists, intellectuals, collectors, and businessmen who could discover both known and unknown modernist pioneers who had exerted an enduring influence on the development of the art of Western Europe, as well.

Wassily Kandinsky, Boats, 1920
Costakis Collection,
Foto: Catalogue Artmuseum Düsseldorf

Eventually, the numerous encounters between the German bank manager and the Moscow collector yielded results. When, with the support of the Deutsche Bank, the works of the Russian avant-garde from the Costakis Collection were shown in the West for the first time in 1977 in the Kunstmuseum Düsseldorf, it amounted to a sensation – not only for the city on the Rhine, but for the entire art world. Christians' personal commitment also contributed to making this possible. "To this day, I can see this bulky, nervous man before me who felt threatened and persecuted by the power apparatus," he recalled in an interview in 2001. When Costakis decided to leave Russia for good at the highpoint of the Brezhnev era and donated the larger part of his art collection to the Tretyakov Gallery in return for permission to emigrate, he asked Christians to help him bring the remainder of the works to the West. Christians proposed the Düsseldorf exhibition, where the collection could be presented for a period of time before continuing on to Athens.

Ivan Kliyun,
Spherical Composition, ca.1923
Costakis Collection
Foto: Catalogue Artmuseum Düsseldorf


Gustav Kluzis,
Drawing for a Propaganda Kiosk and
Loudspeaker Tribune, 1922
Costakis Collection
Foto: Catalogue Artmuseum Düsseldorf

The restored and newly-framed works acquainted the Western public with names that had long since been forgotten, even in Russia. The "discovery" of artists such as Alexander Drevin, Ivan Kliun, or Alexander Volkov made it clear that Constructivism and Suprematism were not the sole features of Russian modernism, for the first time clarifying the full spectrum of the art scene of that time. For many visitors, an astonishing perspective opened up onto the Russian avant-garde that also included figurative painting schooled in Expressionism and drew surprising parallels to later Western movements.

The Neue Wilde in Moscow: The Soviet Cultural Ministry agrees on cooperative art exhibitions with the Deutsche Bank

He was the first Western financial representative to speak to Gorbachev: it was no accident that the Zeit called F. Wilhelm Christians Deutsche Bank's "foreign minister" in an article in 2002; during his time as speaker of the board of directors (1976–1988), he had built up the bank's foreign business activities with branches and shares abroad. Already in the early seventies, the natural gas pipeline business – the delivery of Mannesmann pipes in exchange for the long-term supply of gas, at the time a subject of intense political debate – had been financed under the bank's leadership. Here, in the middle of the Cold War, an intensive economic cooperation with the USSR was begun. And here, too, Christians was an important initiator. The financial institution became the most important banking partner of the Soviet Union, and obtained the license # 001 in 1972 to open the first foreign representation in Moscow.

People and Landscapes:
Helmut Middendorf, Natives of SO 36, 1980
Galerie Gmyrek, Düsseldorf

Thus, it was understandable that the Deutsche Bank did not view the German-Russian cultural exchange as a matter for states or countries, cities and museums alone; in 1983, together with the Kunstverein for Rhineland and Westphalia, it opened the first exhibition in the Soviet Union to have come about solely through the private initiative of a German company: People and Landscapes in Contemporary Painting and Graphics. The opening in Moscow's Central House of Artists had been preceded by laborious negotiations during the course of which Christians had already spoken personally to the Soviet Cultural Minister in 1981. The final result was to be a series of contractually arranged cooperative art exhibitions: "We wanted to set a ball in motion and not only put on this one show," Christians' co-worker Axel Lebahn later recalled.

People and Landscapes:
Karl Horst Hödicke, Street Workers, 1976
Galerie Gmyrek, Düsseldorf

Along with an insight into contemporary German art, however, cultural-political dynamite was lurking behind the neutral title People and Landscapes. "There were paintings that we had to cross off the list," Lebahn recalls. The exhibition brought not only the figurative painting from the nineteen-seventies into view, but also a great deal of "Zeitgeist," as well. Only one year after Christos Joachimides' famous mammoth show in Berlin's Martin-Gropius-Bau, representatives of Neo-Expressionism, the new German historical painting, and the "Junge Wilden" were introduced in the Russian metropolis. For the first time, Muscovites were seeing works by Polke, Richter, and Beuys in their own hometown. Immendorff's Café Deutschland, Koberling's Street Worker, Middendorf's urban scenes at night, or Georg Baselitz' upside-down landscape paintings: for many of the artists exhibited, the connection to Expressionist and realist traditions from before the war also implied the historical process of coming to terms with their own German history – a process that was long overdue. The fact that Classic Modernism was being visually exploited here, that expressive pictorial puzzles refused to provide unequivocal statements, that political oversimplifications between friend and foe were being carried on to the point of absurdity provoked both enthusiasm and irritation among the exhibition's visitors.

People and Landscapes:
Jörg Immendorff, Cafe Deutschland II, 1978
Galerie Michael Werner, Cologne

In response to this prelude, the traveling exhibition contractually arranged together with the Soviet Cultural Ministry, Between Tradition and the Present, toured the Federal Republic from December 1984 to May 1985. Russian and Soviet art from six centuries was shown in Düsseldorf, Stuttgart, and Hanover and subsequently in the museums of Eastern Europe.

Fear and Hope:
Juri Korolyov, Brothers in Outer Space, 1980
State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

The same year, an unusual project was realized with the support of the Deutsche Bank: not Moscow, but the Art Gallery in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk was the first station for the one-person exhibition of works by the Hamburg artist Horst Janssen in 1985. Here, the artist, considered to be one of the most important German draftsmen and graphic artists of the post-war era, showed his "Suite TOCKA – Melancholy." While Janssen dedicated this series of drawings to the German bankers, it was above all an homage to the great Russian authors such as Turgenyev, Pushkin, Goncharov, and Tolstoy.

Fear and Hope:
Exhibition View, Hermitage, St. Petersburg, 1988

The highpoint and conclusion of the arranged bilateral cultural exchange came in 1987/88 with Fear and Hope – Artists' Views of War and Peace, in which works of art from both countries were shown together in a thematic exhibition for the first time. Beginning in the Hamburg Kunsthalle and Munich's Stadtmuseum, the exhibition tour was continued in the State Painting Gallery in Moscow and the Hermitage in St. Petersburg. The theme's relevance continues, even following the dissolution of the power blocks. In view of the "current disturbing international situation," the Russian art experts stressed in a catalogue essay at the time, the works shown in Fear and Hope could be understood as an appeal to the power of human reason. In this exhibition of over three hundred paintings, graphic works, and sculptures, the museum's retrospective view of scenes of war and terror from the past two hundred years included various portrayals and utopian visions of times of peace. The juxtaposition of painters from the 19th century, German Classic Modernism, Russian avant-garde, Socialist Realism, and recent contemporary art went hand in hand with a renewed attempt to search for paths of reconciliation in spite of the inhuman crimes committed during the Second World War.

Fear and Hope:
Felix Nussbaum, The Ribs Play to the Dance, 1944
Art Historical Museum, Osnabruck

Berlin Moscow/Moscow Berlin: Cultural exchange following Perestroika

During the nineteen-twenties, there were for a time half a million Russians living in Berlin: advocates and opponents of the October Revolution, art revolutionaries, enthusiasts of Goethe and Expressionism, and "Red Diplomats." (On this subject, read Roland Enke's article "Berlin Under the Sign of the Square" in this edition.) On the other hand, German anti-fascists, pacifists, people yearning for revolution or experimenting in art, architects, and engineers were drawn to Moscow: "Nighttime! Tauentzien Street! Cocaine! That's Berlin," the Russian poet Andrey Belyj wrote at the time. In the framework of the Berliner Festwochen of1995, the exhibition Berlin Moscow/Moscow Berlin shed light on the cultural development of the two cities during the first half of the past century. By financially supporting this exhibition, the Cultural Foundation of the Deutsche Bank carried on in its German-Russian commitment.

The show, which became extremely popular among the public of both capital cities, dedicated itself to Russian literature, architecture, music, fine arts, and theater, all of which had helped Berlin to become the most exciting metropolis of the twenties following the fall of the Kaiser and the Czar. The exhibition's success is also proved by the fact that now, eight years after the opening of Berlin Moscow/Moscow Berlin, both cities are arming themselves for the sequel: at the end of September, the second part of the show will be opened in Martin Gropius Bau, dedicated to German-Russian cultural history during the second half of the 20th century. In the spring of 2004, the exhibition is scheduled to be shown in the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.

Moscow Exhibition in the Small Manege:
Georg Baselitz, Untitled, 1997
Deutsche Bank Collection

Moscow Exhibition in the Small Manege:
Georg Baselitz, Untitled, 1997
Deutsche Bank Collection

The Deutsche Bank has not only promoted a retrospective view of Modernism, but an encounter with contemporary Russian art, as well. In 1996, with the support of the Cultural Foundation, Frankfurt's Schirn introduced the early paintings and etchings of Maxim Kantor, who was born in Moscow in 1957. Along with Kantor, other young Russian artists, such as Pavel Pepperstein or Vladimir Kuprianov, are also represented in the collection of the Deutsche Bank. Another milestone in cultural exchange was formed by the exhibition Georg Baselitz in Moscow. In 1997, on the occasion of the city's 850-year anniversary, the "Small Manege" became the site for the first presentation of over two hundred of Baselitz' works on paper from the collection of the Deutsche Bank, as well as paintings and sculptures.

Although one might argue that the ground-breaking achievements of the Russian avant-garde have long since been extensively documented, in 1999 the exhibition Amazons of the Avant-Garde dedicated itself to an aspect that had hardly been accorded sufficient respect previously – the participation and significance of female artists in this movement. Except for Natalya Goncharova, all the women artists presented in the Deutsche Guggenheim had been included in the First Russian Art exhibition of 1992 in Berlin, which took place only a few meters away from today's Deutsche Guggenheim, in the Gallery van Diemen. Here, Alexandra Exter, Lyubov Popova, Olga Rosanova, Varvara Stepanova and Nadezhda Udaltsova exhibited their works side by side with their male artist colleagues.

>> picture gallery

Amazones of the Avantgarde: Wawara Stepanowa and Ljubow Popowa, Moscow 1924,
Foto: Exhibition-Catalogue

>> picture gallery: Amazones of the Avantgarde

"The material we work with is color; from this alone we create a real new world," Udaltsova wrote to Kasimir Malevich in 1917, who had called her "the best female Suprematist." The show, realized after five years of preliminary work carried out by John E. Bowlt, Matthew Drutt (who also curated Malevich – Suprematism), and Selfira Tregulova, not only documented the evolution of Russian painting from the turn of the century to the twenties; it acquainted the public in the cities of Berlin, London, Venice, and New York with Amazons who for the most part contradicted Western assumptions concerning the freedom and creativity of women writers and artists. They painted together with the men, exhibited together with them, signed manifestoes with them, illustrated the same books, spoke at the same conferences, and seemed to give little thought to the differences between the sexes or their rivalry. The extensive catalogue to the exhibition also offers broad insight into the work and lives of these "women geniuses."

With Man in the Middle, an exhibition of around one hundred drawings, paintings, sculptures, and photographs from the collection of the Deutsche Bank was opened last fall in St. Petersburg's Hermitage, documenting the changing human image from Modernism to the present day.

Alexandra Exter:
Cityscape (Composition), ca.1916
Slobodskoy Museum and Exhibition Centers

Currently, Malevich – Suprematism is appearing in the Deutsche Guggenheim as the final highlight of a German-Russian dialogue that, twenty-five years later, stands under a transformed sign. While the trade and exchange of art and culture have become liberalized to a degree still inconceivable at the time the Costakis Collection was first presented in the West, former power blocks and ideologies have lost their original meaning. Following the dissolution of the USSR, Deutsche Bank received a mandate in November of 1991 to lead the Bank Advisory Committee and to coordinate the solving of questions of old debts on the part of the Soviet Union to Western bank creditors. In October of 1997, negotiations over reorganizing the debts were carried to a successful conclusion within the framework of the London Club. Last year, as the bank where securities were deposited, Deutsche Bank accompanied the stock exchange operations of the largest Russian food company, Wimm -Bill-Dann.

The history of the German-Russian cultural exchange promoted by the Deutsche Bank documents that art can be both a catalyst and a measuring instrument for mutual approach. That it also, however, is connected to a utopian demand for a fundamental cultural renewal that can only be fulfilled by future generations is attested to by the hope Olga Rosanova expressed in 1915 in a text on Cubism, Futurism, and Suprematism: "… thus, we also believe that a time will come when our art, which is justified by our selfless striving to show new beauty, will become an aesthetic need for many."