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Predecessor to the Matrix

Press reactions to the Cracow exhibition "Man in the Middle," "Design Seen at MoMA" in Berlin's Kunstgewerbemuseum, and "Darkness and Light: Caravaggio and His World" in Australia.

Almost 100 works from the Deutsche Bank Collection are currently being shown in the International Cultural Center in Cracow, Poland. Indeed, the cultural exchange between the two countries seems to be a lively one: it's already "the fifteenth exhibition of German art we've had," writes the Gazeta Wyborcza Krakau, to which the Rzeczpospolita remarks that "sonorous artists' names" and "enchanting works" were selected. Above all, however, the exhibition's title, Man in the Middle, animated Polish art critics to once again reflect upon the human image as it has been expressed throughout the 20th century. For the Gazeta Krakowska, studying the works of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Otto Dix, Oskar Kokoschka, and Franz Erhard Walther demonstrates that art's investigation of the human being has "often been ambivalent and has varied widely."

Piotr Sarzy´nski resolutely investigates this variability in modern art. In his article for the Polytika newspaper, he asks: "What would a Martian say about human existence if a UFO accidentally landed somewhere among these pictures?" Sarzy´nski likes the art of the early 20th century, which "addressed the imperfect human, lost in the universe and unsure of his true goal," as well as the works from the Deutsche Bank Collection, which "reflect this struggle in an impressive way." All the same, he's skeptical when it comes to the social status ascribed to the painting of the recent past: "Video and installation artists have long been addressing the dangers associated with genetic engineering. These themes are still sorely missed in painting." This is why Sarzy´nsky warns against expecting the exhibition to provide too concise an image of the human being, regretting the absence of artists "who have been striving over the past few decades to say something truly important about human beings: Nan Goldin, Ronald Kitaj, Mimmo Paladino, or Maria Lassnig."

The MoMA in Berlin is growing. Since mid-May, Berlin's Kunstgewerbemuseum has been showing products of 20th-century industrial design in Design Seen at MoMA - an "augmentation of the larger show that's worth seeing," as Claudia Schwartz writes in the Neue Züricher Zeitung. More than anything else, she's impressed by the

presentation: "Thanks to the MoMA winds, fresh air seems to have blown through the otherwise fairly stale institution, which presents less a critical examination than a generously staged reencounter with certain highlights." Among them are pieces such as Eileen Gray's lamp design Tube Light from 1927 or Mies van der Rohe's Barcelona Chair (1929), which more than any other object embodies "the high art of sitting."

The exhibition Darkness and Light: Caravaggio and His World, which was shown with the support of Deutsche Bank Australia in Sydney and Melbourne, has become a "blockbuster" for both museums. Yet the combination of nine Caravaggio originals and 59 works of artists related to him was also "a stroke of luck," as the Australian Daily Telegraph writes. Following last year's presentation of masterpieces from the Italian Renaissance, certain tensions arose between Italy and Australia. The Italian Minister of Culture at the time, Vittori Sgarbi, even wanted to sue The Australian because its critic, Ben Genocchio, called the show "resoundingly average." For "Caravaggio," the museums now had to work with exactly the same curators in Italy once again.

It was a ticklish matter indeed, but another "bridge-building" has succeeded, as Susan McCollough reports for Nationwide News (NN). In any case, the press is unanimous about Caravaggio: his painting is "breathtaking in its emotional power and technical brilliance," writes Elizabeth Fortescue from the Daily Telegraph: "with Caravaggio, you are always at the climactic moment." As an example, she cites his Narcissus, but also the The Deposition of Christ, which was only recognized as a work of Caravaggio's at a later date. In any case, it's "the first exhibition in the Southern Hemisphere to explore the art of Caravaggio," according to NN correspondent Susan McCollough.

On the other hand, Robert Nelson from The Age is excited about the abundance of works exhibited, with works from Caravaggio's successors shown side by side with his masterpieces. The selection ranges from George de La Tour's portrayal of Mary Magdalene to Hendrick ter Brugghen's Lute Player, whereas Nelson ultimately finds it "heartening to note … that baroque artists - representing the high point of pictorial technique - also made mistakes." For Rebecca Lancashire, also from The Age , it carries even further. In Caravaggio and his love for "exaggerated perspectives," she sees a predecessor to contemporary cinema á la Matrix: "Given the chance, Caravaggio would have been a film director."