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The Art That Works: The Russian Press report on "From a German Perspective"

The exhibition From a German Perspective - Masterpieces from the Deutsche Bank Collection at Moscow's Pushkin Museum has met with great enthusiasm in the Russian press. But it's not just the exhibition itself that has drawn attention - the Deutsche Bank Collection in general is a topic of discussion. "The largest corporate art collection," writes the Kommersant newspaper, "is not hidden in the safety-deposit boxes of Swiss banks, but displayed in bank branches around the world." Milena Orlova writes that at the Frankfurt headquarters "even the lifts remind one of a museum: instead of numbers, the floors are named after famous artists whose works can be found there." According to the Kommersant art critic's analysis in her article entitled "The Art That Works", that's part of company policy: "Artwork in the offices is meant to increase productivity."

The "business trip" to Moscow by the 140 works by 59 German artists has earned the approval of Kommersant in general. The exhibition, which features works by artists from Emil Nolde, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Vassily Kandinsky "to the fashionable works by Rebecca Horn and Neo Rauch," is like a Who's Who of the art world. "There's Paul Klee, who was labelled 'degenerate' by the Nazis, and the grotesque George Grosz, there are the Dadaist and dreamer Kurt Schwitters and Käthe Kollwitz, who was loved in the Soviet Union for her social criticism." There are, continues Kommersant, "A.R. Penck and Jörg Immendorf, who were not loved in the Soviet Union for the same reason; as well as the 'Junge Wilde', the 'nail' artist Günter Uecker and the conceptualists."

"If we did not know," writes Orlova, "that the collection consists of a total of 5,000 pieces, we would be worried that this exhibition in Moscow, with its powerful aesthetic doping, would be a serious temporary loss of efficiency" in the forlorn departments of Deutsche Bank.

The Russian weekly magazine The Week writes: "The Deutsche Bank Collection is famous in both banking and museum circles." The itself "not especially original idea of 'art at the office'," continues The Week, is here improved by "excellent taste and the recognition that good art doesn't have to be expensive." Then the author addresses the term "German art" in an unorthodox manner: "Jews, Japanese, Chinese and Russians, they all receive a residency permit in German art." "German art" thus becomes a historical phantom, continues The Week: "Whether the Russian public accepts these politically-correct manners is questionable, since political correctness is not in fashion in this country."

The Moscow edition of Time Out is of the opinion that "Deutsche Bank is not interested only in money. The rich sponsor, brave co-founder of the Deutsche Guggenheim Berlin, collects art from around the world." That, says Time Out, is "not a bad investment" for the bank, as it allows the company "to present itself in an effective manner."

The Color Orange Can be a Monster:
Press Reactions to John Baldessari at the Deutsche Guggenheim

The internet art portal dedicated an in-depth article in its November issue to the exhibition by John Baldessari, Somewhere Almost Right and Not Quite (With Orange) at the Deutsche Guggenheim Berlin. The article addresses not only this current commissioned piece but also the early development of the Californian conceptual artist’s work. "Since the end of the 1960s," writes Sabine Boehl, "the artist, who was born in 1931 in San Diego, California, has been combining mass media images with text fragments. For the artist, this superimposing of multiple layers of meaning provides an allegory for the relativity of meaning."

Boehl goes on to write about the photos from Hollywood productions that Baldessari began using in his work in the 1970s, which she describes as follows: "The individual images from films are overlaid once again with paint according to his own underlying canon of meaning." Boehl: "Thus, red indicates danger, green security, and the orange in the title of the exhibition designates the space between red and yellow." Through his use of color, other unexpected effects are produced, according to Boehl. On one hand, "the three-dimensionality referenced by the pictorial space in the photographs is flattened by the layers of color." At the same time Baldessari questions the meaning of the images and, by removing the film stills from their sequential cinematic framework, locates them in a new context.

In the Berliner Zeitung, Carmen Böker, after visiting the exhibition, succinctly states: "The color orange can be a monster." She then continues: "From a film still depicting sinuous men sitting on a sofa, the American artist John Baldessari has generously cut out those opposite; the frayed contours combined with the brightly colored base coat bring to mind friendly, floppy creatures, like those on the Muppet Show." The color orange, according to Böker, can also, however, be more – for example an origami object, "as it’s the coloration that carries what seem like piles of enormous scraps of paper swept together into wide strips into the third dimension." Finally, orange can also mark "a blank space" when it "fills the space a tiger springing through a circus hoop formerly occupied, before having been cut out."

Böker does however return to a more serious tone: "Baldessari essentially defines orange – the mixture of the colors yellow and red" – as an allegory for that which "occurs between things and ideas." Baldessari has created a series of works for the Deutsche Guggenheim "that shows the space that exists in the middle of the extremes – between harmony and conflict, security and danger." And this space stands "for the loss of orientation which the viewer also" perceives: "Gigantic rectangular formats, wall-high columns each consisting of six individual motifs (all material from black and white B-movies) alternate with each other in strict symmetry." The subjects "are banal: trophies are being presented, couples are toasting each other, a bathing beauty is dancing around a sun umbrella. The eye, however, refuses to come to rest," as, according to Böker, "it searches for the key to the image." This key, however, has been removed in "an almost didactic manner."

John Baldessari, "one of the co-founders of conceptual art," deliberately disorients the viewer through his compositions of unconnected individual images, writes Böker, "and even more so by covering the faces of the people depicted with colored dots, thus turning identifiable individuals into secondary objects: a boycott of prevalent habits of seeing, which always initially lead the eye to search for a reciprocating gaze." While a familiar mass-cultural aesthetic is at work here, "the gaze wanders – fooled by graphic and thoroughly decorative accents of color – as if in a foreign landscape." What is this gaze looking for? Böker: "a story."

John Baldessari was also mentioned in the so-called Kunstkompass (Art Compass) of the German financial magazine Capital, which presents the artists most in demand worldwide each autumn. This year, Baldessari was 67th on the list (last year he was 59th), which is nearly thirty positions better than that allotted him by the British art magazine Art Review, which is, however, nowhere nearly as well-established. Art Review calls its version of the Art Compass "Power 100" and writes that Baldessari (94th position) is the "gregarious guru of the art scene in Los Angeles." However, he is also, in addition to other things, the only artist who is a member of the Board of Trustees of the Los Angeles MoCA, and in this function plays a very important role in the American museum landscape. Multiple exhibitions with works by John Baldessari are also planned for the coming year, including at Marian Goodman in New York and in the new MuseumsQuartier in Vienna.
Ulrich Clewing