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This category contains the following articles
Süden - The Villa Romana at the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle
It’s Only a Step from a Miracle to a Disaster - Visiting the 55th Biennale di Venezia
Pictures of the End of the American Dream - Philip-Lorca diCorcia in the Schirn Kunsthalle
Enchanted Geography - Sarnath Banerjee: Forays through Berlin
The Subversive Potential of Hermès Scarves - Shirin Aliabadi discloses the desires of young Iranian women
MACHT KUNST - The Prize-Winners: Keep painting - Lovro Artukovic
MACHT KUNST - The Prize-Winners: Gray Zones - Radoslava Markova´s Emotional Landscapes
Theaster Gates: Inner City Blues
Violence and Creation: Imran Qureshi in the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle


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MACHT KUNST – The Prize-Winners:
Keep painting: Lovro Artuković

MACHT KUNST – In the course of this action in April, all Berlin-based artists were invited to present one of their works for a single day in the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle. More than 2,000 artists participated and 8 of them received prizes. In a major series, we will now be introducing you to the MACHT KUNST prize-winners and their works. We are starting with popular favourite Lovro Artuković, who is one of the best-known painters in his home country, Croatia. Achim Drucks visited him in his studio.

The two paintings showing the false twin sisters lean alongside one another, against the studio wall. One of the pictures shimmers in a variety of white tones. The other shows the same motif in subdued shades of  grey. The sisters in the painting are fake, Lovro Artuković explains, because he always used the same model for the young women and simply doubled her image. The bright, day version of the motif was produced in 2009 and he painted the night-version this year. There is even a third variation in existence, which he created in 2007: there, he projected the astral constellation Gemini onto the doubled woman. The image of twins exists in three aggregate states, therefore: the version with the constellation, in shades of only blue, appears symbolically charged, the day-image more objective and sober, and the night scene rather mysterious.

It was by sheer chance that the artist submitted the dark False Twin Sisters at Night to MACHT KUNST. In April almost his entire oeuvre was hanging in an exhibition in Artuković’s home country, Croatia. In the studio, apart from the twin sisters, there was only one portrait and a painting of Marsyas. He did not believe that the depiction of a satyr being skinned by Apollo was particularly suitable for the 24-hour exhibition in the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle. And so he questioned all the visitors to his studio  – the portrait or the twin sisters? The twin sisters won, and went on to convince the public in the KunstHalle: by a clear winning margin, the visitors to the first MACHT KUNST exhibition selected this painting as their favorite. And so Artuković was awarded a one-year studio grant, endowed with 500 Euros per month.

Such large-format, figurative paintings are typical of the artist, who was born in Zagreb, Croatia in 1959 and has lived in Berlin since 2003. Their realistic painting method, which nonetheless does not seem effortfully meticulous, makes them reminiscent of Lucian Freud or Eric Fischl. In his spacious studio in a business complex on the border between Kreuzberg and Neukölln, he is currently working on two more, now almost finished canvases. They show two people from his circle of friends in Berlin, dancer Ari and Giuliano, who runs Artuković’s favourite restaurant. However, these paintings should not be understood as portraits. “I am not anxious to reveal their personalities or their characters. These are staged images. My friends are rather like bon vivants. I show them in a pose on a large canvas, something traditionally reserved for “important” persons. But as I see it, who – if not these two – has earned the right to have such a representative painting made of him?”

The paintings lean against the wall; the slightly stained white of this wall also appears on the canvases themselves, for it was here that Artuković staged the scenarios for his friends. The studio as a stage: the theatrical impression of the paintings is underlined by the choice of costumes for those portrayed. Giuliano is presented in a jeans-ensemble and open shirt designed especially for the occasion, revealing the anchor tattooed on his neck. Initially, Ari’s dress may suggest an opulent robe, but it actually consists of bubble-wrap. Artuković draped a sample of the material over a frame in order to study better the light reflexes on the padded plastic and so transfer them onto the canvas. “This has always interested me: the tension between the artificiality of painting and the efforts that are made to reproduce something in reality, to represent the real, to pack a piece of reality you have been working on into this square.”

The artist links the genre of the classical representative portrait to contemporary Berlin. And his biggest painting to date also refers to patterns from art history. To produce it he crossed a history painting with a scene of the last supper.  The Signing of the Declaration on the Unification of Western Herzegovina and Popvo Polje with the Republic of Croatia (Wer hat das Bier bestellt?) is the title of this canvas measuring almost 15 square metres. The painting produced between 2008 and 2011 is conceived as a parody – oriented on the signing of the Dayton Peace Agreement, which ended the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1995. Here, 22 of the artist’s friends play history: Bosnians, Croats and Serbs slip into the roles of state presidents, international observers, or UN negotiators. They discuss, smoke, and examine documents and maps. A local Berlin pub provides the setting. “Artists from the Balkan region are expected to thematize the political developments and conflicts there or examine the process of reconciliation. I wanted to counteract this in some way.” The pub scene is not only an ironic response to heroic history paintings and their nationalist tone, but also to the expectancies of the western public.

Lovro Artuković is the oldest by far of the eight MACHT KUNST prize winners. While the others are still at the beginning of their careers, he can look back with quiet self-confidence at a longer career. He is regarded as one of Croatia’s most important representational painters. Parallel to his work as an artist he also taught for nine years at the Academy of the Arts in Zagreb, where he was a student himself from 1979-83. A retrospective of his paintings could be seen in the Museu da Água, Lisbon following venues in Split and Dubrovnik in 2002.

However, these 24 paintings were lost and remain so: on the journey from Lisbon back to Croatia the vehicle in which they were being transported was stolen. A year later Artuković moved from Zagreb to Berlin – a city where he knew no one. How did these two experiences influence his art? “I don’t know whether those events were really as fateful as they sound or whether my painting has simply changed as a result of a completely normal development process. The move to Berlin was important, of course. The scene in Zagreb is extremely diverse, I know, but it is also easy to survey. When you belong to a specific scene, you also make compromises. You want to be accepted. You know how that scene ticks and you can use it to further your own work. On the other hand, the group to which you belong gives you a sense of security. As far as the art scene is concerned, I was and remain an outsider here in Berlin. The scene here is impossible to survey, anyway. In this way, I have been able to do what interests me in peace and quiet – without taking into account how one ought, should or is allowed to paint. The fact that my paintings disappeared was not such a bad thing in the long run – to a certain extent it has unburdened me.”

Comparing the older paintings with those that were produced in Berlin, it is certainly noticeable that the latter are focusing more and more on people and the space that directly surrounds them. Berlin as a city is not a topic here. Artuković restricts himself to friends, staging images in his studio. In the series Platz/The Place he even goes one step further and shows only walls, plastic foils, an old sofa. He shows the interplay of light and structures, gold-shining plastic, matt, dull leather. And also emphasizes that painting is only illusion: sometimes it is possible to see projections on the painted walls. Only the wooden floor to be seen under the turquoise water or the red-smouldering lava at the picture’s edge points to an image within the image. Earlier on, he painted in a more complicated way, the artist explains, but now his paintings have less to narrate. And this simplicity is good for them.

As a painter Artuković continues determinedly along his own path. Even in his academy days, he was relatively alone with his figurative painting. “At that time, the way in which I painted was already considered not exactly modern. Many of my co-students were experimenting with videos. My teacher came from Op Art. But abstraction was always alien to me. I need interaction and debate with the model and with space.”  The time in Berlin has not always been easy for Artuković.  It is difficult to find one’s feet here with such an attitude to painting. Once, he tells me with a laconic smile, he played host to a group of wealthy collectors from the USA in his studio. “One woman leafed rapidly through my portfolio. She didn’t buy anything, sure, but she did say: ‘Keep painting.’ And that’s what I have done.”

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