By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
Just the digging around for those kinds of things took me to museums to which I had never been. I had never done much traveling in Germany. So it was really new territory for me, and there weren’t a lot of other curators in America doing stuff like that. I’ve always been interested in that intersection, I think, of art and politics. Certainly I found it in the Russian show. I’ve also enjoyed bringing different mediums into exhibitions and not making shows that are primarily painting shows. So it’s really easy for me to include prints, photographs, film. I like doing shows that are more multidisciplinary. In other shows, I’ve often commissioned a filmmaker to do a film in the exhibition. To me that’s a natural way to bring people along in the storytelling, and I just think, Why not embrace that?
So here, in this show, which is organized chronologically, it was important for me to begin with film footage of Berlin and Dresden at the end of the war so that people really understood what the situation was like on the ground. I didn’t want narration, I just wanted something that was going to visually ground people in what it looked like.
There are a couple of things that I can reflect on now with the show having been up for some weeks that I’m not sure I anticipated. So many of the artists in this exhibition are unknown to people, and yet it’s art of our own time. I’ve been surprised at how much that interests people. There’s a real curiosity in learning about artists of our own time who have been unknown. The second thing is that though it’s an exhibition primarily under the banner of the Cold War with East and West Germany, unless you read the labels carefully, you don’t know who’s East and who’s West. Because so many of the artists East and West are not known, it’s a real leveling of the playing field. As I was doing the show I was very aware of who was East and who was West, but of course the visitor coming in doesn’t bring that knowledge. By not having red light, green light over the pictures or the sculptures, people really come in and look at it as art, which is ideally exactly what we would have wanted. I think people have been really blown away.
So you’re basically bridging the two countries and art communities.
It has neutralized, in an interesting way, the politics at the same time it’s opened up the discourse. I’m going to be honest, I didn’t realize quite how effective that would be in the presentation. I just knew that it was important in the labels because they all say where someone was born, where they live or where they died, and where they were active. Some people were active in East Germany, some were active in East Germany for a time and then moved to West Germany. I wanted the labels to be kind of quiet. There’s a lot to read in the show, but I didn’t want it to scream out at you with tons of text. I wanted it to feel like an art show, not a didactic lesson.
I think you succeeded. It feels almost like a permanent collection.
The first room deals with ’45 to ’49. Just about every artist in this room is going to be unknown except for the expressionist artists, who are picking up after the war. Certainly it’s not the greatest Hanna Höch painting [Trauernde Frauen (Mourning Women) (1945)], but it’s fascinating to see what this incredibly avant-garde artist from the teens and the ’20s was doing right after the war, and she’s picking up on what were called the rubble women, these women who were cleaning up after the destruction.
These are really rare, these Wilhelm Rudolph drawings that he did onsite in Dresden. They’re fantastic drawings. There was like a suite of about 100 that I chose from the print cabinet in Dresden.
Then these photographs by Richard Peter Sr. [from the series Dresden nach der Bombardierung vom 13./14. Februar 1945 (Dresden after the Bombing of February 13th/14th, 1945)], you can look at in a way only after seeing the film footage; then they become all the more astonishing. The other thing is from a U.S. point of view we’ve never much thought about what the situation was in Germany on the ground. I think our whole perspective has been one of thinking about the victims of the Holocaust, and then basically, yeah, we bombed the hell out of them at the end and ended the war. That’s been the way I think we’ve learned the story of the end of the Second World War, and that’s not to dispute it, but it’s to say that there’s another reality.