What's on in Berlin: Pre-war galleries are back

Celebrating Dix at Nierendorf since 1922


Only a few of the art dealers who were a part of the gallery scene in the pre-war years still exist. Even more surprisingly, galleries whose influence once began on the Spree, are coming back. Recently, Wolfgang Werner from Bremen opened a second gallery in the rooms of the Susanne Gropp antique dealers at 72 Fasanenstrasse. Werner is continuing, in the third generation, the Graphische Kabinett founded by Israel Ber Neumann in 1911, and continues to feature the artists favoured by Neumann, including Beckmann and the Dadaists, and the artists of the “Brücke” movement. Neumann opened a branch in Bremen in 1920, and handed over the Berlin gallery to the Cologne art dealer Karl Nierendorf, which later removed the name of its founder from the firm’s name. It is still operating successfully in Berlin today (see below). Neumann moved to the USA in 1924, the Bremen gallery being taken over by Peter Voigt and then by Wolfgang Schwitters. Dada collages by both these artist friends, who occasionally used objects discarded by the other in their own works of art, will deliberately be juxtaposed. But Arp’s work will lie at the centre of the exhibition which aims to show a collection of important works of art brought together over the years and decades which will clearly illustrate Arp’s artistic development. Chronologically, the woodcuts come after the Dada documents and collages in Arp’s characteristic, organic, albeit abstract forms. These in turn lead to the multi-faceted sculptures dating back to the Thirties. Arp prefered soft stone or plaster, while on his bronzes he aims to achieve a dark patina. The posthumous, highly-polished casts, which are very popular in the USA, reflect light, which Arp wanted to avoid. Werner is exhibiting bronze casts made in Arp’s lifetime. In the sculptures “Knospenkranz” or “Kopf mit lästigen Gegenstände” we find ourselves back again in the three-dimensional world formulated in Arp’s early work, which the artist was able to revive in a metamorphosed state during his lifetime.

The fact that in the centenary year of the German painter and graphic artist Otto Dix the above-mentioned Nierendorf gallery, which has been exhibiting Dix’s graphics since 1922, should be honouring the artist with such a major exhibition is not surprising. A Berlin wit came up with the nickname “Nieren-Dix” for Karl Nierendorf, the step-father of the present-day proprietor Florian Karsch. In contrast to the large retrospective at the Berlin National Gallery, which will also be shown at London’s Tate Gallery from February 1992, Karsch has confined himself to prints, drawings and watercolours. The only oil painting is an impressionistic street scene of Dresden (1912/17). One area emphasized by the exhibition with its 230 works are the now famous street, tavern and brothel scenes, which mercilessly expose the society of the Twenties—the well-fed war-profiteers, the thin beggars and pregnant working women. In the series of etchings entitled “The War”, Dix brings the wretchedness of the battlefield to the fore with unprecedented savagery. Apart from three exceptions (colour lithographs from 1923 which Karsch acquired), his graphic oeuvre before the great break of 1925-48 is all black and white. Only during his retirement on Lake Constance, which Dix exchanged for the Academy in Dresden, did he tackle colour lithography again and experiment extensively. These late lithographs, which are calmer in form and motif (still lifes, country scenes, portraits) form another highlight of the exhibition. Accompanied by a richly illustrated catalogue, the exhibition runs until 31 March 1992.

For several months now the Cologne gallery of Stolz has had a second home in Berlin. The gallery, founded ten years ago, has specialised in the pioneers of collage and Russian abstract art. After an inaugural exhibition devoted to the German constructivist Rudolf Jahns and his artistic circle, the international scene of the avant-garde from 1910 to 1940 will be showing in the first quarter of 1992. Next to well-known artists like Lyubov Popova and Wladyslaw Strzeminski, there will be less familiar names such as Nikola Suetin and Nadezhda Udaltsova. This will provide a different picture of an era whose influence is still felt even at the end of the twentieth century.

Works from the Twenties also feature in an exhibition organized by the painter Gerd Sonntag and the photographer Ellen Auerbach in his gallery “Im Kabinett”, although the works are chiefly from the middle of the century. The first photographic exhibition of the recently established gallery will include photographs from Germany, Mexico and the USA taken between 1928 and 1980. Born in 1906, Ellen Auerbach was taught privately by the Bauhaus teacher Walter Peterhans and, with Grete Stern, ran the photographic studio of ringl & pit, which became famous for its advertising and portrait photographs, from 1930 to 1933. She emigrated to Palestine, then to London, and from there to the USA. The present exhibition focuses on photographic portraits of artists. Double portraits, such as the one of William and Elaine de Kooning, should be of particular interest. Posing as formally as a classic Renaissance couple, their clothing and even more, their glowing cigarettes express the spirit of the 1940’s (until 21 January).

In his gallery in Niebuhrstrasse, Volker Diehl is exhibiting work on paper of internationally recognized artists and Berlin artists such as Baselitz and Lüppertz, Christoph Gais, Ina Barfuß and Thomas Wachweger, as well as artists he has recently exhibited, such as Martin Assig, Helmut Middendorf, John Noel Smith and Jaume Plensa. From the latter comes a large-scale work, which, typically for a sculptor, falls half-way between drawing and sculpture. Moistened and shaped wrapping paper which dries hard is turned into a relief. Its structure resembles the octagonal pieces of leather on footballs. The glazed black adds to its plastic effect. Particularly impressive are two soft watercolours by Penck and a brightly-coloured drawing by Wachweger which quite literally translates the notion of “turncoats” (the term given to political opportunists in the former DDR) (until 22 Janaury).

Born in 1930, Walter Stöhrer belongs to that small group of Berlin painters of the informal. Stöhrer’s violent colours in his large-scale works strive for a dynamism which, so to speak, draws the observer into the picture. In a semi-automatic painting process, large structures are combined with symbolic elements, which at times suggest a shape (“shadow eaters”); at others, a phallus. Psychograms arise whose objective subjectivity during the painting process brings the viewer back to his own ego. Where writing is not integrated as part of the picture, a literary-philosophical quotation is often evidence of the painter’s mental world. The professor at the local college of art has not had a show of his work in a Berlin gallery for quite some time. Dieter Brusberg devoted two separate exhibitions at his Hanover gallery to Stöhrer and is arranging a one-man show for him in January and February 1992. The main emphasis will be on Brusberg’s collection of paintings and prints from the Sixties and Seventies, supplemented by recent works. Along with Günter Brus, Michael Haas is setting up his exhibitions of Austrian Action artists and extremist painters such as Arnulf Rainer, Franz Grabmeyer and Herbert Brendl. Brus, who inspired Viennese Action painting in the Sixties together with Nitsch, Schwarzkogler and Muehl, has long since renounced his scandal-seeking actions designed to inflame bourgeois sensibilities. Now he draws like a man possessed. Brus meticulously comments on his black-and-white or colour drawings through literary-inspired or ironic texts. Picture, text and writing form a unity which bear witness to his aggressive criticism of consumer society, role-play and socially accepted lies. He turns scenes of birth and death, fear and loathing, as well as the metamorphoses in man and beast, into merciless, frequently provocative phantasms. Among these are the more than fifty prints from 1990/91 which have long been the exclusive property of Michael Haas (until 1 February).

In the Waszkowiak gallery attention will soon focus on artists from Yugoslavia. With the 57-year-old Andrej Jemec, who has been teaching art at the Academy in Ljubljana since 1977, international gesture art is highlighted. Jemec’s abstract vocabulary has integrated powerful tectonically constructed symbols in bright colours, like nebulous broken blocks of colour or delicate lines reminiscent of script (24 January - 18 March).

For the fourth time in her gallery specializing in the different forms of realism, Eva Poll is exhibiting works by the Dresden trained painter, graphic artist and sculptor Hans Scheib. Scheib’s sculptures take up the tradition of the roughly hewn wooden sculptures of the “Brucke” artists. Up till now they have concerned themselves with themes such as Prussian history and the human condition in general. Scheib has typically produced creatures who exude torment from every inch of their bodies. Scheib’s most recent sculptures address the classic theme of sculpture—the burgeoning female form. On view in Eva Poll’s gallery is a variation of twelve upright standing figures (these can only be purchased as a group) which are supplemented by individual life-size figures. The partly painted figures are linked to the theme of nature through the landscape paintings of Reinhard Stangl, a friend of Scheib’s younger days, who has captured the atmosphere of Berlin’s city boundary, where it flows over into the cultural landscape of Potsdam. (13 January - 27 February)

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Pre-war galleries back'