Berlin Art Week: Teil einer größeren Welt

Shortly after the Russian attack on Ukraine, Katya Inozemtseva received a call from Nina Pohl, the director of the Schinkel Pavilion. Inozemtseva had previously resigned from her position as chief curator at the Garage Museum in Moscow, founded by the oligarch Roman Abramovich and his former partner Daria Zhukova, and was now working in Milan. She agreed to curate an exhibition at the Schinkel Pavilion and the Brücke Museum in Berlin. The title of the exhibition is reminiscent of a film by Alexander Kluge, and the themes will revolve around war and repression.

The history of the two Berlin institutions is closely intertwined. The Kronprinzenpalais, to which the current Schinkel Pavilion was added in the late 60s, housed the New Department of the National Gallery after the end of World War I and until the beginning of the Nazi regime’s cultural repression. Many of the works came from members of the Brücke artist group, some of which ended up in the collection of the Brücke Museum. Today, the Schinkel Pavilion represents contemporary art. The octagonal building, where Erich Honecker once hosted cocktail parties and state receptions, is now the venue for exhibitions that aim to contemplate topics before they become subjects of public discussion.

Diese doppelte Geschichte, so Inozemtseva im Videotelefonat, sei der Ausgangspunkt der Zusammenarbeit gewesen. Sie versammelt zu gleichen Teilen historische und zeitgenössische Künstler*innen, wobei die Anzahl der Werke aus der Moderne überwiegt.

Some of these artists abandoned the modernist imperative of always seeking something new and began documenting in the face of imminent deportations. Like Leo Breuer, who documented everyday life in the internment camp of St. Cyprien through drawings. On the other hand, Korbinian Aigner, a pastor and pomologist, drew apples in the Dachau concentration camp, as if he wanted to alleviate the horror through a serial, almost automated working method. The exhibition also presents works by Felix Nussbaum, who was murdered in Auschwitz, and by Elfriede Lohse-Wächtler, who was forcibly sterilized and killed as part of the Nazi euthanasia program; they are intended to bear witness.

The Ukrainian video artist Dana Kavelina explores a cultural artifact that literally became a testimony, namely a poem by the poet Zuzanna Ginczanka, who was born in Kiev in 1917 and lived in Poland. Ginczanka, who was Jewish, was betrayed to the Gestapo by a neighbor, and before her murder by the Nazis, she wrote a poem in which the poet mentions the name of the woman who betrayed her. After the war, the text was used in a court trial.

So wie Kavelina produzieren die meisten zeitgenössischen Künstler*innen neue Werke für die Schau, so beispielsweise auch die kroatische Künstlerin Nora Turato. „Ich stelle mir auch das als eine Art von Zeugenschaft vor“, sagt Inozemtseva. „Was bedeutet es, Krieg zu erleben? Welche Typen der Zeugenschaft können wir herausarbeiten?“ Das sind keine bloßen theoretische Fragen, denn die Kuratorin ist in ständigem Austausch mit Künstler*innen in Kriegsgebieten, in der Ukraine und anderswo.

Nicht in einem Vakuum

A century ago, when the members of the Bridge were active, it was not necessarily part of the job description of cultural workers to talk about war or trauma, let alone to see themselves as activists, as Lawrence Abu Hamdan or the group Forensic Architecture do, who also present installations in the exhibition. „Let’s think about a regime like Nazi Germany,“ says Inozemtseva, „then activism is impossible from the start.“ This also applies to many contemporary artists in countries like Iran or Russia, where the free press and other civil society institutions can hardly function.

Parastou Forouhar is also represented with a work. She originally comes from Iran but has been living in exile in Germany for twenty years. She presents a collection of official documents that she has been compiling since the Iranian intelligence agency killed her parents. Inquiries to Iranian authorities, their responses, as well as newspaper clippings do not hold ultimate truth, rather they are part of the bitter routine of a crime. „But they bring us closer to the why of the murders,“ says Inozemtseva.

Die Schau über Krieg, Gewalt und Repression findet nicht in einem Vakuum statt. Fragt man Inozemtseva, ob der russische Angriffskrieg abzusehen war, antwortet sie, das sei alles schon vor der Besetzung der Krim klar gewesen. Aber: „Wir hatten nicht den Mut, den Anzeichen entgegenzutreten.“

Dieses Wir, so sagt sie, ist nicht nur das Garage Museum oder der Kunstbetrieb, sondern eine ganze Generation junger Menschen in Großstädten. „Wir hofften, dass Garage eine unter vielen globalen Kunstinstitutionen sein könnte, und stellten uns vor, wir wären Teil einer größeren Welt,“ erklärt die Kuratorin. Eine Vorstellung, die am 24. Februar 2022 jäh endete.

Der Angriff der Gegenwart auf die übrige Zeit Brücke-Museum und Schinkel Pavillon, 14. September 2023 bis 7. Januar 2024