Please note: This post is part of a series of exhibition reviews by students in Introduction to Modern Art, Architecture, and Design.
St. Louis holds a large collection of German art in its Saint Louis Art Museum and in Washington University in St. Louis’ own Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum. Both exhibitions–SLAM’s “Postwar German Art” and the Kemper’s “Contemporary German Art: Selections from the Permanent Collection”–showcase different eras of German art. Even with the lapse of time between the wonderful pieces of art on display, connections can be made between the styles and subject matter. I’d like to bring attention to two pieces that in my opinion show what Germany was experiencing after major events in its history by means of similar styles.
In this piece of art Kiefer used many unconventional materials such as lead, copper, and straw along with the more usual materials of acrylic paint and merged oil. This scene depicts the aftermath of the destruction of the nuclear power plant at Chernobyl in Ukraine. As you can view in the above photograph, the surface is peeling from the canvas. This creates a sense of depth and emotion that explodes from the canvas. It shows an immense amount of sadness and dark feelings during this time for humanity. Though in the background you can begin seeing and imagining that there is a bright future for mankind on the horizon. The surface in the upper portion of the painting is more consistent, with bright colors and a smooth canvas showing the glue that will hold mankind together and bring them out of this dark time. The canvas as pictured above is of large scale. I believe that the size of this piece enhances the sense of true destruction at Chernobyl and the mass scale of people that it affected. Kiefer was living and working in West Germany during the disaster at Chernobyl in Ukraine. In spite of the tension between their countries, Kiefer still believed in the greater good of human kind and the unimaginable feats that are achievable when working together in light of horrible events.
Unlike the previous painting this work is a sculpture constructed of man-made materials. The piece of concrete that is displayed on the pedestal is from a destroyed building from a construction site from an area that was formerly on the east side of the Berlin Wall. The piece of concrete is reminiscent of a time in Berlin’s history that will never be forgotten. The wall separated families, friends, and drove rifts through the middle of the country. Seeing all of the inner workings of the concrete can be seen as a mix of all the individuals that come together after the destruction of the wall. The post that is in the middle of the slab can be seen as the Berlin Wall that separated the individuals of Germany. By examining this work, individuals can recall how these raw, man-made materials shaped the lives of many people and their society.
Though these two pieces of art are completely different in the ways that they are constructed, they both share a very similar message. These two artists were involved with the coming together of human individuals in difficult times. As you can see in both of these works, the artists conveyed sadness, heartache, and the destruction of humankind. However, subtle differences within each work help the artists to convey that mankind will move forward and prevail from destruction. The artists’ use of unconventional materials adds depth to their emotion. They used these materials to express emotion and enhance the art. By viewing these pieces of art at SLAM and the Kemper you can truly appreciate the emotion that the artists are conveying to the viewers.
By Daniel Swiercz (Friday, August 2, 2013)