Please note: This post is part of a series of exhibition reviews by students in Introduction to Modern Art, Architecture, and Design.
Contemplation, reaction and commentary on modernization has been a theme that many artists in the 20th and 21st centuries have felt the need to express through their work. This theme is present in both the Saint Louis Art Museum’s Post War German Art exhibit, which features works from German artists from the late 1940s to the early 21st century, and the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum’s Contemporary German Art exhibit, which features German art from the last few decades. Several artists in these exhibits focus on the physical structures of everyday life in their commentary on modernization. The following works were created by artists who used a variety of media to explore various aspects of modernization, from the urban center and post-war architecture, to the industrial landscape and the vast scope of human knowledge.
In Condominium, 1994-2002, Franz Ackerman contemplates the role of the urban center as the core of modern society. This work, currently at the Kemper Art Museum, features a uniform pattern that consists of rows of thick, sinuous black lines against a white background cover four panels. Within the centers of these formations are images of various urban structures found in Berlin over the last few centuries. A variety of architectural styles are represented, from grand buildings inspired by antiquity, to quaint neighborhoods with church steeples rising above them, to clusters of skyscrapers and high-rise apartment buildings. These images are prints from a variety of media, including drawings, maps, and photographs. By commenting on this evolution of the urban landscape, Ackerman reveals how the urban center has evolved over the years, while not separating the images according to time periods so that the importance of these areas throughout the ages is not distinguished.
Several decades before Ackerman’s Condominium, Gerhard Richter also produced a gray scale image that reflected on urban architecture. Painted in 1969 and now a part of the collection at the Saint Louis Art Museum, Townscape Sa 2 is a painterly rendition of a photograph taken of an architectural model of buildings that were to be built in post-World War II Western Germany. Even though this painting is borderline abstract, one can see that these buildings differ greatly from the architecture of Germany’s past, reflecting the desire to “move on” from the war that was present.
Bernd and Hilla Becher’s Blast Furnaces, currently on display at the Saint Louis Art Museum, is a series of photographs taken between 1979 and 1986 that contemplates the modern landscape, focusing on the aesthetic beauty that can be found in an everyday structure that is not usually associated with beauty. Each photograph places a single furnace in the center. The crisp lighting and rich value of the black and white photographs bring out the details and crevasses of each furnace, revealing the aesthetic choices that differ each structure. In this series, the Bechers embrace the everyday, reacting positively to modernization and industrialization as they use their medium of choice to reveal the quiet beauty that can be found in the most unlikely of places.
The photograph by Andreas Gursky entitled Library, 1999, is a large scale, digitally manipulated image of a library in Stockholm. With this photograph, Gursky contemplates the massive amount of knowledge that humanity has accumulated. This is just one section of one of the countless libraries that exist in the world, and a small sampling of all of the books, articles and encyclopedias that have been written, and a miniscule fraction of the amount of knowledge accumulated over time. The overwhelming quality of this revelation is reflected in the large scale of the photograph that is now part of the Saint Louis Art Museum’s collection.
Living in this present world that is constantly modernizing through technology, industry, social media and globalization, it its not difficult for one visiting these two exhibitions to relate to these artists’ personal observations on modernization. For these artists have distilled those quiet moments when one stops and looks at the urban landscape, marvels at the vast scope of human knowledge and contemplates the ever-evolving quality of modern life.
By Camille Randolph (Friday, August 2, 2013)