Diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Germany may have been on the fray over the past two years, as the governments wrangled over how to deal with Saddam Hussein. But casting an eye around the flourishing arts scene in Berlin, one wouldn't suspect anything was amiss between the two nations.
Dubbed the American Season, 2004 has so far seen a flood of American visual arts, films, music, and other performances wash over the German capital. Front and center is the "MoMA in Berlin," an eight-month long exhibition of works from the New York-based Museum of Modern Art at the Neue Nationalgalerie that closes on Sept. 19.
Featuring the Greatest Hits of the Museum of Modern Art's extensive 20th century artwork, this carefully selected group of 200 paintings and sculptures marks the first time the MoMA's collection has been shown outside the United States.
Many of the crowd pleasers are on prominent display. For those who make it past the hour-long entrance queues, the bag check, the coat check, and the security check, they're rewarded with an encapsulation of nearly a century of art movements.
First up is the MoMA's expansive range of late Impressionist works. Familiar paintings by Henri Matisse, Paul Gaugin, Vincent Van Gogh, Pierre Bonnard, and Paul Cezanne pack the first room, fighting for attention with Henri Rousseau's mysterious "The Dream."
The set piece, however, is Monet's "Water Lilies" in the main room next door. Crowds, virtually all German, stand or sit transfixed by the famous triptych. On the other side of the long wall is Matisse's "The Dance," an exuberant piece whose bright blue hue draws large audiences. Lesser known bronze heads sculpted by Matisse dot the surrounding space.
The exhibit proceeds mostly decade by decade. A series of smaller spaces running off the main room features works by Russian Expressionists like Wassily Kandinsky and Marc Chagall or surrealists like Joan Miro or Alberto Giacometti. Around a corner, a cubist trio animates audiences; Georges Braque's "Man with Guitar" sets off two Picassos, "Girl with a Mandolin" and "Ma Jolie."
Moving into the second half of the twentieth century, visitors encounter a striking number of Abstract Expressionist works by the American greats, including Jackson Pollock, Barnett Newman, and Helen Frankenthaler. Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, and Andy Warhol round out the epoch of Pop Art, but it's Claes Oldenburg's "A Giant Piece of Cake" which amuses and bemuses viewers who have to resist the urge to poke and prod the installation.
A crowd pleaser
Outside, a line for admittance on a recent sunny Friday evening wrapped itself lazily around the sleek square building designed by Mies van der Rohe.
The Neue Nationalgalerie says that midway through the exhibit's run, two months ago, they clocked half a million visitors. Since then, another quarter of a million people have queued up to view the collection.
Gallery officials say many visitors have snapped up VIP tickets, costing more than twice the normal admission price (approximately $33), in order to avoid the lines to enter the museum.
Hotels are getting in on the act, too. Ku'Damm 101, a chic boutique hotel in a quiet corner of the main street Kufurstendamm, is offering special rates that include VIP passes with guaranteed entry times.
MoMA and Berlin: A 75 year partnership
The concept for "MoMA in Berlin" was initiated over lunch a couple of years ago between the MoMA’s director, Glenn Lowry, and Peter Raue, the chairman of the Association of the Friends of the Nationalgalerie.
At the time, Lowry was getting ready to shut down the MoMA as they expanded the museum site in midtown Manhattan. Raue, according to exhibition co-curator Angela Schneider, asked Lowry what he planned to do with the artwork in the interim. When the MoMA director said he was considering travel options, Raue said, "The only place you can really go is Berlin."
Berlin holds a special place in the MoMA's history. The museum's founding director, Alfred H. Barr, Jr., visited Berlin's Nationalgalerie's Gallery for Contemporary Art in the 1920s. The trip informed many of Barr's ideas for establishing the MoMA in 1929, said Schneider.
"[MoMA has] a perfect collection, at least of classical European art," said Schneider. "I would say it's a perfect collection for our house," she added, referring to the Neue Nationalgalerie's stark modernist lines.
Americans in Berlin
In support of the MoMA show, Berlin's culture officials have pulled out all the stops with American Season 2004.
Organized by Berliner Festpiele, the year-long festival "proves...how diverse and stimulating the relation between American and European, and particularly German culture really is," said Dr. Christina Weiss, Germany's State Minister for Culture and Media, on the event's website. "It demonstrates the importance of cultural transfer for contemporary creative work and thus makes an important contribution to the fostering of the transatlantic dialogue...beyond the politics of the day."
American-themed lectures, films, and performances can be found on any given night. The Kunst-Werke Institute for Contemporary Arts is showing a series of Andy Warhol's better-known films (all owned by the MoMA). "Andy Warhol: Motion Pictures" comprises eight films on display in either large movie screens or on small color monitors throughout the gallery until September 1st.
Video installations by Korean-American artist Nam June Paik are the showcase at the Deutsche Guggenheim. They include fantastical looking television projects on which Nam collaborated with Allen Ginsberg, Laurie Anderson, and Joseph Beuys.
For music lovers, the Jewish Museum (designed by Daniel Libeskind, who is the main planner for the new World Trade Center) is hosting "Jazz in the Garden" once a month. Or there's the tRANENpALAST's Blues Night 2004, which features international jazz musicians playing throughout Berlin during all of July.