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Thu, 11/21/2013

Exhibition With Startling Parallels to Today’s Berlin

The exhibition "Vienna Berlin – The Art of Two Cities From Schiele to Grosz" at Berlinische Galerie is an impressive portrait of a time in two cities, but rather a testimony about how little difference about 100 years make when it comes to pleasure and (artistic) self-fulfilment.

Eduard Kosmack is not pleased. With his piercing eyes he focuses his opposite. His arms lie close to the upper body, his bony hands are pinched between his knees. But what does this attitude reveal? Assertiveness? Uncertainty? What is his intention? Is Kosmack waiting out his opponent to feel insecure and thus tells something, that he would rather not tell? Or matures in him a decision that he is about to reveal any second? Eduard Kosmack did not like the picture at all that the Viennese painter Egon Schiele had painted on his behalf in 1910. The publisher Kosmack had probably imagined a representative painting for the lobby of his publishing house facing him as a benevolent patriarch and not as potentially irascible boss. Consequently he rejected the painting. Next to the image of Kosmack hangs a portrait of the artist himself, painted by Max Oppenheimer. Schiele, who only got 28 years old, is sporting a crew cut, as if he had just been released from prison, the army or a mental institution. His face and his hands reinforce this impression. The latter are similar to the long and skinny ones of Kosmack. But at the same time it becomes vividly clear what we see here: a gifted artist who presents his work tools.

The exhibition covers a range from the 90s of the century before last until the 30s of the past. It shows the development of art and artists in two cities that belonged then as they do today to the liveliest in the world. Nevertheless it is quite disturbing to discover how up to date and emotionally poignant most of the pictures and graphics still are even though our viewing habits have changed fundamentally. The intensity of the portraits of Kosmack and Schiele cannot be matched with today's clean and crisp digital photos and even the horrors of the battlefields of the world, which come in our living room every night on the main news in the form of shaky videos made with cell phones and considered to be authentic footage do not match the emotional intensity of the graphics from the 1st World War conveyed by Otto Dix, who had experienced this horror himself.

But most astonishing are the pictures that depict a world you think you know, because you're living in it. At least for Berlin, one can say that this exhibition is a déjà vu. Clothing, technology, equipment and the type of clubs and other venues of pleasure may have changed. The need for entertainment, party, artistic self-realization, the struggle between avant-garde and establishment and an enormous lust for life has not.


The joint exhibition by the Berlinische Galerie and the Österreichische Galerie Belvedere will run until January 27, 2014 at Berlinische Galerie, Berlin.

In their first major themed exhibition together, the Berlinische Galerie and the Österreichische Galerie Belvedere show key works of modern art from Vienna and Berlin ranging from the Secessions via Expressionism to New Objectivity. Masterpieces from both collections will combine with lesser-known specimens to create a panoramic insight into the vibrant exchange between these two metropolitan hubs in the early 20th century.

A small selection of images can be found on the website of the Berlinischen gallery.