Kunst im Heim
Capitain Petzel, Berlin
Through December 13, 2008
by Ali Fitzgerald
Installation view, 2008
Kunst im Heim
What happens when two art world titans combine their stables and collecting bases in a city known as “poor, but sexy?” Capitain Petzel Gallery, the joint effort of Gisela Capitain (famed German art-collector and discoverer of big daddy “bad painter” Martin Kippenberger) and Friedrich Petzel (owner of Friedrich Petzel Gallery in New York) is, firstly, an amazing space in an unusual location. The Capitain Petzel Gallery, a stately Modernist building with a beautiful glass façade, sits on Karl Marx Allee, a street peppered with imposing Bloc architecture and the promise of a grand thoroughfare from Germany to Moscow via Stalin’s cold, concrete heart. Karl Marx is by far my favorite street in Berlin, as nowhere else can you see so clearly the dilapidated playgrounds, crumbling worker housing and Soviet sculptures that mark the failed undertaking of Germany’s Cold War era occupiers.
Capitain and Petzel have composed an elegant inaugural show in a place that once housed Applied and Fine Arts from the Eastern Bloc. Rather than ignore the looming black garland of history that hangs so heavily from the high-ceilinged space, their first attempt interrogates, contradicts and confronts the complicated yesterday that we all share.
After visiting Kunst im Heim, or Art for your Home, a second time (the first time I was bloated with champagne, Puritanical guilt from a weekend of debauchery and Art-Fair turpitude), I decided that it is one of the more compelling group shows I’ve seen in Berlin. Instead of simply showcasing their incredible roster of artists, among them Kippenberger, Seth Price and Christopher Wool, the two curators and friends culled works that address and interact with their surroundings.
After penetrating the incredibly exposed entrance, (with some trepidation if you’re hung over and wearing a sailor suit), one encounters a smattering of glass vitrines, a circumspect shack, a model of an oil rig, a wooden labyrinth and a stern Kippenberger portrait that notifies you immediately of your location in the heartland of emotional contradiction. Kippenberger’s sober German man looks down, the electric blue blinds behind him painted with a flippantly self-assured hand. This painting, like Germany’s complex social history is both solemn and lively. “Achtung! You can’t step on the grass! But, please accompany me to a shadowy sex dungeon with leather fetishists rotating on a spit.”
The thing I find most fascinating about Kunst im Heim is not necessarily the art, but the method of display. Much of the work is enclosed in small glass cabinets, holdovers from the previous incarnation of the building. This presentation references the didactic learning materials that told us that Marx was of the people, that a velociraptor’s diet consists of iguanadons and that Adam and Eve never touched fig leaves until they tied the knot (sorry, I just visited the Creationism Museum in Kentucky). The crux of this show is the conversation that occurs between the display case as propagandistic tool and the artwork sealed inside.
Troy Brauntuch benefits the most from this conversation; his 1976 Three Effects stamp series becomes recontexualized as a succession of beautiful omens portending a film Noir future. The stamps appear as cinematic whispers with cavernous hues and shady figures on the brink of unspeakable actions. To display these deeply mysterious pictures using those age-old instruments of bureaucratic transparency creates an intriguing negotiation of truth and ambiguity.
I can’t help but return to the idea of the “sex dungeon,” that rotating strobe-lit id within all of us, when thinking about the downstairs of the Capitain Petzel space. Indeed, the lower level resembles an old basement or bunker and after descending, one is greeted by Anna Gaskell’s Floater (1997), projected on the concrete floor. Gaskell shows us a lithe young girl drifting to the surface of a pool of water, as the camera moves swiftly in the direction of her open, moist mouth. Surrounding her video, there is a large grainy photo of lips slightly askew by Sam Samore and a mammoth Benglis-like concrete spill by Monika Sosnowska. Sosnowka’s sculpture originates on the top floor, where it drips downward from a modest, unnoticeable hole through which one can see the gaping space below. I must say, the downstairs is very id-like in comparison to the more cerebral pairings of the first floor.
The lower level also includes Christopher Eamon’s Closely Watched, a selection of films from the Eastern Block, ranging from 1965 to 1990. I’m not sure which film I watched, but I believe it was a Czech movie that centers on an illicit affair that crosses ideological and marital boundaries. At one point, a woman, lover of “Ludvik,” states that she has “longed for a simple, straightforward man,” to which Ludvik replies that “people should stop pretending.” This statement seems particularly apt in light of Capitain Petzel’s willingness to dig up and scatter thorny remains that were buried not so long ago beneath Karl Marx Allee 45. As I’ve heard chanted so many times here in Berlin, “Never forget.”
Ali Fitzgerald is an artist currently living and working in Berlin. She recently exhibited with the space Extraraum at the Berliner Liste Fair.