This is my review for the Few Free Years exhibition at the Hamburger Bahnhof art gallery in Berlin.
Originally a rail station in the late 1800s, the Hamburger was one of the earliest terminals established in Germany, but couldn’t keep up with the traffic on the rail and subsequently shut down in 1884. Years later, it was re-made into an exhibition hall and would go under further construction to add new wings to it, which were finished during the First World War. In the Second World War however, the museum was bombed and sustained heavy damage. Fortunately, it was absorbed by the West Berlin Senate and restored. In 1996, it was rechristened the “Museum fur Gegenwart” following years of reconstruction under the architect, Josef Paul Klehiues. Just as Modernist art had to go through transformative years before becoming Postmodernist art, The Hamburger had to go through years of remodeling, reconstructing and rebuilding before finally becoming one of the most prestigious art galleries in the world.
The exhibition consisted of artwork dating back to 1960 to the present, Made by a wide range of artists, from Andy Warhol and Cindy Sherman to Paul McCarthy and Richard Jackson. The exhibition was meant to show the evolution of contemporary art in Berlin and the world, with the center piece located in the middle of the gallery.
A collection of painted canvases, all stacked together to produce a spiral maze. The visitor walks into the maze, with the stacks growing, until they have reached the middle and is completed surrounded. This creates an isolating feeling within the visitors, as they are overwhelmed by years of artwork. That is what the maze is, a symbol of all the years of hard work that many artists have produced for the Hamburger Bahnhof and art in general.
The artwork on display was from a vast arrange of media, techniques and styles, including paintings, photograph, collages, photomontage, screen prints, installations, film and more. Among the most shocking and controversial installations was a wooden house playing a film. The film in question depicted a young woman, mimicking acts of a sexual nature. In a way, it relates to the satirical themes from the Guerilla Girls, in that a woman can only break into the art world if they are naked and are ready for sex. The artist shows that there are no limitations in art, no matter how controversial the subject is.
As you go further into the exhibition, you can clearly more of the influence popular culture has had on all the artists. One such artist created a collection of installations, still life’s and sculptures out of a variety of found and man-made objects and materials (wooden planks, jars with dirt, rope, TV sets (some broken), glass and more). Some installations were work benches, with tools strewn about and hanging loose. Even your own work space can be considered art.
Another highlight of the exhibition was the “A Few Free Years” installation, Jason Rhodes. Jason Rhodes (who died in 2006, age 44) created art that overwhelmed the viewer, just like how they are overwhelmed by excess of pop culture, in this case, video games. The installation consists of several video game cabinets, all grouped together in a straight row and when someone goes through it, they feel isolated and boxed in. The visitor has multiple options of games to play, but only one choice: to indulge their love of video games and relive old childhood memories. Rhodes took a popular trend of culture and made it into the kind of art that no one can look away from or ignore. Just like how someone can’t ignore the chance to beat the high score on Donkey Kong.
The installation is named after Klimt’s Beethoven Frieze (1902) and the title is used for the exhibition. The title is fitting, considering all the free years all of the artists had spent on the work being displayed.
The exhibition truly emphasized why the Hamburger is the premier collection of contemporary artwork, as well as why Berlin is considered the art capital of the world. The work was astonishing, presented well and draws the viewer’s attention, never letting go.