Berlin Moscow / Moscow Berlin 1950 - 2000

room texts and plans views of the exhibition

Curator's notes

In many respects the exhibition is a venture. Its theme, the cultural dialogue between Germans and Russians as regards art from the middle of the last century to the present day could hardly be more complex, more difficult to illustrate or more political in the historic context and at the same time more pertinent to the present. Following the previous exhibition about Berlin and Moscow in the first half of the 20th Century, the exhibition deals with the period of the Cold War between communism and capitalism, with the division of Germany and the Berlin Wall, Glasnost and Perestroika but also with the increasingly global world of today, perceived as a latent threat. Furthermore, the exhibition calls to mind the elements which link the two former enemies: the experience of totalitarian systems and the trauma of the Second World War; unleashed by the Germans and victoriously ended by the Russians as žthe great war for the fatherlandÓ. 
Those who remember žBerlin-Moscow / Moscow-Berlin 1900-1950Ó may expect the second exhibition to continue where the first ended. However, from the curatorsŪ first discussions it became clear that the successful framework of the first, tailored to the two metropolises, was not sufficient for the subsequent project. Differing to the period after the First World War there was, after the second, little significant cultural discourse between Moscow and Berlin, initially divided into four sectors and subsequently into two parts until the end of the Eighties. And whilst on the Russian side Moscow was responsible for cultural development, the western part of Berlin, in spite of the blockade and the Wall, held its ground as the cultural frontier of the Federal Republic of Germany as well as of the American protecting power at the side of the capital of East Germany. So it was the East-West conflict and prevailing over this in general which determined the cultural relations between the two cities. Berlin and Moscow each stand, pars pro toto, for their countries as poles of a German-Russian ellipsis with international tangents. 
At the curatorsŪ very first discussions it emerged that it would not be easy to draw up a cultural-historic discourse, functional for exhibition purposes, which would do both sides justice. It would be difficult to find accord between Soviet and post-Soviet historical notions and the self-perception of the West. The curators would have had to have had considerably more time to clarify terms, reduce mutual preconceptions and then reach agreement on the legitimacy of differences. Initially the only common ground was to assess the time after the fall of the Berlin Wall by uniform principles and to commission some artists from Berlin and Moscow to create new works for the exhibition. It was perhaps this decision that led the curators to repeatedly reaffirm their intention of organizing an integrated exhibition instead of showing Russian and German sections separately, which would have been otherwise inevitable.
Among the expectations which the curators had to examine was the idea of an interdisciplinary panorama in which the various forms of the arts, in cross-section, refer to the zeitgeist which they embody. The German curators voiced their concerns about this kind of concept from the first stages of planning. What they imagined was an exhibition from the perspective of art, concentrating on the media and on the different forms of fine art. They were not interested in a production with the epochal flair of a multi-media show, nor had they thought of a cultural-historical report in the style of a museum for history.
But there were also practical reasons for these considerations. With the limited personal and financial capacity of the newly formed team it would not have been possible in the length of time given to produce the different parts of the exhibition from the diverse areas with the due attention to detail and to coordinate this with the Russian partners. Therefore the decision was taken to deal with the disciplines not represented in the exhibition in the second volume of the catalogue; architecture, urban planning, film, literature, theatre and music, with the hope of creating a cluster for a satellite programme. 

The second volume also contains a series of texts concerning political history and ideology criticisms of general interest as well as a richly illustrated cultural and historical chronicle. Thus the requirement of a pertinent introduction into the history of the cultural relations between Germany and Russia are fulfilled. The exhibition itself also provides chronological information. A selected archive of two hundred remarkable documentary and aesthetically powerful photographs forms a literal and figurative corridor of memories. 
The principle žfrom the perspective of artÓ, which the exhibition is committed to, does not limit itself to an exclusively specialist understanding of the object as one might fear. It implies media, representative, socially and culturally critical, institutional and self referential aspects, in brief, a multitude of conditions in which works of art are produced and perceived. The art system is itself an indicator of Zeitgeist. Especially if one brings in the Russian development, the aims and objectives, the avant-gardes and the revisions, creative impetus and de-construction of the visual arts make clear what extraordinary cultural changes have taken place in the second part of the Twentieth century.
They begin with the known debates between traditionalists and modernists, which, if we think of the inquisition, censorship, exclusion or suppression, have left one or another bitter taste in their wake. In the East they led to the removal of the state ordained differentiation between žofficialÓ and žunofficialÓ art. In the West these debates had the effect that borders between the artistic genres towards multimedia, kinetics, environment and installation were crossed. What was referred to as a žworkÓ is stripped of its material texture and duration by concept and event. The transient ousts the museum aspect. Sub cultural trends undermine (infiltrate) high art conventions. Photography, design and film compete with the Fine Arts for their rank whilst images, objects, recording and reproduction techniques from mass culture conquer the lofts and ateliers and from there gain access to museums for contemporary art÷..
Looking back on this half century of art the question arises how the kaleidoscope of traditions might be mediated without ignoring the historical divergence of cultures in the Soviet Union, the German Democratic Republic and the Federal Republic of Germany and West Berlin.
The curators were quite aware that their examination of the past is actually an assessment of the present. For this reason it was close at hand to conceive the exhibition žfrom todayŪs perspectiveÓ. With this prerequisite the usual method of retelling art history by decades up until the present day lost its necessity. What mattered more was to fathom the common interest in the heterogeneous developments at certain points and, in the literal sense of the word, in retrospect. At the same time the opportunity presented itself with the selection of art which is currently of topical interest to take the presence of the past into consideration.. 
The question remained, what moves us today, when we try to compare the collective and individual experiences handed down to us by the visual arts and we try to make them transparent in their variety. During a conference lasting several days in Zermützel, for which we owe our thanks to the Ferdinand Möller Foundation, the curators outlined a series of parameters intended to enable these kind of comparative viewpoints. A divide between the generations became apparent which applies to both the exhibition and to its audience, whereby the generations are determined more by experience than by actual age. 
The already historic generation is that of the survivors of the Second World War and those returning from it. It emphasizes the existential examination of the political and aesthetic sublime. The middle generation departs from the rituals of great mourning. Initially it wants to reform, criticise, turn to the everyday and take a stand. Following this it pursues the deconstruction of ideological doctrines, analyses the inherited žleaningÓ to the synthesis of the arts and risks opening the floodgates on pent up national feeling. The last generation is one of global urbanity. It sympathises with Attac, counts on the power of illusions, strives towards transparency and delights nevertheless in portentous clichés of stagnant pathos.

The parameters which crystallised during the curatorsŪ discussions about the generations on both sides form the structure of the essays in this volume. They represent the attempt to find evidence for a comparative thematic interpretation of art in East and West without claiming to be research in the sense of the Humanities. Short introductory socio-cultural texts on the parameters are supplemented by short, one-page studies on artistic tendencies, groupings or individual artists.
In this way an interesting and varied anthology has been produced which shows the suppositions, some of them very different, which move the German and Russian authors.

Parallel to the texts on the parameters, constellations of artworks have been worked out for the rooms in the Gropiusbau to which the blocks of illustrations in the catalogue roughly refer. The intention to illustrate the parameters entailed an extended curatorial dramaturgy for the compilation of the artworks - as was to be expected. Even during the selection of the exhibits additional criteria played an important role, for example the institutional position of the artists in each system, a known reference to art in the other country, or one yet to be discovered, the context of Berlin and Moscow and of course in each case the qualitative discrimination of the curators. Also to be taken into consideration were the space and exhibition conditions on location. Yet it was the constellation itself which turned out to be a medium of remarkably explosive nature.
Art exhibitions are known to always consist of a series of temporary, partly accidental, more or less pleasingly arranged, sometimes didactic combinations of otherwise unrelated exhibits. A constellation, if it is successful, goes further. It draws attention to an interrelation which evokes as well as deciphers the contrast between the individual works of art. The application of this hermeneutic principle accommodated the fact that the curators had agreed to approach žBerlin-MoscowÓ as impartially as possible, literally žfrom todayŪs perspectiveÓ instead of on already beaten tracks. By risking denying the artworks their usual positive categorization to a certain extent and even to miss out periods, they at the same time opened new possibilities for interpretation. Whether Russian-Russian, Russian-German, German-Russian or German-German: with the parameters in our minds and the works of art before us, quite unexpected constellations appeared. It almost raises the question why art criticism has not liberated us sooner from the necessities of coexistence.

Jürgen Harten, Angela Schneider, Christoph Tannert


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