Saatchi Collection’s GESAMTKUNSTWERK: New Art From Germany

I enjoyed half a dozen freshly prepared oysters at this food booth that was set up just next door to the Saatchi Collection. After this I went on to visit the collection's current exhibition.

“The Saatchi Gallery leased the building for 25 years and began working with AHMM to redesign the interiors to suit a gallery rather than office use.”

Saatchi Gallery

Duke of York Square, London. 2008

  • Project Details
  • Completion: 2008
  • Clients: Saatchi Gallery

The new Saatchi Gallery is located within the listed walls of this former Drill Hall known as The Duke of York’s Headquarters off the King’s Road. The site was chosen after the practice spent three years with The Saatchi Gallery evaluating new and refurbishment opportunities. The building is stripped back to its shell and a new entrance sequence locates fifteen interconnected galleries on three levels. Much time and effort has been invested in the detailing to ensure that the art can be viewed and the architecture, both old and new, recedes into the background.

The Duke of York HQ in 1801 and 2008

CGIs by Smoothe

An exhibition at the 70,000 sq. ft. 15 galley Saatchi Collection in the former Duke of York's HQ


The internationally famous Saatchi Collection is free to all.

Markus Selg painting

“Perhaps best known for its Wagnerian associations, the word ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’ can be translated as a total, ideal or universal work of art, or as a synthesis of different art forms into one all-embracing unique genre. As such, many works in this exhibition reflect on the boundaries of art, in terms of our perception of it and its relationship to other disciplines. If their work points to a new kind of Gesamtkunstwerk it is one in which high and low culture, the avantgarde and the historical, the everyday and everything in between can co-exist. Running through the exhibition is an inherent reference to another quasi-Gesamtkunstwerk: the baggage of postwar German visual culture and the work of earlier generations of German artists, from the Expressionists to
Joseph Beuys, Anselm Kiefer, Martin Kippenberger, Rosemarie Trockel, Gerhard Richter and Franz West, with whom many of the artists in this exhibition seem to be in conversation.” – Saatchi Gallery

Thomas Helbig sculpture

Thoms Helbig painting

Featured Artists

Dirk Bell
Alexandra Bircken
André Butzer
Zhivago Duncan
Ida Ekblad
Max Frisinger
Isa Genzken
Felix Gmelin
Jeppe Hein
Thomas Helbig
Georg Herold
Volker Hueller
Thomas Kiesewetter
Jutta Koether
Friedrich Kunath
Stefan Kürten
Josephine Meckseper
Kirstine Roepstorff
Julian Rosefeldt
Markus Selg
Gert and Uwe Tobias
Corinne Wasmuht
Andro Wekua
Thomas Zipp

Greetings. This is Los Angeles-based artist Vincent Johnson. I was in London a few weeks ago to see several shows including the Gerhard Richter retrospective at the Tate, the debut show of White Cube Bermonsdsey and the New Art from Germany show at the Saatchi Collection. I took photos of most of the work in the show, and added a few pictures from online at the end of this post to complete my offering of my personal view of the exhibition.

The scale of the paintings relative to the far lesser scale of the sculptural work was what most immediately stood out in the exhibition. There seemed to be an enfolding of what called Scatter Art and later Installation Art either into a unified object form or being encased inside a vitrine. There was both strong painting in the traditional historical sense as well as graphics based image making. There was work that seemed determined to enframe itself within a dialectic of the politics of consumerism, with a supposed all-seeing eye throwing back the veil, and there was work that was satisfied to view itself and to be viewed as both mysterious and magical, strange and wonderful, without being repetitive of strong works of the past, but instead providing a means to echo history and be in the now all at once. In the course of doing this post I marveled over the sheet number of smart and authoritative articles on the show. We in Los Angeles have Hollywood at our backs and their global media instruments DO NOT train themselves on the Los Angeles art scene, unless they are personally involved and invited to be media stars at Hollywood film industry event organized by the LA artworld. London has phenomenal art writers and even world-class art historians who write not at the level of the least educated but at the level of the most advanced global audiences. The Saatchi Collection has its own magazine that is free at the front desk. LA artist Raymond Pettibone was featured on the cover with another artist at the time of my visit.

Here then I have captured several excerpts from recent London newspaper articles on the New Art from Germany exhibition. Enjoy.

“With a wheelchair swathed in hologram foil and her “Kinder Filmen”, tall mirrors stuck with adhesive tape, ripped magazine pages and spray paint to suggest overloaded urban façades, the presiding spirit at Saatchi’s King’s Road space is the morbidly unstable Isa Genzken, Richter’s second wife. The earliest examples of her work here are from the series “MLR”, lacquered paintings of gymnasts’ rings frozen in mid-air from 1992, the year she and Richter separated. The theme is presumably letting go, although I couldn’t get allusions to hanging ropes and nooses out of my head.

At the heart of the show are Genzken’s junk towers – absurdist pillars such as “Urlaub” (Holiday), wrapped in photographs and topped with a sun hat, outsize wine glass and tennis racket, “Bouquet”, studded with plastic flowers, and “Mutter Mit Kind” (Mother with Child), featuring a battered doll, lopsided chair and reproduction of Leonardo’s “La Belle Ferronière”. Subverting sculpture’s plinths and classicism’s columns, these interrogate form with an end-of-empire twin-towers mournfulness: even the joky “Urlaub” unsettles by including a medieval image of Christ crowned by thorns. But Genzken parodies superabundance too – civilisation on auto-destruct through our compulsion to manufacture and consume unlimited, unnecessary objects.

I have never warmed to Genzken’s crazed, downbeat aesthetic but this is the most graceful, persuasive account of her work I have seen.”

“But Saatchi is nothing if not pluralistic. Against the school of Genzken, he shows the garish stick-figures of Georg Herold, which have an anarchic spirit recalling Herold’s rebel-friend Martin Kippenberger, and the tactile, fantastical world of multimedia artist Markus Selg. What makes Selg riveting are his carvings, reminiscent of Kirchner’s sculptures: intense, contorted, elongated wood, jute and straw figures at affecting half- or three-quarter life-size: “Anima”, “Eva”, “Abgrund” (Abyss), “Betender” (Prayer), “Trauernde” (Mourner), which lack facial features and achieve emotional resonance through gesture and physical expressiveness alone. What makes Selg fashionable is the Gesamtkunstwerk installations in which he displays these – monumental digital photographs, printed on fabric, of landscapes and primitivist mannequins composed by compressing sci-fi and classical images on a computer screen.”

“Who among these weird, wonderful or wearisome artists will we recognise in 10 years or remember in 50? Does it matter? Writing in the excellent History of the Saatchi Gallery (Booth-Clibborn Editions), Norman Rosenthal notes that Roger Fry’s post-impressionist exhibition included many irrelevancies, and in an 1870 Parisian census 70,000 people declared themselves artists – of whom today we know 40 at most. Thus, says Rosenthal “the reality, and cruelty, of art, and the importance of its mediators and presenters”. That is the wider context for appreciating this most eclectic exhibition yet at this gallery – and why it remains worth watching what Saatchi does next.
Jackie Wullschlager, Financial Times London, 11.18.2011

“Meckseper grew up in the late 1960s in Germany in a family associated with the Red Army Faction/Baader-Meinhof Group, and has spoken of wanting to merge “philosophical and political concepts with art production”. She makes sculpture, video, installation (she made an installation predicting the financial crisis, which included a sculpture of fake vomit), painting and photography, probing into the failure of capitalism, exposing corporate corruption and challenging western consumerism. She has said of her glass-and-steel vitrines: “Their shiny surfaces are meant as provocations for destruction. They are designed to be targets, like high-end shop windows being smashed during riots and protests. These works mimic retail aesthetics in order to activate the commercial zone into a political one.” Rebecca Wilson, Director, Saatchi gallery, The Telegraph, London, 12.02.2011

“Gesamtkunstwerk represents Saatchi’s purchasing power too, of course: his recent outlays, risks and bets. It takes a sharp interest in the market; you might say it depicts the market to some extent. But it also offers an experience of contemporary art that few of us will see without travelling to Berlin at least, and it’s one in the eye for Tate too, being the kind of show that none of our public museums can afford.” Laura Cummings, The Guardian, London, 11/26/2011

“Zhivago Duncan’s Pretentious Crap could have replaced Gesamtkunstwerk as the exhibition’s title, but its application to his huge glass case containing a model railway and other mechanicals enlivening the landscape of Cappadocia, is not merited; it may not be art, but it is exquisitely constructed, part fairground amusement, part Chapman Brothers without the horror, and well worth a moment’s child-like awe. Glass cases are evidently the in thing in Germany, filled with organised junk or subversively arranged to resemble the windows of stores that sell prosthetic appliances, underwear and perfume.” Brian Sewell, Evening Standard, London, 11/24/2011

“What does it tell us about German art now? There’s a certain coolness about this entire show. German artists stand back from their art-making with a tiny smirk of knowingness on their faces. They have absorbed quite as much as needs to be absorbed about the past, whether it be distant or more recent, and their practice, by and large, consists of a kind of clever, extended commentary upon that which has gone before. Generally speaking, they are not afraid to talk politics or to mess with the issues of the day. Above all, they adore junk, and they dislike too much refinement.” Michael Glover, The Independent, London 11.22.2011

Andre Butzer painting

Gert & Uwe Tobias painting

Ida Ekblad painting

Isa Genzken sculpture

Andro Wekua painting

Andro Wekua photo installation

Thomas Zipp installation

Thomas Zipp installation - table, map, photographs

Max Frisinger scupture

Thomas Kiesewetter sculpture

Georg Herold sculpture

Alexandra Birchen scupture

Jutta Koether painting.

LA artist Vincent Johnson photographing Jeppe Hein's shaking mirror piece

Friedrich Kunath painting installation

Dirk Bell sculpture

Felix Gmeli painting

Julian Rosenfeldt montage

Josephine Meckseper scuptural installation

Stephan Kurten painting

Volker Hueller watercolor etching

Kristine Roestorff collage

Zhivago Duncan installation sculpture

Corinne Wasmuht painting

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One thought on “Saatchi Collection’s GESAMTKUNSTWERK: New Art From Germany

  1. Pingback: London art trip: Tate Modern/National Gallery/The Courtault/British Museum/White Cube Bermondsey/Borough Market « fireplace chats

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