Thursday, 15 March 2012

Gesamtkunstwerk: New Art From Germany

Georg Herold, Untitled, 2010; Batten, canvas, lacquer, thread and screws; 120 x 420 x 165 cm © Georg Herold, 2010

The Saatchi Gallery’s slow tour around the world continues, with the curators this time turning their attention to Germany.

Having previously hosted survey shows of art from America, China, India, the UK and the Middle East, this new exhibition brings together work by 24 artists all with a German connection; not all live in the country now but were either born there or have moved there to work. As we’ve come to expect from Charles Saatchi, the artists featured are predominantly younger talents who have emerged in the last few years, but there is a smattering of more established names here too, in particular Isa Genzken, who presents a selection of her 3D assemblage sculptures.

Gesamtkunstwerk installation view, photo by Stephen White

Gesamtkunstwerk installation view, photo by Stephen White

The other heavyweights of German art are noticeable for their absence: there are no works by Anselm Kiefer for example, who instead showed recently at White Cube, or Gerhard Richter, whose retrospective at Tate Modern closed in early January. Similarly no Gursky, Rauch or Bock. This shouldn’t really matter, though there is something in the monumental, museum-style architecture of the Saatchi Gallery, along with the all-encompassing nature of its show titles, that leads one to expect a rounded, comprehensive look at German art today. Instead this show presents a particularly Saatchi-esque view.

Gert & Uwe Tobias, Untitled, 2005; Coloured woodcut on paper; 211 x 177 cm © Gert & Uwe Tobias

This means there is no space given to video art or film, despite the fact that Julian Rosefeldt, known for his video installations, has some prints here. What dominate instead are bombastic sculptural works and huge abstract paintings and wall displays, whose epic size suits the vast scale of the gallery. Some of these come in unexpected forms; Andro Wekua presents a giant mosaic of glazed ceramic tiles, while another room contains huge canvases by Gert and Uwe Tobias, whose bold graphic figures and symbols are created from woodcuts.

There are gimmicky moments: a Jeppe Hein mirrored wall vibrates wildly when approached, reflecting its audience as humming, trembling forms. Zhivago Duncan presents a cabinet containing a mini landscape and toy train, knowingly titled Pretentious Crap (2010-11). These works are entertaining for sure, but are ultimately throwaway, for all their mechanical fun.

Gesamtkunstwerk installation view, photo by Stephen White

André Butzer, Ahnenbild 2411, 2006; Oil on canvas; 280 x 460cm © André Butzer

Elsewhere Saatchi shows a preoccupation with assemblages of junk. Genzken’s influence on the younger artists here is evident, as they display an array of sculptures formed of found materials. Ida Ekblad shows works arranged from throwaway scrap metal, the twisted, battered shapes casting a bleak vision. Alexandra Bircken hangs found objects within frames, to create three-dimensional abstract scenes via strings and aluminium rods. Georg Herold takes roof battens and shapes them into enormous, sexualised figures. All are individually striking, though over time, moving through the 14 galleries that contain the exhibition, the works begin to collapse into one another, leaving little lasting impact.

Isa Genzken, Geschwister, 2004; Plastic, lacquer, mirror foil, glass, metal, wood, fabric; 220 x 60 x 100 cm © Isa Genzken. All images courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery, London

With Germany, and especially Berlin, long being a centre for contemporary art, the time is ripe for an exhibition that explores the ideas and movements emanating from the country. It is frustrating then that this show, dominated as it is with Saatchi’s particular tastes and vision, displays much, but reveals little.

Gesamtkunstwerk: New Art From Germany is on show at the Saatchi Gallery until April 15. More info is at

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