The Villa Romana at the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle
Prizewinners from Germany, international guest artists from the
Mediterranean region: the Villa Romana in Florence has long been a
nexus for generations of artists and a wide range of scenes and
nationalities. Now, a program of exhibitions, music, and performances
called “Süden”(South) brings the villa’s lively atmosphere directly to
Berlin—and the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle.
||One of the films screened in Süden (South) is the British classic A Room with a View
from 1985. Among the lead actors like Maggie Smith and Helena Bonham
Carter are Tuscany and Florence—the city on the Arno and home to the Villa Romana, the artists’ house founded in 1905 by Max Klinger.
Florence, cradle of the Renaissance, is not only the epitome of the
romantic South in the movies. For a long time the artists’ house also
embodied the ideal that generations of tourist guidebooks helped its
readers to internalize: situated on the hillside above the city, the
classicist Villa, surrounded by a magnificent garden of olive trees and
cypresses, was often described as an “Arcadia.” Artists like Max Beckmann, Käthe Kollwitz, Ernst Barlach, and Max Pechstein sought peace and inspiration here, while in the 1970s and ’80s it was figures the likes of Georg Baselitz and Markus Lüpertz. Michael Buthe
staged oriental myths in his rooms. “There were boisterous parties, and
his studio looked like a harem after a hundred nights of love,” is how
the former director, the “Commandante” Joachim Burmeister, recalled the time shortly before his retirement in 2005.
Since 2007 Angelika Stepken
has been running the house, and the celebrations continue. Now, the
prevailing attitude toward the South has become more of a discourse
that engages in the cultural and social realities of the Mediterranean
region and a globalized art establishment that has undergone profound
change. The South no longer ends at the Italian coast or Gibraltar, but
includes North Africa, the Balkans, Greece, Turkey, and the Middle
East. The young fellows arriving here through Germany come from all
over Europe, and the number of guest artists from Algiers, Casablanca,
and Alexandria testify to just how important the Arab countries have
become. Off the beaten track of the great art hubs, the Villa Romana,
supported by Deutsche Bank and its Foundation
since 1929, has become a laboratory for artistic exchange between the
North and South. At the same time, the house also provides vital
impulses to the region as a platform for innovative artists on the
contemporary Italian scene.
Now, some of this can be experienced in the program of exhibitions, music, and performances called Süden, which brings the lively atmosphere of the Villa directly to Berlin and the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle.
Over a period of two weeks, fellows and guests provide a multi-faceted
image of the artists’ house and the themes occupying European artists
there. The fact that these are largely determined by the current
political situation in the Mediterranean region can be clearly seen in
a work now on view in Berlin: the artist and photographer Armin Linke has been working for several years on the project Lampedusa. The Day After.
The small Italian island between Sicily and Tunisia is often the first
arrival point for boat refugees from Africa; Lampedusa has become
synonymous for European and Italian refugee politics. Linke collects
and investigates the visual traces these tragedies leave behind in the
form of media images, family photos, or Facebook posts; he is not
interested in creating new images, but in placing existing ones in
context, in furnishing them with a history. Linke has been researching
with a team and conducting interviews for years. The collected material
delves into the processes by which photography loses its credibility as
an explanatory medium when confronted with humanitarian catastrophe.
Now, in the framework of a lecture in the Süden program,
visitors can get to know Linke and a cross-section of artists from
different generations personally who have left their mark on the house.
The spectrum ranges from Gianfranco Baruchello, friend to Duchamp and artist legends of the 1960s, to the current Villa Romana fellow Mariechen Danz,
a Berlin-based Irish artist whose body-sculptures, installations,
videos, and performances are currently making a splash on the
international art scene. Her Learning Cube
is on view in the
exhibition, which presents works by all four Villa Romana Prize winners
in the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle. The outside surfaces of the
large-scale cube are covered in
reproductions of human organs, hands, pyramids, diagrams, written and
graphic symbols. The human body appears here as an object that is
subjected to various structures and systems. But Danz can also be
experienced as a performer—in a concert with her band UNMAP, which blends cool, dark New Wave sounds with electro soul and melancholic song.
Other fellows from this year besides Mariechen Danz can also be seen in the framework of Süden: Heide Hinrichs, Daniel Maier-Reimer, and Shannon Bool. Bool, who was born in Canada and lives in Berlin, floats prominent puckered lips over landscapes. In her 24-part series The Lips,
she mounts the lips of stars like Rihanna, Angelina Jolie, and Dita van
Teese on photographs of empty beaches that she purchased at auction on
Süden not only offers the possibility to discover current
positions, but also introduces artist legends: in the KunstHalle, one
can (re)discover Gianfranco Baruchello, for instance, a great unknown
of the European avant-garde who took part in the important 1962
exhibition New Realists at the Sidney Janis Gallery
in New York, which Warhol also participated in. Baruchello met Marcel
Duchamp the same year, who became a long-term friend and about whom he
wrote a book. In 1977 his drawings were on show at the documenta 6.
Despite all this, due to his strategy of refusing to take part in the
art market and establishment, Baruchello’s work has remained largely
unknown. Now, a survey of his film works from the 1960s to the present
can be seen for the first time in the KunstHalle.
One of the main points of focus of the Süden program is on performance work. The Polish filmmaker and theoretician Jerzy Grotowski
(1933–1999), who spent his last years in the small city of Pontedera
between Florence and Pisa, is a classic of the avant-garde theater
movement. Pontedera is also where he founded the Workcenter
of Jerzy Grotowksi and Thomas Richards, in which he continued
developing his concept of “poor theater.” Today, the Workcenter
attracts actors from all over the world. For Süden, the Open Program travels to Germany for the first time to present its homage to the Beat poet Allen Ginsburg, Electric Party Songs,
in the KunstHalle. Other Villa Romana neighbors are also celebrating
their German premiere in “Süden,” some of whom also explore heroes of
Beat literature: with Fourthousand | All!, the free performance group Kinkaleri from Prato honors William S. Burroughs.
On the other hand, Mirene Arsanios and Setareh Shahbazi present a blend of talk, workshop, and performance. The curator Arsanios is co-founder of the Beirut project space 98weeks researchproject.
At the Villa Romana, together with the artist Shahbazi, she put on a
performance based on conversations the two women began on their
neighboring balconies in Beirut, in which they talked about revolution,
family, and even Chinese dumplings. Now they carry this dialogue to
Berlin. Whether and how the spirit of optimism of the “Arab Spring” and
the civil war in Syria affects their life and art will certainly be one
of the themes explored in their contribution to Süden.
The series closes brilliantly with the text-sound-film and cooking performance Heisse Fuesse (Hot Feet) of the group Wichtel und die Wuchteln.
The hot feet referred to here are cooked calf’s feet separated from the
bone and refined. They are prepared by the Austrian artist Ingrid Wiener, accompanied by her husband Oswald and their friends: artist and filmmaker Rosa Barba, producer Klaus Sander, and musician Jan St. Werner, a founding member of the band Mouse on Mars. Oswald Wiener is one of the theoreticians of the Wiener Gruppe
(Viennese Group), which was active from 1954–1964 as one of the most
radical artists’ associations in post-war Europe. Ingrid Wiener
collaborated on performances by the Wiener Gruppe and on experimental films, founded legendary restaurants in Berlin like Exil and Ax Bax, and worked together with Dieter Roth for many years. The Heisse Fueße
referred to here are anything but a cooking show: they’re served with a
performance side dish of Oswald Wiener’s texts, Rosa Barba’s film and
acoustic interventions, Jan St. Werner’s electronic sound, and Klaus
In a certain sense, with their blend of various different art directions, generations, and disciplines, Wichtel und die Wuchteln
provide a great example for the spirit of the Villa Romana, which is
anything but heterogeneous. And this can also be seen in the program:
even if a lot of rethinking and new ideas take place in the artists’
house in Florence, it’s still a good place to party.
Villa Romana: Art, Music & Performance
August 27 – September 8, 2013
Deutsche Bank KunstHalle, Berlin