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WE LOVE NR - Neo Rauch and the Deutsche Bank Collection
Collaboration: The Feminist Artists´ Group ff - Interview with Mathilde ter Heijne, Antje Majewski and Katrin Plavcak
The Question: Is Painting really forever?
To Be Just a Pair of Eyes - The other side of Jeanne Mammen
Friendly Monsters - Street Artist Fefe Talavera's Project for the Deutsche Bank Towers
Artists Make Tomorrow's Poland
The Artist and the Propaganda Machine: How Fernando Bryce Retells 20th-Century History
Three questions for Nicola Lees - An interview with the new curator of the Frieze Projects
Süden - The Villa Romana at the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle
Let’s talk: Angelika Stepken, Ingrid & Oswald Wiener on “Hot Feet”


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To Be Just a Pair of Eyes
The other side of Jeanne Mammen

She is regarded as “the” chronicler of 1920s Berlin, but now a heretofore lesser known side of the painter Jeanne Mammen is being discovered. As part of the large-scale exhibition project “Painting Forever!,” which will open during the Berlin Art Week, four of the city’s major exhibition venues will be celebrating the art of painting. For the first time the Berlinische Galerie, Deutsche Bank KunstHalle, KW Institute for Contemporary Art, and the Nationalgalerie will join forces in this unique cooperation. On view at the KunstHalle will be “To Paint Is To Love Again,” featuring Jeanne Mammen’s late abstract work, still incredibly fresh today. It will be shown alongside works by three contemporary Berlin painters: Antje Majewski, Katrin Plavčak, and Giovanna Sarti. On the occasion of the exhibition Annelie Lütgens introduces Jeanne Mammen and her work.

The garçonne provocatively looks us straight in the eye—top hat on her head, cigarette dangling from the corner of her mouth, a young woman in tow. She Represents is the title under which this watercolor by Jeanne Mammen is published in Simplicissimus in 1928. This androgynous heroine does indeed seem to represent a “new type of woman”—so much so that this picture is often used to illustrate the “decadent Berlin” of the Weimar years. Watercolors and drawings like this one, published in Simplicissimus, Jugend, or Ulk, bring Mammen fame as a chronicler of Berlin city life. “Gracious yet austere” is how Kurt Tucholsky describes her female figures in 1930. Mammen’s illustrations owe their success not least of all to the fact that her divas and cabaret girls find favor with both men and women.

But her legacy is much greater than that. Her paintings and drawings span the course of seventy years and their discontinuities reflect the upheavals that shook the twentieth century. Mammen is often summarily described as an “artist of the twenties,” yet she vehemently resists being pigeonholed. In 1975, she tells the art historian Hans Kinkel, who conducts the only interview she will ever give: “You must always write that my pictures were created between 1890 and 1975. …I have always wanted to be just a pair of eyes, walking through the world unseen, only to see others. Unfortunately one was seen.” Exclusion and self-denial are the drawbacks of an artist’s existence that consciously takes being unnoticed for granted. Asked to submit her biography on the occasion of a 1974 exhibition, Mammen delivers a “brief report on external details,” sketching a life story marked by fragmentation and loss. The largest caesura is surely the Third Reich. Laconically, she notes: “With the advent of the Hitler era, a ban on, or ‘Gleichschaltung’ of, all the magazines I was working for. The end of my ‘realistic’ period. Transition to an aggressive painting style, of fragmenting the object (in contrast to the official art world). World War II: no oil paints, no canvas—all pictures from this period are painted with gouache on cardboard. Ration cards, unemployment registration, hard labor, bombing, forced training as a fireman.”

Until 1914, all roads are open for the artistically gifted merchant’s daughter. Born in Berlin in 1890, she moves to Paris with her family in 1895, where she grows up and is educated in French language and culture. Her strong affinity for French literature, for Victor Hugo and especially Gustave Flaubert, as well as the Symbolist art of the fin de siècle, leads her to continue the art studies she has begun in Paris, in Brussels at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts, in 1908. There she is able to pursue her interests in social issues, as well as in the world of dreams. Her first major work, twelve illustrations for the Temptation of St. Anthony, circa 1910, has elements of the fantastical, while her sketchbooks from that time are filled with observations of everyday life on the boulevards of Paris, Brussels, and Berlin. With the start of World War I Mammen and her family flee France, initially traveling to the Netherlands. Her father, the merchant Gustav Oskar Mammen, is labelled a foreign enemy and all of the family's possessions are confiscated.

In 1916, the Mammen family returns to Berlin, penniless. Consequently, Jeanne and her sisters have to earn their own livelihood. While the November Revolution rages in Berlin in 1918/19, and artists join ranks to demand a new art for a new society, Mammen is busy just trying to get by. In 1920 she and her sister move into a studio apartment at Kurfürstendamm 29, which, over the coming decades, mutates into Mammen’s secluded abode. The artist’s cosmopolitan background serves her well as she explores the lighter and darker sides of Berlin life in her drawings. Whether she is out exploring high-class society, the demimonde, or proletarian bars, she is able to work confidently and unobtrusively, capturing people and situations with her pencil in order to transform them into multi-figured painted scenes back at her studio. Stylistically, she draws on her French and Belgian roots, and brings a touch of Toulouse-Lautrec to the sober Berlin style.

In 1933 Mammen is rent from her secure financial and artistic basis for the second time in her life. Deprived of her earning potential, she registers as an unemployed commercial artist. Her hatred of the Nazi regime prompts her to experiment with abstraction, disparaged by the new rulers as “degenerate.” Realism, discredited through Fascist abuse, loses its persuasive power for her. While Mammen still produces likenesses of her contemporaries in the sheltered atmosphere of an evening art course in life drawing, she begins deconstructing the forms of the objects she depicts in her paintings. The vehemence with which Mammen now “catches up with” abstraction is tantamount to a self-destructive rejection of everything that constitutes her artistic identity. Cubist/Expressionist images such as Mackensen, from the late thirties, exploit the means of modern painting, in this case, depicting a fierce caricature of the highly decorated World War I field marshal and Hitler partisan.

At the end of the war she writes to her longtime friend Max Delbrück, a physicist who had emigrated to the USA: “… the ruins of Jeanne can be found in the ruins of Berlin …” Mammen’s works from the latter half of the forties are infused with a sense of calm coupled with melancholy. She experiments with “waste” materials, incorporating wire, rope, and scraps of paper into her pictures, and continues to pursue formal abstraction. Mammen is represented in the first postwar exhibitions of modern art in Berlin, including those at Galerie Gerd Rosen. In 1949/50 she is active in the literary cabaret Die Badewanne (The Bathtub), together with young painter and writer colleagues, including Alexander Camaro and Werner Heldt. For the first time, she is part of a Berlin artists’ circle. However, after 1950, she withdraws from the art world altogether—primarily due to her weariness of the intense ideological debates that spring up around modern art. Debates that echo the dimensions of the Cold War after 1948 in divided Berlin. This atmosphere likely reinforces the strongly introverted character of Mammen’s late work. Living in solitude for such a long time makes one more sensitive to the identity of objects. They become life companions, be they plants, animals, oddly shaped rocks, stranded objects, masks, or dolls. In the mid-sixties figures begin to reappear in Mammen’s paintings. Their bizarre forms and frontality are reminiscent not only of mosaics and wall friezes, but also of marionettes in the shallow space of a stage. The artist also reinforces the mosaic and folkloristic character of her images by incorporating colored tinfoil and candy wrappers into the picture surface. In them, intricate labyrinthine structures gradually develop into a shrill puppet theater that can sometimes contain a critique of contemporary events, such as in the large-format painting Photogenic Monarchs, which alludes to the Shah of Iran’s visit to Berlin in 1967.

While these intensely colorful compositions state their case through a noisy abundance of form, a second group of works from the same period open up an empty, monochrome world of silence. Cipher-like characters with either geometric or biomorphic forms are set against a consistently light-colored ground. In these works tinfoil is used only sparingly. Associations with rebuses come to mind (Contemplation), or seemingly microscopic worlds of micro-organisms (The Pierced Moon) unfurl before the viewer’s eyes.

In this final, powerful phase of her artistic career, between 1960 and 1975, Mammen indulges in the freedom of a very personal stylistic pluralism, one which can perhaps only be fully appreciated today. Now that we have lived through modernism and postmodernism, we know that novelty in art does not necessarily mean straightforward formal innovation, and that authenticity has nothing to do with ingenuity. Jeanne Mammen brings things to their logical conclusion by drawing on all she has seen and absorbed during her lifetime. There is no more battling against the world around her, but rather a relaxed anticipation of impending death. Now she has time to linger over a painting, applying one layer of paint and of life on top of another, fully aware that the past is always present, and that everything that is lived is valid.  

Painting Forever!
To Paint Is to Love Again

Jeanne MammenAntje Majewski, Katrin Plavčak, Giovanna Sarti
Deutsche Bank KunstHalle
18.9. – 10.11.2013

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On View
It´s About Freedom - Philip Guston´s Late Works in the Schirn / In Search of Impossible Art - The Zacheta Presents the Views Nominees for 2013 / To Paint Is To Love Again - The Deutsche Bank KunstHalle Celebrates Painting
Wolves in Brisbane - Cai Guo-Qiang's "Head On" at the Gallery of Modern Art / A Place of Art Production and Exchange - Villa Romana at the Bundeskunsthalle / Views 2013 - Lukasz Jastrubczak Wins the Most Important Prize for Young Polish Art / Regarding the Other - Lorna Simpson at the Haus der Kunst / Women Artists in London - The Highlights of Frieze Week 2013 / Jubilee in Regent’s Park - 10th Year of Deutsche Bank’s Partnership with Frieze London / Stitching Instead of Spraying - New Art for Züri West / Britain's Got Talent - Deutsche Bank Award Winners Announced in London
"Breathtaking in Part" - The Press on Frieze London and Frieze Masters / "A Great Start" The Press on the First Exhibition at the KunstHalle
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