this issue contains
>> Landscape Painting in the Deutsche Bank Collection
>> Second nature: Landscape and Photography
>> Ernesto Neto: Journeys into Inner Landscapes
>> Land Art: Breaking of the Art Space

>> archive

Lost Origins, Utopian Sites:
Landscape Painting in the Deutsche Bank Collection

From naturalistic idylls to the allegories of an interconnected world: with works by over 120 artists, the exhibition “Landscapes of a Century” illuminated various facets of 20th-century landscape painting, at the same time providing an insight into the history of the Deutsche Bank Collection. Oliver Koerner von Gustorf on the continued relevance of landscape painting.

Tobias Rehberger, from the series: S.M.V. (Somme, Marne Verdun), 1993
©Tobias Rehberger, Frankfurt am Main
Deutsche Bank Collection

The freshly plowed earth is dark brown; clouds float past high above the checkerboard fields, gentle hills, and valleys: Tobias Rehberger’s watercolor series, made in 1993, seems like the exercise of an amateur painter who carried his easel out into the countryside to record the spring atmosphere: the gentle green of the tender young grass, the woods lining the horizon, the changing blues and greys of the sky. The landscapes would appear sweet and harmless to the point of triviality if it weren’t for the shocking disillusionment that sets in after reflecting upon the works’ titles: S.M.V. (Somme, Marne, Verdun). The idyll is actually, in fact, a former battlefield. During an Allied offensive in July of 1916, over one million soldiers died in the area around Somme; a German offensive in March 1918 claimed another 380,000 lives. The works juxtapose a yearning for an original, unspoiled landscape and nature with historical guilt and error. Yet the views of these fields betray nothing of this history; it remains banal – despite all the bloodshed and despite all the suffering and horror.

Bernhard Martin, Romantik IV, 1999
©VG-Bild Kunst, Bonn, 2004
Deutsche Bank Collection

“They were painted in the Pleinair style, and traveling there deliberately and setting up an easel in front of the motif in a classical way was meant ironically, of course,” Rehberger said in regard to his watercolors. Rehberger’s apparently innocuous landscape imagery goes hand in hand with the current reevaluation of a painterly subject that seems to have lost nothing of its suggestive power, particularly for young contemporary artists. For Rehberger and a younger generation of artists, approaching the landscape motif, heavily laden as it is with art history, is no longer possible without a certain distance and irony. Thus, in his oil painting Romantic IV (1999), Bernhard Martin stylizes a TV image of catastrophe into a melancholic idyll. While the hills in the background dissolve into expressive brushstrokes, a sinking house hovers on the camouflage-like surface of a body of water – taking with it the romantic idea of a harmony between nature and civilization. The flower jutting out of the water as a derisive sign of regret over the lost innocence of this media scene turns out to be a cultivated tulip from the hothouse.

Julian Opie, Imagine you are diving (1999)
Deutsche Bank Collection

Alice Stepanek/ Steven Maslin, The world around, 1991
© VG Bild-Kunst, 2004
Deutsche Bank Collection

“We are the children of our landscape; it determines our behavior and thoughts as well as the degree to which we are receptive to them,” wrote the English writer Lawrence Durrell (1912–1990) in the fifties. Landscape as subject matter marked by history and civilization, as cultural matrix and construct of inner perception: the traveling exhibition A Century of Landscapes, shown beginning in 1999 in German museums and culminating in 2002 in the South African National Gallery in Capetown, investigated how landscape imagery has reflected artistic innovation and changes in social values. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Emil Nolde , Max Beckmann , Gerhard Altenbourg, Gerhard Richter, Georg Baselitz, Neo Rauch: with the works of over 120 artists from the Deutsche Bank Collection, the show illuminated the various facets of 20th-century landscape painting, at the same time providing insight into the bank’s collecting history – from the German Impressionists and Expressionists and carrying through the new abstraction of the post-war era to the contemporary movements.

Gerhard Richter, Abstract, 26.5.92, 1992
©Gerhard Richter, Köln
Deutsche Bank Collection

Instead of a chronological presentation, the emphasis here was on a thematic juxtaposition within the collection in order to illustrate the many references cutting across eras and styles. Thus, Tobias Rehberger’s cool, post-modern approach also subliminally reflects the pathos of German Expressionism – the rapturous behavior and initial war enthusiasm of the generation that was to become deeply scarred by the traumatic experiences on the battlefields of Somme, Marne, and Verdun and, later, by persecution during the National Socialist regime. As a counter-reaction to the bourgeoisie of the era of Wilhelm II, conventional structures of authority, empty educational ideals, and the mechanization of the industrialized society, the Expressionists’ progressive gaze was fixed on human renewal and the search for a lost original state. Landscape and nature were not painted, but felt as an expression of the inner condition.

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