press release

For a period of six months, the Hamburger Kunsthalle is presenting works from the Old Masters, the Nineteenth Century, and the Classical Modern collections in dialog with artworks from the Gallery of Contemporary Art. All art has been contemporary, which takes its name from a neon piece by Maurizio Nannucci (1999), calls attention to the often forgotten fact that every artwork has at some point been contemporary. While "historical" and "current" works of art may be centuries apart in terms of their date of origin and their style, similarities often exist between them on a formal or thematic level. This serves to remind us that every work of art is an expression of human experience and an exploration of universal issues, and that the artists’ intentions are not as far removed from each other as is commonly assumed. The unusual juxtapositions of works in this exhibition take visitors on an artistic journey through time and encourage a different kind of comparative viewing. In Lawrence Weiner’s words, they invite us to "LEARN TO READ ART."

The striking juxtaposition between Caspar David Friedrich’s The Sea of Ice, ca. 1823, and Richard Long’s Mountain Circle, Frankfurt, 1991, reveals two distinct positions on the experience of nature, one from the Romantic period and the other from the contemporary, which enter here into a dialog that transcends the limits of artistic genres and which spans the centuries.

In addition to their similar palettes, Francisco de Goya’s portrait of Don Tomás Pérez Estala, ca. 1798, and Francis Bacon’s study of a modern urban dweller of 1953 show a common interest in plumbing the psychological depths of the subject.

A further room is devoted to the theme ‘Night, depth, and darkness’, something which has fascinated artists from time immemorial. Caspar David Friedrich’s Seashore by Moonlight, 1835/36, is set in conversation with John Hilliard’s elemental work Black Depths (Fire, Water, Stone, and Stars) from 1974, and Pedro Cabrita Reis’ The Leaning Paintings of 2009, with their reflection of fluorescent lights against black-coated glass surfaces echoing the narrow bands of light in Friedrich’s painting. Blinky Palermo’s gray-violet textile work from 1969, which can almost be read in this context as a nocturne, also mirrors the composition of visual layers in Friedrich’s painting.

Juan Muñoz’ Conversation Pieces, 1993, share the theme of interpersonal conversation with Bernardo Strozzi’s 1615 painting The Educating of Maria, whose earthy tones also establish a connection with the bronze and polyester sculptural ensembles.

Architecture, interiors, glimpses into and through spaces, and the interplay between light and shadow characterize the church interiors of Pieter Saenredam, Emanuel de Witte, and Gerard Houckgeest from the seventeenth century - as well as Hubert Kiecol’s Table with Eight Houses, Isa Genzken’s pavilion H.M.G., and Axel Hütte’s Castelfiorentino C-prints, all twentieth-century works. For Office Baroque, from 1977, Gordon Matta-Clark transformed architecture into monumental sculptural form through building cuts made to allow precisely calculated incursions of light that call to mind Baroque or Gothic patterns of interior illumination. Bojan Sarcevic’s 1999 video is a ‘tableau vivant’ of historic church interiors in which three dogs are unexpectedly set loose in the Westerkerk in Amsterdam, and they wander around the unfamiliar space as though it were perfectly natural for them to be there.

In Olaf Metzel’s 1986 Oak Leaf Study the artist attacked the hollow busts of the German artists and thinkers with which the educated middle-class has proudly adorned itself since the nineteenth century. It stands in confrontation with Luca Giordano’s seventeenth-century portrait of Democritus, Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s eighteenth-century portrait of a philosopher and Friedrich Hagemann’s nineteenth century marble bust of Immanuel Kant.

The mask was a favorite motif not only of James Ensor - who used it to expose rather than disguise the grotesque in his fellow human beings (here 1896) - but also of Bruce Nauman, who explored this attribute in a number of works as a way of interrogating his own identity (1981).

The subject of dialog in yet another room is the square. Josef Albers’ White Lines Squares from 1966, in which he explored principles of color and perceptual theory, are counterposed with the dynamically charged force fields of constructivist Walter Dexel from 1929, while Bruce Nauman paces off the dimensions of his rectangle studio using his own body in Slow Angle Walk (Beckett Walk) from 1968.

In remembrance of the recently deceased Sigmar Polke (13/2/1941 – 10/6/2010), six of the artist’s works form a focal point of this exhibition from the Museum’s permanent collection. Like no other artist, Polke fused the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ in his works and created bridges between different ages with his unusual techniques and motifs drawn from collective visual memory.

Seascapes are another genre that appears throughout the ages. Christian Morgenstern’s Dune near Helgoland, from around 1850 takes up conversation with Gerhard Richter’s Bridge (at the Seaside) and Seascape (cloudy), both from 1969. The rough sea, the clouds scudding across the sky, the sea melting into the horizon, and the reflection of light off the water have eternally fascinated artists and viewers. Geert Goiris’ unmanipulated photograph Near Hekla (2003), with its snow-covered Icelandic lava landscape, plays with this fascination, recalling the glittery surface of the sea.

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All art has been contemporary
Kurator: Sabrina van der Ley

Künstler: Francisco de Goya, Francis Bacon, Caspar David Friedrich, Richard Long, Hans Arp, Robert Mangold, Kenneth Noland, Juan Muñoz, Bernardo Strozzi, Jannis Kounellis, Pieter Saenredam, Emanuel de Witte, Gerard Houckgeest, Hubert Kiecol, Isa Genzken, Axel Hütte, Gordon Matta-Clark, Bojan Sarcevic, Balthasar Denner, Bernhard Prinz, John Hilliard, Pedro Cabrita Reis, Blinky Palermo, Olaf Metzel, Luca Giordano, Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Friedrich Hagemann, Georg Hinz, Jan van der Heyden, Gerhard Richter, Josef Albers, Walter Dexel, Bruce Nauman, Albrecht Altdorfer, Hubert Kiecol, Donald Judd, Sol Le Witt, James Ensor, Bruce Nauman, Otto Freundlich, Ellsworth Kelly, Brice Marden, Robert Rymans, Sigmar Polke, Christian Morgenstern, Jacob Gensler, Gerhard Richter, Geert Goiris, Vilhelm Hammershoi, Thomas Struth, Théodore Géricault