Berlin 2 : 2 museums and an art gallery

1 The Berggruen Museum

This was built especially to house the collection of its namesake . He was of German Jewish family and emigrated to the USA before WW2 . There he had a selling gallery and began to collect , partly through his friendships with contemporary artists like Picasso . He brought himself & his collection back to Berlin after WW2 once he had ‘made his peace with Germany ‘ . The nice thing is that unlike modern collections by millionaires all the pieces are room and house sized – you could imagine the 2D works hung in any normal room and the 3D in an entrance hall . They have thus arranged the works in smallish (for a gallery) rooms so that you can go all the way round and then on to the next room without getting lost . Once finished with a floor you are back at the attractive spiral staircase to decide whether to go up or down , all clearly signposted . I was pleased to see Giacometti’s cat .

Only it was actually displayed near the low ceiling so I was looking up at it – as if on a garden wall ?

The revelation was really the Paul Klees . I had not seen any of them in reproduction but then they were (with 1 exception) not in oils which seems to count for so much . So , ink drawings , lithographs , watercolours – floors of them so here is a randomized sample :






On the highest Paul Klee floor was this Alexander Calder mobile which demonstrated what I hadn’t ever noticed before – the obvious influence of Klee on Calder . At first I thought it was a Klee venture into 3D and wondered why I didn’t know about it !

2 The Pergamon Museum

This was in the throes of renovation like the Altes museum on the same square . As I understand it the Pergamon has archaeological stuff from the ancient Near East and the Altes ‘antiquities’ from Classical Greece & Rome but there was definitely Roman stuff in the Pergamon too . Anyway we were there to see the famous Ishtar Gate and something called the Aleppo Room . Here is the first :

I have seen photos before but they hadn’t prepared me for its size – so maybe this won’t either for anyone reading ! It is huge , beautiful and awe-inspiring . The facing is glazed brickwork in golden yellow , white , green , blue and turquoise – the last 3 giving the dappled effect to the background behind the animals . I was interested that the turquoise bricks were clearly the characteristic copper-alkaline colour first used in Egypt for faïence and later known as mohamedan blue for its ubiquity in Islamic pottery . I’m sure I read that the Babylonians didn’t have it then (~600BCE) , the technical brilliance exhibited by the glazed bricks being put down to control of firing . It would have been simple – they traded with Egypt and must have had copper salts available to get the bright green glaze which would have been high in lead salt based fluxes . To get the turquoise to sky blue you would use a much higher proportion of alkaline salt fluxes to lead . Attempting completely lead-free glazes is a very modern concern . Anyway the Ishtar gate was the southern gate of Babylon leading to a processional way echoing the design of the gate . This has been partly reconstructed as well ;

I can’t remember how long it was originally but it was 30m wide ! I don’t know who if anyone gave permission for all this and other parts of buildings to be moved to Germany but I guess they had as much right as colonial rulers like the British & French . Certainly German archaeology was very important in the Middle East in the late 19C & early 20C .





This is the ‘Aleppo Room’ which turns not to be part of a palace but of the house of a Syrian Christian merchant . I can’t remember the date of it (!) but it is painted wood with Biblical texts in Arabic . From the style I’d hazard 13C – 15C ? It has been reconstructed in a room with temperature and humidity control and then put behind glass walls so that you can walk right in and look at the work fairly closely although photographs are rather difficult as you can see .

3 Galerie im der Körnerpark

This was very near the Airb’n’b flat we were staying in in Neukölln in a tiny little park which nevertheless had a fountain and café which was just closing as we visited . The little contemporary art gallery is open until 8pm – most days I think .

Nika Oblak & Primoz Novak

This exhibition entitled ‘And now for something completely different’ – which I can’t remember seeing anywhere – consisted of a series of videos showing on the front of boxes most of which have elastic rather than rigid sides . In each video at some point the action on the screen escapes the box or attempts to . Eg in the above still the pair have unfurled the ‘reality’ banner onscreen and when they lift it up it appears above the screen as it is disappearing from the video space . The pieces here go all the way from fun to disturbing . My son’s rather good idea was that the first one done must have been when the pair try to escape from the box and you see perfectly synchronized stretched points appear in the elastic sides and top as they punch & kick . When she bangs on the front the glass does not move but you hear a ‘ting’ sort of sound . I think that video is the best &/or the most paranoid .

So just 177 museums/galleries to go for the next visits……

Posted in Drawings, Figurative sculpture images, non-figurative scupture, other artists, paintings | 2 Comments

Berlin 1 : 3 memorials

I was in Berlin with my son last week visiting an old friend who lives there and so was able to advise us on what not to miss – in only 4 days ! So here goes with the first instalment .


The first to be inaugurated in 2005 is that for the Jews killed by the Nazis ,








This was designed by the architect Peter Eisenman & the engineer Buro Happold and consists of 2711 concrete ‘stelae’ of varying heights covering the area of a city block . The ground they are on is not flat as you can see nor is the grid exact , although I did not walk far enough across it to notice the deliberate slight irregularity . The left hand picture shows the blocks nearest the edges where they resemble tombs and I was forcefully reminded that the death camp victims had none . As you walk further in it becomes like the right hand picture , more like a maze  . I was then reminded of b&w photos of the camps themselves – looming concrete buildings without windows , long corridors/passages going nowhere better . The overall effect of the place is both very grim and slightly off-kilter in the manner , I’m now reminded , of films influenced by German Expressionism or early Surrealism .

The next to be inaugurated in 2008 was that for gays killed by the Nazis . This was and is controversial but not to me . It was designed by Michael Elongreen & Ingar Bragset .







It is another concrete block set slightly askew with a window in it where a video is playing on a loop . This is apparently changed every few months . When we saw it there were various gay and lesbian couples kissing with abandon and affection including an elderly and an interracial couple . I loved this memorial . To me it said something about not being able to keep life & love down .

The most recent memorial (inaugurated 2012) is that for the Sinti/Roma killed by the Nazis .

This was designed by Dani Karavan . Outside the enclosure there is text explaining what happened to between 1/4 and 1/2 a million people usually known as gypsies . The ‘Sinti’ and the ‘Roma’ were the 2 biggest groups known to be in Europe at the time . The memorial takes the form of a black pool/mirror  with a narrow channel of running water encircling . At the edge is a poem ‘Auschwitz’ written by a Roma poet . The broken paving has some names on it , not many , and also names of the camps . The triangular centrepiece has a fresh flower put on it every day . This memorial seemed to me to be more about silence . Was this because the dead commemorated here left behind less written evidence ?

All 3 memorials are very near the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag – in itself impressive – think if the Houses of Parliament or Trafalgar Square had memorials to those massacred in the cause of Empire nearby ! Taken together I think these 3 very different public works are the most impressive I have ever seen . They affected me very much emotionally and I would recommend anyone in Berlin for even half a day to see them . I needed coffee afterwards to recover . Luckily in Berlin , as my son said , it seems to be illegal to make bad coffee !

Posted in non-figurative scupture, other artists | 1 Comment

Watercolour learning








These were the 1st two attempts at using real watercolours ie proper blocks with brushes & palette for plants in our garden . The photos are fairly bad – unfortunately I cannot remember if the flash was on or not so do not know what to avoid in future – and the plants unrecognisable . The 1st is some garden variety of narcissus with double inner , rather ragged trumpets in shades of red . It doesn’t look like the actual flower or what I remembered of them – by which I mean the effect I was intending to emphasise . The 2nd was a bush standing in a handy position for drawing/painting from the conservatory . The drawing is not too bad but the colours are wrong . I don’t have a black in my watercolour set of paint blocks so haven’t been able to get the leafy shadows dark enough or widen the range of pink/reds the leaves in sunlight displayed . So the contrast appears to be between only one pink and one green , with blotches . Actually the pink ranged from fuschia to maroon and the green from bright grass to black with an olive cast . Even on the actual picture there are 2-3 shades of each . Clearly I must go back to scanning everything directly into files . You get the best images of 2D work that way . And I was even given an A3 scanner as a present but haven’t set it up yet !

These three are courgette flowers based on photos . Even though the plants were all inside the conservatory I had to photograph them because the flowers close in less than an hour which is not time enough for drawing or painting them all . I quite like the results which have the   exuberance of colour with the look of having been carved into shape – like Art Nouveau lilies . In the 1st I tried to do a background – a mistake . Photos I take always seem to be full of irrelevant details and this time it was the background which was the distraction from what I was really interested in . Afterwards I took photos of the garden plants as they bloomed partly because they also tended to be at their best only briefly and also because I didn’t fancy struggling to draw/paint in a chilly spring & summer . Or maybe I was just lazy . Everyone else goes in for ‘reference’ photos quite successfully after all ! However I’ll try and use up what photos I have and do something else afterwards . Perhaps I could go back to my older idea of doing views out of each window or if I get more of the hang of watercolours do some more abstract stuff ? That’s what I did with trees and watercolour crayons for about 5 years – or was it less ? Anyway I’m more of a pattern maker than a ‘real’ painter , at least in 2D . And maybe all these will end up as fodder for collages like so much 2D before !

Posted in Drawings, paintings | 3 Comments

Ghisha Koenig – Machines Restrict their Movement

This is an exhibition in Gallery 4 (basically a small room) at the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds . There are 7 small scale sculptures (up to ~ 12″ high with bas-reliefs up to ~ 30″) mostly in bronze with some terracotta and plaster plus a long roll of detailed drawings on paper labelled ‘Tentmakers 1977’ .

Calendar Shop I 1970

Teabreak 1972

The Tentmakers 1979

When looking up more information about her and her work I found that a lot of her works are listed under a variety of titles as well as dates – which last could be casting dates of course . I have used the information on the labels .

The title is a quotation from her on her observation of industrial workers . She said that even at rest they retained the bodily stances required by the machines they usually worked with . This is reasonably described as a humanistic view but it isn’t very historic . Even pre-industrially people had characteristic body positions and injuries according to their work . And machines pre-date the industrial era anyway . It sounds a little romantic but doesn’t look it . Clearly the works are based on her detailed drawings and are excellent 3d renderings of people in an everyday context . Particularly with the small scale they remind me of nothing so much as Ancient Egyptian tomb figures eg .

Model Carpentry shop ~ 2000 BCE

This is a very pleasing exhibition and is on until August 13 .

Posted in Figurative sculpture images, other artists | 1 Comment

Useful proposal criticisms ?

I have just completed my 4th draft proposal for a practice-led PhD and having been advised to show them to other people wondered if anyone had any useful criticisms ?

Arranging things -4th draft word

PS – what I am talking about includes stuff like this :

” Prayer times in turquoise ” . A3 – collaged drawings in watercolour crayon & gold paint .

MA exhibition

Slipped , carved & glazed earthenware & handmade , machine embroidered felt hanging

I await any responses ……

Posted in ceramics, Drawings, non-figurative scupture, Textiles | 6 Comments


A few things to note before going to exhibitions next week (and I hope blogging about them) . Firstly my son has finished the first 2 wooden frames for my 2d work ;

Wood dragon & Blue/green paisley

The idea with (largely) his design was to find something that would be a signature frame for most of my work which tends to be watercolour crayon on A4 or A3 paper  and unsuitable for mounts . This would then advertise his workmanship too . I like these and think they are exactly right . I have found that 2d stuff without frames or at least mounts is practically unsaleable .

He suggested also that I should do a daily watercolour of the garden to catch the changing plants and seasonal colour . This would be fast and make me learn to work with watercolour paint & not just the crayons I am used to . At least if I pay attention mostly to the colour I will produce more fodder for collages ! Maybe I need more sizes of pad ?

I have also read a book he recommended  , “Hammer Head -The Making of a Carpenter” by Nina MacLaughlin . The author was a journalist who did Classics at university but became a carpenter because ‘something more immediate , more physical , more practical and tangible appealed to me , and had for some time .’ She also refers to Gabriel García Márquez’ saying ‘ultimately literature is nothing but carpentry’ before admitting a few sentences later that he had never done any carpentry himself ! She says ‘If he had , he’d know that a piece of wood is not the same as words . A wall is real ……Words are ghosty and mutable .’ Which I think anyone who works with physical material and their hands would understand .

Finally I am going to apply to do a PhD again . Overly stubborn or worse ? I won’t say much more until later on but nice people are helping me so I am hopeful .


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Albert Moore : Of Beauty & Aesthetics , York Art Gallery until 1st October

Another rewarding exhibition – things are looking up ! I expected this to be akin to Frederick Leighton’s work or even Alma-Tadema’s – very staid late Victorian academicism with Arcadian settings excusing the semi nudity and lots of repressed eroticism à la Tennyson’s ‘A Dream of Fair Women’ . In fact Albert Moore’s work was a revelation . The labels associated him with Whistler (a close friend) , Leighton and 2 other erstwhile Pre-Raphaelites – Burne-Jones and Millais as part of the Aesthetic movement whose slogan ‘Art for Art’s sake’ is so much  part of the fin de siècle/ Wildean viewpoint . It does seem extraordinary that just as with Whistler the titles of his paintings should have been criticised , as subjectless (!)

A Garden 1869

Subjectless ? Apparently he often chose a title after the painting was completed and they are descriptive of the mood and colour rather than some moral lesson – just as with Whistler’s use of musical terms . I was also puzzled by the contemporary criticism of this female nude as androgynous :

A Venus 1869

Did critics think that normal women had wasp waists even when corsets were taken off ? Actually this reminds me of :

La Souce Ingrès 1856

Ingrès was a successful French painter (and so not popular now !) . His nudes are idealised of course but the 2 are the same body type and hardly androgynous , surely ?

Shells 1874

Moore’s  draughtsmanship is superb . This painting caught my eye because I could feel how her left hand is holding the muslin down . He did considerable preparation for each painting and many of these studies are exhibited alongside the finished works – which should be done more often . He did studies of the planned draperies with white chalk on brown paper and many drawings of the movement . In fact it has been suggested that the many paintings he did of sleeping and lounging figures was to give his exhausted models a rest after jumping off something or running across the studio floor repeatedly ! Certainly the figures never look like marble statues in costumes howevermuch he had studied the Parthenon frieze . In fact the colour palette and accessories are obviously ‘aesthetic’ . Note the overall warm colours in the exhibition with its preponderance of green and yellow and the anachronistic Japanese fans in the sumptuous ‘Midsummer’ , as well as his final work .

Midsummer 1887

I’m not convinced of his argued contribution to Impressionism or Abstraction because he seems to have been classically skilful at rendering surfaces as well as structure rather than inspired by photography or optics and his paint is not thickly applied at all . In some ways he could be seen as an Aubrey Beardsley in glorious colour and not so warped . They both have a wonderful line and appreciation of the possibilities of patterns . Look at this , Moore’s last painting :

A revery 1892

The exhibition also shows some work by his father and the 4 other brothers who became painters in one side room and then in another there are paintings and records of York School of Design (later Art & Design , later yet York Art School) which was opened in 1842 as the second provincial Design school in the UK and originally was within York Art Gallery . His father and the 5 brothers all taught &/or were taught there . So Albert Moore is a local boy .

Posted in other artists, paintings, Uncategorized | 1 Comment