"There is tenderness only in the coarsest demand: that no-one shall go hungry any more" – Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia (1974: 156)
After the debacle of yesterday’s visit to the ‘open house’ degree show at the Weissensee Kunsthochschule (I will never look at a tabby cat the same way), I decided to check out two of my local galleries just up the road from where I live and across the street from the Schloss Charlottenburg. The first, the Museum Berggruen, houses the Berggruen private collection which includes a wide range of classical modernist works from Matisse to Klee. Over 100 works from Picasso are at the heart of the collection and provide an impressive overview of the artist’s evolving practice. I’ve been to the Museum many times and there are always a few new revelations. This time it was a touching painting from 1942 by Picasso entitled Schlafender while some of the later Klee works evinced a deceptive simplicity that I missed on previous visits.
The Museum across the street housed the Egyptian collection of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin until 2005. After a significant refit, the former royal stables which date back to the 1850s are now home to the Schaf-Gerstenberg Collection which focuses on 20th Surrealist work (Bellmer, Dalí, Ernst, Masson, Tanguy, Wols) but also places it within a wider context that includes work dating back to the 18th century and other important 20th century artists such as Dubuffet and Klee. The inclusion of earlier works by artists as different as Goya, Piranesi and Odilon Redon offers a clever backdrop to the advent of self-professed Surrealist practice in the 1920s. The collection also makes a very strong case for the salience of drawing within the wide range of working methods adopted by the Surrealists. Again, it was some of the late Klee works – themselves not especially wedded to Surrealist practice – that stood out. The simplicity of the 1931 image, flucht vor sich, was quietly heartbreaking as was a later 1940 painting completed just before the artist’s death. Wolfgang Paalen’s 1937 untitled work was similarly affecting and it was hard not to think about the nails hammered into the wooden frame of the picture without imaging the kind of violence that would soon come to engulf Europe and which had such a significant impact on the city of Berlin.