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  • Christian Hain

Cowboys catch the German Mondrian - Adolf Fleischmann and Dieter Blum at Daimler Contemporary

(Berlin.) We came back for another show at Daimler Contemporary, and on second look we like Potsdamer Platz a lot better, not least since we’ve discovered adjoining Gleisdreieck park where you can sit in the sun (there’s a regrettable lack of shadow) and observe an army of street acrobats rehearsing their routine. Roughly hundred metres away, DC still resides on Huth House’s sixth floor - if we counted that right, climbing up the stairs instead of taking the lift, an exercise we cannot recommend to everyone. But it pays: many times we stopped to rest our fingers on the marble walls and the bronze (copper?) handrail, Pennone style (these materials breathe less than a tree, but that’s even better when it’s hot outside).

Adolf Fleischmann’s (1892-1962) abstract art evokes two associations today: Piet Mondrian and Tetris. L-blocks falling down the canvas or compositions in red, blue or yellow, occasionally even enclosed by the circles/ovals the Dutch legend loved so much. Other works feature thinner, and more, lines, in horizontal, vertical, constructivist, overlaid compositions. Fleischmann is occasionally called a precursor of op art, but that would be op art unplugged, without mirrors, motors and electricity. Most works at Daimler Contemporary date from around 1950, when an interesting career lay already behind him. Following an apprenticeship and first positions in advertising and design, Fleischmann turned to painting. In the nineteen thirties, he left for France before being actually persecuted for his non-fascist style. Later, in the mid 1950s, he settled in the US, but spent much time in Europe still.

Seen from a today’s point of view, Adolf Fleischmann’s art seems strikingly unobtrusive. It’s simply there, up on the wall, it blends into the environment, and there are few rooms you could not imagine a Fleischmann fitting in. Everything is aesthetic, but also laid back, distanced, unemotional, never disturbing. Fleischmann himself said, his roots in decorative arts had liberated him from the traditional values that were taught at art academies back then. Today you’d presume he only worked for the biggest brands with the widest target groups possible. A perfect guest in every room, Adolf Fleischmann is present but will never take the centre stage, he’s that decently dressed and average attractive guest at a party who makes you feel comfortable but won’t talk a word.

The name “Fleischmann” literally translates to “meat-man”, but nomen non est omen, there’s hardly a term less fitting than “meaty” (or “fle/ashy” – this is not Jenny Saville). The colours are harmless, the forms are harmless, you can never be angry with Fleischmann and his cool chic. It’s that kind of art you found on the walls of your Monte Carlo pied-à-terre when you bought it fully furnished for a bargain 10 Millions last year (you are a Daimler executive, right?) - the preferred art of every interior designer. Fleischmann is never revolting, there is no provocation, honestly: we cannot imagine anyone disliking this style. Nor loving it passionately (except those interior designers, maybe). At the worst you don’t care.

Every line is a small surface, Adolf Fleischmann declared. Also, how construction prevails form, and that lines are apt to provoke different emotions according to composition. He desired to bring colours, lines and forms in harmony.

There’s a link to music, you could interpret these lines as staves, horizontal or vertical, especially in the Tryptichon series, but it would be elevator music we imagine. The Metamorphosis and Totem series seem more interesting, with black tones dominating. They have been executed a little later, in 1963/4 when the artist was afflicted by serious illness and returned to live in Germany for about a year (he definitely repatriated shortly before his death).

Then again, who said art needs to be disturbing?

The exhibition is interrupted by an installation (Andreas Schmidt, Clearings, 2009/15): In an aery play of light, flood lights, or neon flowers, are swaying in the (non existent) wind, grounded in a Zen garden of white pebbles. An astonishing work, electrically changing tones in pink, turquois, white and crème.

Also a vitrine with books, catalogues, magazines and works by Hartmut Böhm, as we eventually found out on leaving Daimler, leafing through the catalogues on the counter – there’s no label at the vitrine, and more probably than not patrons will mistake it for unexpected experiments by Fleischmann. We loved a great white board with white plates in different angles fixed onto it, a Fred Sandback catalogue, and a board game like piece with three golf balls, tape roller and dices (somehow reminded us of Robert Filiou). All very white indeed. Judging from that Hartmut Böhm catalogue, we’d much rather see a show of his.

Finally you step through authentic saloon doors and arrive in a place where a man’s still a man, the whiskey comes with ice and the endless night sky carries a spangled banner. Dieter Blum is a photographer whom you know if you’ve been alive between 1994 and 2004 when he provided the images to the omnipresent Marlboro campaigns; photographs later to be appropriated by Richard Prince. In 1992, Blum’s recruitment test involved a shooting excursion in the west, the resulting images we may admire at Daimler Contemporary today: A whole bunch of Marlboro men, real cowboys working really hard, tough guys with moustaches riding topless through the snow or past assaulting shaft towers. Magnificent close up portraits where every face tells a story or sings a country 'n' western song. When three men in a tub hold tight to their horses, Brokeback Mountain seems not far away. Less serious than Robert Adams, Blum has a great eye for composition, too. We never knew how much a Harley shares the silhouette of a horse, till he showed us. “A horse walks into a bar...” is a reality in these pictures, literally; and behold those white’n’blue skies, only the more impressive for us townsfolk who cannot distinguish sunset from -down! This is ‘Murica when it was great, as it will never be again, yippee. Only the guns are missing, and so’s the Jack, or Jim (and the Donald maybe). Perhaps Philipp Morris‘s art director deemed them unfitting, not in line with their brand values, y'know. In times when every smoker is an outlaw, the nostalgia that surrounded these documents of an undead culture from the start, even gains another dimension. There's also a TV documentary running with the volume turned up to max; don’t use the headphones, lest you’ll destroy your hearing.

Both artists, Adolf Fleischmann and Dieter Blum were born in the beautiful (? -we’ve never been there, but it’s a small medieval town in Southern Germany) Esslingen, close to Stuttgart, and enjoyed much success in the US. Got the link to Daimler Contemporary?

When you mention a brand name, you’re supposed to name at least one competitor too. If you don’t get paid for that mention, you’ll even do it willingly. Thus, if you have some more time to spend, we recommend a visit to Volkswagen World on Friedrichstrasse for automobile exhibits of all the corporation’s brands, and not a single diesel. A Bugatti racing prototype is not exactly a work of art, but at least it caters to the same target group as a gallery.

Adolf Fleischmann, Restrospective, 30 April-06 November 2016

Dieter Blum, Cowboys - The first shooting 1992, 30 April-06 November 2016



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