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  • Christian Hain

Not to Praise Less Pretty Priceless but Prize-less Princesses. Three Painting Awards at BG

(Berlin.) Berlinische Gallery, one of the city’s finest venues for contemporary art, has gone full painting, hosting not only one, but three, award shows. It might well be the hardest discipline in art today – not in market terms, painters still sell best, even the bad ones - but artistically spoken. It’s incredibly tough to define your own style, and stand out. You must be recognizable, and add something unique to what has arguably the richest history in art. Furthermore, the artworld expects you to have a message, not only the hands, but also the brains. Before talking about those laureates, let’s start with some basic facts. If you’re not unskilled in applying pigments on a framed support yourself, you’ll be much interested in these:

Hanna Höch Prize for Painting: Awarded by: The Federal State of Berlin. Jury: unknown/anonymous/civil servants. Rewarded with: €60.000 cash, plus a catalogue and an exhibition at a leading Berlin art institution. Eligibility: open to s̶e̶n̶i̶o̶r̶ ̶c̶i̶t̶i̶z̶e̶n̶s̶ veteran artists of sixty years and older (says Berlinische Gallery. Berlin State’s website disagrees: “no age limit”. It also says “€25,000”. If you should ever take it home, clarification would be welcome) and somehow connected to Berlin in their life and/or work. And no, it would not be a good idea to propose your auntie’s flowerful water colours – a serious art world CV is also needed. Where, and how, to apply: online, yourself.

Hanna Höch Prize is awarded every two years, alternating with its little brother, the Hanna Höch Förderpreis (Encouragement Award; Rookie of the Year).

Hanna Höch Förderpreis for Painting: Awarded by: The Federal State of Berlin. Jury (in 2016): Dr. Stefanie Heckmann, Head of the Fine Art Collection at the Berlinische Gallery, Birgit Effinger, Head of the Goldrausch project for women artists (and indeed, a woman won it. We’ll just have to assume, the reason were her painting skills and not her genes), and Dr. Wita Noack, Director of Berlin’s Mies-van-der-Rohe-Haus. Rewards: According to Berlinische Gallery: €20,000 cash, plus an exhibition and a catalogue. According to Berlin State’s website: €2,000 cash, plus a catalogue and an exhibition at a leading Berlin institution with combined production costs limited at €18,000. Eligibility: Berlin resident, no student, no catalogue raisonné. Where, and how, to apply: online, yourself.

Fred Thieler Prize for Painting: Donated by the estate of Informel artist Fred Thieler. Jury: partly composed of artists, in 2017: Valérie Favre, Katharina Grosse, Gerwald Rockenschaub, and completed by Udo Kittelmann (Director, Nationalgalerie Berlin), and Thomas Köhler (Director, Berlinische Galerie). Ka-ching: €10,000, a catalogue and a show at Berlinische Gallery.

The Fred Thieler Prize exists since 1992. Initially awarded annually, it’s now a biannual event. The committee is not shy to confess, the low interest rates on the foundation’s assets are a main reason for this. (Strange: European banks nowadays fine their customers for trusting them with their money - a so-called negative interest rate -, yet will not reward them with a bonus - a positive interest rate - for taking a loan. Would it not be just logical to reward somebody for unburdening you of your money, if you already fine him for giving you some?). Where, and how, to apply: unknown, your (dealer’s) network.

Finally talking about the winners, let’s start with the most experienced. Hannah Höch Prize awardee Cornelia Schleime began her career in the then socialist Eastern Germany before moving to Western Berlin in the 1980s, where she has lived ever since. You could almost call this show a retrospective, it covers all aspects of her work from large portraits to drawings, water colours, and collages with photography. East-Western German political history plays an important role, but there’s much more to discover. Schleime is definitely one of the better German painters.

The Encouragement Prize went to Tatjana Doll with exploding colours. Starting from photos - it feels like 98.5% of contemporary painters do this, or at least 98.5% of painting shows’ press releases claim they do; and BG’s wall text writer even copy-pasted another stockphrase: “mass culture of the Western world” - , she creates large formats in soft and bright colours. Occasionally you even recognize the underlying photos, Easter Island sculptures, The Incredible Hulk. Mostly, it’s colour explosions.

And finally, Swiss Christine Streueli, laureate of the Fred Thieler Prize For Painting. Sometimes, you see the works of an exhibition, and think, “I know this. I’ve seen it. But not from this artist.” And like with every déjà vu, you have no clue where, or when, or how, and if at all. I am –almost – sure, I’ve never seen a work of Christine Streueli’s before, yet I am very sure, I know these “Camouflage” paintings.

Not speaking of the obvious - with almost every painting you might just say “Richter” and not be wrong, simply because he’s done everything, but no, that’s not it. I’ve googled for contemporary abstract painters, I’ve read my old posts, or at least looked at the images, and still, I’m unable to tell, of whom this reminds me. If you know the answer, please be so kind and click “contact us” above.

Streueli collected war photos and covered them with many layers of abstract colour forms. You will hardly notice any trace of the horrors below (wooah, symbolic!). Often, it looks like collages, as if some parts were glued on top of others, but it’s all painting in sharp contours. No doubt, Christine Streueli is extremely gifted on the technical side.

A second series dates from 2002, and she’s never shown these small formats before. Technique and topic are quite similar: cut-outs from the NY Times decorated with sparse colours, and, here indeed, collages. It’s the naive, amusing, shocked and bemused, reaction of an artist who experienced the 9/11 attacks in New York first-hand, while preparing for a residency in a Muslim country, i.e. Egypt. She did not like the hysterics, the bloodthirsty reactions, the movie rhetoric. She brought them down to earth with ridicule. Humour is the weapon of the weak. It might be very simple, childish even – two surveilling police officers with added pig nose and ears, soldiers guarding chained prisoners with their lips painted red -, or more grown up – mourning women in front of no longer ruins, but abstract art. One could loose many words over this last one, on the most “American” style of painting that at the core is global and once was Islamic, on power and impotence, on the ir- and relevancy of art, &c.

One image has been recreated in an enlarged version for the occasion: By adding two red dots and a vertical line, smoke turns into a monster, an evil emoji. Taken for themselves, these elements visually point to adversity, a conflict, a frontier, a game of Ping-Pong, and two sides of an argument, or a medal.

And there’s still more at BG! No painting for a change, but an installation, or an exhibition of multiple installations seamlessly flowing together, of John Bock. The “German Matthew Barney” is indeed missing from Hamburger Bahnhof Museum’s great installation show. Instead, Berlinische Gallery shows this (almost) gesamtkunstwerk. Sometimes he’s great, sometimes he’s silly, but never boring. Soon, there will be screenings of Bock’s latest feature film. It promises the usual overload of neologisms, gore, and meaningful madness.

Fred Thieler Prize for Painting 2017 - Christine Streueli, 18 March-09 October 2017

Hannah Höch Prize 2016 – Cornelia Schleime, 25 November 2016-24 April 2017

Hanna Höch Förderpreis 2017 – Tatjana Doll, 25 November 2016-24 April 2017

World of Arts Magazine - Contemporary Art Criticism



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