Mollie and I opened our art exhibit at the Loveland Museum-Gallery last weekend. In this post I will share my opening comments for those of you who wanted to be there but couldn’t make it. Many thanks to those of you who did come – you certainly made it a special evening for us! Art is, after all, a communal undertaking.
Of course I can’t help but do a little embellishing along the way, but here’s the gist of what I said:
First I want to say that Mollie and I are inexperienced travelers, and we claim no expertise in things German. What follows are simply our observations and contemplations around our wonderful visit to Germany.
Mollie and I chose to title our exhibit, Zeitgeist, which means “spirit of the times.” Why Zeitgeist?
Well, it strikes us that the spirit of our times has to do with unity, community, and communion. This is what we’re all seeking, to some degree. We’re all now familiar with the idea of the world getting smaller, and the reality that international communication has become ridiculously easy and cheap. For me, it’s like a miracle that I regularly sit at my dining room table and communicate with people around the world. The fact that this art exhibit grew out of an unexpected international friendship initially set the tone for our show. Our trip was only made possible by the generosity of friends here at home, and especially by the generosity of the Taube family in Germany.
When we arrived in Germany, we saw the human urge to create community, to varying degrees, visibly expressed everywhere. It seemed that everywhere we went, we were surrounded by the smoldering reminders of someone’s attempt to create a better, unified world. I happen to be fascinated with utopian idealists and their visions. I say this without a hint of sarcasm. It seems obvious to me that the world is broken and that there is something terribly wrong with the human condition. I believe we’re all seeking unity between Man and God, between Man and Man, and between Man and Nature. I would guess that all of us are giving our energies to one or more of these pursuits. I give utopian visionaries props for at least trying to make the world a better place.
But there is a maddening paradox.
Part of what fascinates me about studying utopian human movements, ideologies, and isms is how they seem to always go horribly wrong. Despite the best intentions of men & women, our plans to make the world a better place often create a situation worse than what existed before. The worst examples of this are seen in political revolutions carried out “for the good of the people” that have often resulted in the bald slaughter of the people they claimed to liberate. It’s astonishing how good intentions can go so wrong.
Germany’s tumultuous, world-shaping history is extraordinary, profoundly contributing to the world both for better and for worse. This tension is reflected in the paintings here, to varying degrees:
With Nazism and World War 2, much of Germany was destroyed, and the entire country has been tirelessly rebuilding ever since; reconstructing its old historic structures, as well as creating new ones, often blending the very old with the very new. Several of Mollie’s watercolors feature the reconstructed St. Mary’s Cathedral in Lubeck, which was extensively bombed on the night of Palm Sunday in 1942. It’s important to note that Germany’s massive reconstruction campaign is not designed to cover over and forget the unspeakable horror of Nazism. Often the ruins of the war have been left as a monument, or documented with public placards, so that future generations will never forget what occurred.
Other structures are reminders of the remarkable positive contributions that Germany has given the world. My painting, Coexistence of Centuries #2 shows St. Michael’s Church in the town of Luneburg, rising up behind the harmonious modern architecture in the foreground. Johann Sebastian Bach sang soprano as a choirboy in this church from 1700 to 1703. St. Michael’s, which opened in 1409, has stood through the invention of the printing press and the Renaissance, the Reformation, two world wars, the fall of the Iron Curtain, and German re-unification.
After the Second World War, Germany was split in two by Communism. The city of Berlin suffered a bizarre fate, becoming engulfed behind the iron curtain, making West Berlin an isolated island of freedom well inside of East Germany. Stories abound. Though the Berlin Wall is now gone, city planners have marked and memorialized where it once stood, so that it is impossible to go through the city without seeing the remains of the utopian Communist experiment gone wrong in the midst of a now re-unified Germany. Two of my paintings resulted from a midnight walk in Berlin where I watched gentle people enjoying the night hours on Alexanderplatz, the site of the largest anti-government demonstration in GDR history, just days before the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. I’ve posted thoughts on these paintings here and here.
Our German hosts also took us to visit the site of a much smaller utopian experiment. In the town of Worpswede, an artist from Bremen named Heinrich Vogeler joined an artist community in 1894. The next year he bought a cottage there and named it Barkenhoff, (which means birch tree cottage.)
I took this quote from the museum exhibit:
“Upon returning to Worpswede, disillusioned by his experiences in the first World War and highly politicized, Heinrich Vogeler tried to create a “new world” at his Barkenhoff. Here a commune was supposed to realize his social utopia of a self-governing society without class structures and private property – an ambitious experiment that was to fail after a few short years.”
After the failure of the commune, apparently due to various human infidelities, Vogeler joined the Communist party, his art became propagandistic, he emigrated to Russia, and was eventually deported to Kazakhstan where he died, sick and destitute.
Mollie and I have also included our personal visions of unity, community, and communion in the exhibit. My triptych, The Wall Remaining, quotes tragic medieval iconography, and looks forward to what I believe will be a new unity emerging between the Synagogue and the Church. We shall see. I will post on this painting in detail later.
One of my favorite pieces of Mollie’s is a large piece (4×5 ft) entitled, Jacob’s Ladder #8. She has painted several variations on this theme over the years. It refers to ideas of unity and communion in that the biblical theme of Jacob’s Ladder ultimately has to do with uniting heaven and earth. She has posted on this theme on her art blog, here.
“Zeitgeist – Paintings Inspired by Germany” will be open through Feb 23, 2014 at the Loveland Museum-Gallery in Loveland, Colorado – 503 N. Lincoln Ave – 970.962.2410 – http://www.LovelandMuseumGallery.org. Admission to the Foote Gallery is free.