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Does Berlin painting have a gender problem?

Compared to other art centres around the world, Berlin's painting scene seems to still be boys' club. Fridey Mickel takes stock of the situation in light of Corinne Wasmuht’s new exhibition at AdK starting on Fri, Jul 4.

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Fridey Mickel takes stock of the situation in light of Corinne Wasmuht’s new exhibition at AdK.

Last spring, Berlin delivered a large helping of painting in the exhibition project “Forever Painting!”. As I went to the respective shows, my excitement changed to fear as I kept asking myself again and again: is this it? Despite a few good points, it overall was a frightening look at how painting is officially viewed in berlin. What fascinated me was how straight-on the curating was: male painters in the big Neue Nationalgalerie, women cordoned off in the “female show” at the less prestigious Deutsche Bank Kunsthalle. WTF?

After travelling to other cities and seeing how their art centres function, I cannot quench my undying questions about how painting is seen and presented in the so-called world art capital of Berlin. In Helsinki, for instance, painters are just painters. One group, not separated by sex. The women are seen as just as big rock stars as their male counterparts.

Enter the Akademie der Künste and Corinne Wasmuht’s recent acceptance of the Käthe Kollwitz Prize. In the last years, the AdK has lost a bit of its clout, due to its focus on staying true to artistic tradition. Yet, instead of this making the organisation boring or impotent, it actually makes it one of the biggest things in Berlin to watch. How does the old regime foster change in the face of Berlin’s status quo? It holds to its britches, awarding the prestigious prize to a very interesting and grounded artist such as Corinne Wasmuht.

Wasmuht straddles the line between typically ‘male’ and ‘female’ painting. The physicality 
of her approach has less in common with that of her female contemporaries such as Antje Majewski’s poppy ‘zombie formalism’, relating more with ‘animalistic’ male painters from art tradition such as Anselm Kiefer. Don’t let the pastels trick you, people! This girl can paint. The works are something to be seen, not on the internet or a catalogue, but in a large room so one can witness the rawness of her painting up close.

This show needs to be seen for its controversial qualities, for its potential to shake things up. It breaks the mold of the typical female painter and somehow applies her at the same level as the male. Yet this comes not from an over-hyped public relations endeavour, but rather from the quiet strength of Wasmuht’s painting persona. She attacks each canvas physically, keeping an eye on the details of every centimetre of the work. It bears wonderful witness to the truths about painting and should not be missed!