Taking over the entirety of the Hamburger Bahnhof space, this vast exhibition consists of over 150 works taken from the Nationalgalerie’s inventory. Hello World declares the curatorial aspiration to explore what the collection might be like had “a more cosmopolitan understanding of art informed its beginnings”. A worthy and relevant premise at a time when German cultural institutions and politicians are putting the question of colonial art and artefacts firmly on the agenda. In an attempt to address problematic colonial period objects in the collection, a number of them are shown alongside works by contemporary artists. Works by Indonesian photographer Octora respond to mid-19th-century ethnographic pictures taken in Jakarta, while Balinese painter Gede Mahendra Yasa’s canvases are displayed next to 1930s paintings from his homeland. The contrast of these newer works and the old pieces effectively highlights the earlier sitters’ and artists’ anonymity, telling of their objectification and exploitation at the time.
Another one of the exhibition’s 13 chapters, titled “The Human Rights of the Eye. A Pictorial Atlas for the Marx Collection”, unfortunately fails to address the sexist bias of the collection’s assembly: it shows what appears to be a 1980s boys club love-in. Presented is not only an enormous Beuys installation alongside Cy Twombly, Julian Schnabel, Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol, but also a sycophantic circle of worship with a portrait of Beuys by Warhol and a Schnabel work titled Rebirth (the Red Box) Painted After the Death of Joseph Beuys. The text explains these works were donated from a private collection, but it seems the curators haven’t done much to break up the penis party.
Some of the more contemporary works in the main hall do serve the curatorial theme better: Duane Hanson’s 1967 sculpture Policeman and Rioter depicting a white police officer kicking a black man curled up on the ground is sadly ever-relevant. Mladen Stilinovic’s 1992 An artist who cannot speak English is NO artist boldly challenges Anglo- American cultural supremacism while Pierre Bismuth’s 2002 The Jungle Book Project plays with national clichés by overdubbing the animal characters’ dialogue with different languages.
As much as many of the works here are interesting in their own right, for a collection founded in 1861 it’s perhaps unavoidable that rather than achieving a “cosmopolitan understanding of art”, this exhibition serves mainly as a spotlight on the sexist and racist prejudices of its earlier acquisition policies.
Hello World, Revising a Collection Apr 28-Aug 26