After its revolutionary beginnings in 1912-25, and the explosive genius of Pollock and Rothko in 1947-70, few would dispute that abstract painting was the supreme, dominant form of advanced painting in the last century. But since the turn of the millennium, abstraction has been pushed to the sidelines as the need to affirm identity and lived experience has driven figurative and representation art towards a stunning comeback. Has the golden era of abstraction passed for good? Or could abstract art be ready to make a comeback?
According to Friedhelm Hütte, Global Head of Deutsche Bank Art and the curator of the current exhibition Ways of Seeing Abstraction, the swing back to abstract is “already here” – we just have to learn a new way of appraising it, a new way of seeing it. Featuring works by Gerhard Richter and Carlos Cruz-Diez as well as younger artists like Kerstin Brätsch, the exhibition at Berlin’s Palais Populaire celebrates the “astonishing number of younger artists who are drawing from the vast treasury of abstract art from the last two centuries”.
Such experimentation is exemplified in the work of Kapwani Kiwanga, a Canadian-born artist. Kiwanga’s use of pink and blue pastel colours, Hütte explains, reflects the language of abstraction by “exploring how colour is used in society, how colour is used as a psychological tool in such public places as hospitals”.
The exhibition of around 150 works have all been selected by Hütte from the colossal Deutsche Bank collection – the largest corporate collection in Germany and one of the largest in the world.
“I could have made six or seven different shows,” he says. Even an exhibition dedicated solely to German artists would have been possible, Hütte admits, but he decided against it: “Abstract art is a language of the world, and this was a chance to show the variety of works from many different backgrounds to reflect the international focus of the collection.”
The title of the exhibition is taken from the late John Berger’s seminal 1972 work Ways of Seeing, which criticised traditional Western aesthetics. Hütte notes that Berger “did not include one abstract work of art in his little book” – but what did interest him was the “many ways there are to look at art, and the many ways artists are looking at the figurative world and transforming it”. It is that freedom, that subjectivity of seeing that ensures the enduring appeal of abstraction. A point we will be able to appreciate ourselves when Hütte’s very personal selection of abstract art is unveiled later this month.
Ways of Seeing Abstraction | through Feb 2022 | Palais Populaire, Mitte