Curated by Nevia Capello
Palazzo Albrizzi, Venice
06 June - 07 July 2014
“You musn’t think that a straight line is merely cold and rigid. Rather, you must draw it with great excitement and observe its course carefully. One moment it might be thin, the next quite thick, betraying a slight nervous trembling. Aren’t our big city landscapes simply mathematical battlefields? How the triangles, squares, rectangles and circles simply assault us on the streets. Straight lines shooting in all directions, points pricking us on all sides.”
Ludwig Meidner, Guide to Painting City Landscapes (1914).
The city has always been an attractive subject for artists. As late as the nineteenth century, the Veduta method of painting offered the only possibility for capturing the doings and dealings of a big city on canvas. The views, perspectives and panoramas created through this technique furnished a faithful copy of a particular city, complete with its buildings, streets, squares and districts, at a specific point in history. With the advent of new media such as photography and film, and new forms of artistic expression such as those realized by the impressionist, expressionist, surrealist and abstract movements, this representational function of painting has yielded in importance to a more individualized view of the city. The turmoil of the twentieth century, the numerous wars and genocide have altered many European cities beyond recognition. Symbols and images that were carved in stone for centuries have disappeared, and new ones are emerging to take their place.
Since the end of its division, Berlin has experienced tremendous changes. The wall that divided the city has vanished, has become a museum piece, and is only visible in some parts of the city centre as a mark in the pavement. Formerly desolate streets and squares have been transformed into a vibrant, lively city landscape in a few short years. A new wave of construction has changed entire districts in the city centre. A great deal has been renovated, and much more has risen from the ground seemingly overnight. In the 1990s, the ubiquitous excavations and cranes were clear proof of Berlin’s rebirth. New landmarks have emerged on the city skyline which serve as points of reference for tourists while adding to the Berliners’ own sense of identity.
Since the mid-1990s, the Italian painter Miresi, who lives in Milan and Berlin, has been an eyewitness to the radical changes to this city. She is fascinated by the energy and liveliness that Berlin exudes. In the series “Amando Berlino” (“Love in / for Berlin”), which comprises both large-format paintings and mixed-media pieces in smaller formats, Miresi explores the new architectural symbols of Berlin. She is overwhelmed by the transparent dome designed by Sir Norman Foster for the Reichstag, but also by the remarkable structure and wealth of forms in Daniel Libeskind’s Jewish Museum, and by the powerful experience of space conveyed by the skyscrapers on Potsdamer Platz.
Christo and Jean-Claude wrapped the Reichstag in the summer of 1995. In the years that followed, the Reichstag building was renovated by Sir Norman Foster, who redesigned the space to accommodate the German Bundestag. This neo-classical colossus marked the boundary between East and West during the Cold War. Traces of the building’s capture in 1945 can still be seen in the parliamentary corridors in the graffiti scrawled by Soviet troops. The building is crowned by a glass dome, symbol of the transparency and democratic identity of the new republic. Visitors can ascend a spiral stairway to the vertex of the dome and observe the Bundestag convening directly below them, or gaze out at the panoramic view of the new Berlin.
Daniel Libeskind’s Jewish Museum Berlin was attracting international attention even as it was being built. In both its outer form, with the fragmented metallic facade, and its inner structure, with the voids, the Holocaust Tower, the labyrinthine axes and the slanted Garden of Exile, the building gives expression to the memory of Jewish history in Berlin and its eradication during the National Socialist years.
For fifty years after World War II, the Potsdamer Platz, once the most vibrant spot in the entire city, existed in the shadows of world history. During the Weimar Republic the square had boasted the most vehicular traffic in all of Europe and symbolized the fast pace of the big city. It was completely destroyed in the war and then became part of the no-man’s-land sandwiched between two political systems. With its skyscrapers, shopping malls, hotels, restaurants, theatres and cinemas, today’s Potsdamer Platz is trying to reconnect with the vibrancy of a bygone metropolis. A new city has sprung up within the city, and visitors to Berlin are beginning to perceive it as the real city centre.
These buildings have all been photographed time and again. They offer proof that Berlin has risen again and have thus become indispensable to the city’s marketing campaign. Miresi takes these almost hackneyed motifs, which nearly everyone claims to have seen; and in her characteristic, harshly expressionistic style of painting, she turns them into plunging lines, dissolved structures and rough, coloured surfaces with sharp contours. Black dominates. This colour architecture is much more than a tangible reproduction of the real world: it is the expression of a sense of life, of an energy, a vitality that the artist perceives in the city’s atmosphere.
Colour has a certain emotional quality for Miresi. Fragmented, dark hues prevail over pure tones. The severe silver geometry of the Libeskind building shatters into a chaos of colour. The glass dome of the Reichstag is transformed into a dizzying carousel, and in the end all that remains of the skyscrapers at Potsdamer Platz—reduced to the minimum—are a few black, translucent lines. Miresi has emptied these places of all activity, has banished people and nature in order to emphasize the solitary power of architecture. In keeping with her credo "I, for one, don't feel any embarrassment at having practiced first the abstract and then the realistic; nor would I hesitate to be active on both sides of the divide simultaneously,” Miresi distances herself in her series “Amando Berlino” from the objectiveness of places and buildings. She turns to abstraction to capture the energies and vitality of Berlin and its new symbols. She who is most at home “on the go” between Berlin and Milan, thus experiences our city more originally, more closely than we—who live here constantly—could ever hope to.
Text: Helmuth F. Braun, Berlin, 2004
Translation: Jessica Nash