Stereotypically the Germans are known for ordnung, rigidness and perfectionism. The new Saatchi Gallery show ‘Gesamtkunstwerk: New Art From Germany’, though, shows a funkier side of the Germans.
One of the shows highlights was Isa Genzken’s extravert, bizarre columns of architectonic structures. ‘Urlaub’ was compiled out of mass produced products such as toy soldiers, Teletubbies, silver prawns, a wine glass sufficiently large in which to serve a Nebuchadnezzar, a tennis racket and a plastic palm tree leaf. Taking a closer look at the products positioned on the column – also called ‘Junk tower’ – it was as though they were randomly placed but, I reckon, are as meticulously placed as the mixed materials in Paul McCarthy’s spectacular installation ‘Pig Island’, currently exhibited at Hauser & Wirth.
Other notable works were Georg Herold’s elongated, elegant, horizontal, Giacometti-like figures and Stefan Kürten’s detailed paintings of modern houses that, where properties seem to be abandoned by the owners as due the unkempt nature of the garden, architecture and nature coalesce.
These days art is becoming more and more interactive. Great examples of this include the ‘11 Rooms’ exhibition organized at the Manchester Art Gallery with ‘live art pieces’. One of the highlights was ‘Ann Lee’ where the viewers were asked surreal questions posed by an eight year old girl embodying a magna character with a robotic voice. ‘Ann Lee’ was the brainchild of the German artist Tino Sehgal who was not included in ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’, but which also included some participatory artworks. ‘Mirror Wall’ was a playful work by Jeppe Hein that featured a large mirror that begins to move when it is approached, thereby creating a distorted mirror image of the viewer. Also part of ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’ were the fantastical expressive coloured woodcuts of deceivingly friendly Cirque du Soleil characters by the Romanian twins Gert & Uwe Tobias who live and work in Cologne and who are also currently showing at Maureen Paley.
Charles Saatchi became known to the public with the 1997 show ‘Sensation’. All the artworks in the show were from Saatchi’s collection and it included the first works of today’s leading British artists including Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, Marc Quinn and the Chapman Brothers. Saatchi’s taste in art is quite provocative, bold and ‘loud’. ‘Sensation’ caused quite a controversy as it included Marcus Harvey’s, ‘Myra’, a portrait of the child killer Myra Hindley composed of hundreds of copies of child’s handprint. Despite protests of the mother of a victim and even Myra Hindley herself, who asked for the painting to be removed, it remained hanging.
The German opera composer Richard Wagner, was one of the first to introduce the term Gesamtkunstwerk in two of his essays when he speaks of “his ideal of unifying all works of art via the theatre”. Saatchi’s ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’ is not as provocative as ‘Sensation’ but with ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’ Saatchi and his curators have orchestrated an exhibition that introduces the public to a more expressive, wilder, extravert and informal side of Germany.
Written by Thierry Somers with a contribution by Marie Drysdale
Images: Gert & Uwe Tobias, Untitled (detail), 2009, Woodcut on paper on canvas, 4 panels, 200 x 1200 cm
Georg Herold, Untitled2010, 
Batten, canvas, lacquer, thread and screws, 120 x 420 x 165 cm
Isa Genzken, Urlaub2004
, glass, lacquer, plastics, metal, wood, photograph, 227 x 165 x 55 cm
Saatchi Gallery, Gesamtkunstwerk: New Art From Germany, 18th Nov 2011 – 30th Apr 2012, London.