It’s an eyebrow raiser – there’s just no getting around it. To proclaim yourself the new Berlin painters, to come right out and say it, declaring your novelty while banging fist to chest in a city crawling with an ever-growing population of culture-scene hopefuls and Big Apple expats is more than just a little scandalous. Throw in a full-blown self-published manifesto with halftone headshots on the cover and you are bound to turn a few heads, raise a few pitchforks.
Embracing the momentary kerfuffle produced by the sixteen idealistic points outlined in their somewhat melodramatic manifesto, Midwest-born painter Paul Vogeler and German-local Moritz Hoffmann a.k.a. Dr. Moe, otherwise known as The New Berlin Painters, have come together to produce their first self-titled group show. Nestled on a sleepy Mitte street near Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz, the group’s exhibition opened June 8, 2012 at stattberlin, a small art space dedicated to new forms of art expression (read: emerging artists, site-specific projects, and work dedicated to political engagement) run by curator Delphine Marinier and performance artist Lan Hungh.
Moritz Hoffmann, Das Konstruierte Nichts, 2010, Charcoal, oil on canvas, 160 x 218 cm; Courtesy of the artist.
Framed by the contentious rhetoric in the text, the exhibition echoes this dissonance with the oppositional tunes sung by each of the two artists. The soporific monotones of Vogeler’s canvases stand nostalgic and demure in the face of Hoffmann’s heavy-handed, bold scrawls and expressionistic character renditions that focus primarily on geometric lyrical shapes and urban figures. Despite the near-militant challenges of the manifesto, Paul’s work is far more accessible and even empathetic in tone than his battle cries would suggest. His painterly technique is notably tender and he has an almost merciful sensitivity in the treatment of his subject matter, which are often meditations on lonely birches or solemn figures caught in melancholy weather that is most characteristically Berlin.
Paul Vogeler, Das Vaterland, 2012, oil on canvas, 200 x 200 cm; Courtesy of the artist
In an interview for Whitehot Magazine with Nadja Sayej of ArtStars*, Vogeler explained his motivations as stemming from a desire to engage with any and all on a purely emotional level, saying his landscapes first and foremost “convey a feeling or a shared sense of place.” In stark contrast to the expat artist’s formalist inclinations, Hoffmann’s style is more frantic than patient, but it’s clear that intuition and emotion are the obvious catalysts at work. Whereas Vogeler’s paintings manage to pronounce the muffled silence of snow or fog, Hoffmann introduces a crashing cymbal or crass lines of hip-hop, that lend to the brazen and rhythmic maneuvering of his work.
The duo has managed to position themselves in such a way that their controversial splash on the scene has arguably stolen more limelight than the work itself, setting the stage for two separate but related conversations to develop. Whether to judge this show by the merits of the canvases or its relation to the media blitz is an open point for public opinion to fully weigh in on. But based on the chutzpah demonstrated thus far by The New Berlin Painters, they seem prepared to respond in earnest either way.
(Image on top right: Moritz Hoffmann, Little Boy, 2011, Charcoal, oil on canvas, 215 x 220 cm; Courtesy the artist)