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Berlin: the well-travelled genius of Ackermann

By on March 25, 2014
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Franchesca Hashemi is a journalism student who has lived in Glasgow’s West End for five years. Arising from her recent visit to Berlin, this article explores conceptual art in a city that’s become it’s modern champion – Berlin.

Franz Ackermann is a German-born, Berlin-based but nomad-made painter, illustrator and installation artist. His latest exhibition, Hills and Doubts, is a spatial concept constructed for the Berlinische Galerie of Modern Art, which runs until the end of March (2014).

Hills and Doubts embodies the best of Ackermann. It plays on the relationship between murals, oil paintings and photographs while powering the key theme of tourism, which the artist sees as a form of globalisation. The initial concept was to create one giant mural across a continuous wall section. The outcome is a series of murals framed against a precise backdrop of graphics and tilted panelling.

There are connotations of pop-art montage here, with the sublime colours and contrasting personalities of each piece. Or, we recognise similarities in the hazardous yet beautiful cut n’ paste of Henri Matisse – Hills and Doubts is so forcefully abstract we can’t help but think ‘genius’.

Yet influence for the Berlinische design comes from 15th century artist Joachim Patinir, who created panoramic landscape paintings during the Northern Renaissance. His work, like Ackermann’s, subjects the environment. It may be a warped perception or decent replica, all we know for certain is that while the image filters through artist then viewer’s eyes it champions the idea of an old philosophy in new art.

The spatial premise of Hills and Doubts boasts modern significance. Twentieth century Situationist art at it’s finest, Ackermann has cemented a reputation for making good use of colossal spaces. Standing at 50 metres high by 10 long, Hills and Doubts are lucidly coloured.  Surprisingly this has a calming yet catastrophic feel, with the overall perception of the installation being distorted – regardless of how we try to view it. The idea is emphasised with the slightest shift of a viewer’s stance, as they capture the intensity of smaller details.

The shocking pink fairground scene becomes lost and entangled in a web of intricity. The detailing paint is a form of expressionism, which Ackermann says reflects the world wide web. It’s the manner we choose to communicate and portray ourselves. Also leaving our personal personality open to social media’s interpretation.

A particularly poignant image lies on the largest format canvas, strung in the midst of Hills and Doubts: a shopping mall labyrinth with wide stepped panatone escalators. It’s dominance is glaringly obvious and highlights a brutal consumerism second-nature to ideas linked with mass money. Ackermann, speaking on the launch night in February, said: “This mural is high up under the ceiling, hung more like a monitor, tilted in a very aggressive way.” 

Amidst the luminosity, the finishing on the canvas has a subdued, gleaming and tackless effect. As the viewer stands before the mural, the situation is reminiscent of a consumer overwhelmed by a variety of objects, colours and items. Desert of humans the piece loses reality and almost bends at the sides. The viewer – or consumer – peers from beyond the fishbowl in a mediated glaze, ascending or descent from the steps above, waiting to be taken via the next level.

It circumferences Ackermann’s lifelong subjectivism to the arts, with major focus on globalisation. He sees, we see, but who is right? It’s a philosophical endeavour and cosmologically apt, however the fact remains at some point the images on the wall were looking at Ackermann, albeit from a different environment. He is said to have taken inspiration from India and Tarlaba??, photographing segments of the trip and reproducing the images with mixed media. Varnished pictures from abroad are layered on top of a hilly microcosm of art. Its frequency catapults with each wall that’s viewed. Some smaller murals, like the neon yellow ball, are pretty little things, but again, when viewed close up, hoard a wealth of meanings.

Today we call this style environmental art, conceptual or abstract. However the most accurate definition of Ackermann’s work is hard to coin. It’s easier to think of his famous mind mapping technique which plays on the Berlin-based artist’s seasoned travel. Foreign destinations provide the springboard to documenting a cultural landscape; an apt way to document reality. The artist sees tourism like colonialism, where armies of travellers board the same entity to reap the benefits of a dutiful war: package holidays, gap years and ‘unique’ city breaks.

It hones the Western ideal of taking power to foreign destinations, the dominance which is felt in many of the Hills and Doubts. Lest we forget this is not a sad piece of work. It is monumental in showcasing what we each cannot see. Technicolour abstractions and opposing size formats represent a a urban scene. It is all but perception.
Ackerman’s final words are: “The fact remains, over a certain period of time we’ll paint over it with white again. It’s like a metaphor saying: ‘we do appear, but we disappear’.”

Pics courtesy of Berlinische Galerie of Modern Art

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