MUSEUMART.PLUS: Art and light in the heart of the Black Forest
In search of one of the most beautiful and exceptional private collections of contemporary art in Europe ... Or when passion and audacity give rise to a unique museum.
It's in a small town with an unlikely name, on the eastern edge of the Black Forest in Swabia, that I discovered the breathtaking Biedermann collection and its treasure trove: the MUSEUMART.PLUS [link1_Doc1: MUSEUMART.PLUS]. The most beautiful discovery and the strongest artistic emotion that I have had the chance to experience in recent years. A discovery. An enchantment. The beginning of a very long tale of love and artistic dialogue that I would experience in the current and future exhibitions.
Once upon a time: the Sculpture path…
Step into the Story of Forms and Colours that an inspired magician created in the heart of a park where a wind of creativity never stops blowing... Once upon a time, in the heart of the Black Forest, there was a dream that turned to stone. And light. And discovery.
My intimate and fascinating journey begins at the end of a morning in April, between baroque embellishments and the fluid serenity of water, by following the sandy path that marks the entrance to the estate. I have no idea what I am going to find... two hours of driving in the cool early morning led me from Freiburg - the other one, the mirror city, the vessel of grey molasses and black legends of the Zähringen in Üechtland – to Freiburg im Breisgau, along the banks of the Rhine. Before turning east towards Donaueschingen. Pale, early spring sun and blossoming orchards, a landscape quickly turned idyllic. To the point of choosing to block out by simply refusing to acknowledge them, the drab buildings and shopping centres, the ugly roundabouts and uninspiring tourist signs. In the streets of the sleepy little town, a sudden sensation that I was going back in time. I drive along ochre walls and horse pastures and the remaining buildings of the old princely court before reaching the imposing monument dedicated to the source (the accepted but in fact, not the real one) of the Danube. I then pass the faded back of the rococo castle, refurbished in the late 19th century and the post-Tridentine opulence of the church adjoining it. And finally I turn left onto old cobblestones down to the Brigach River. I pass Reiter, the confectionery, and the brewery on the right. Over the bridge toward the station, and then an immediate left turn. I park on the street (and remember to put my parking disc in the window so I don’t get fined) and walk along the water toward the MUSEUMART.PLUS, which is well sign posted.
The Journey to Otherworldliness started with my first steps under blossoming cherry trees: look! Here: a sculpture of metal and mirrors between the branches of the first tree... Art, Creativity and Nature in symbiosis. Reflecting, complementing and interacting with each other: this is the first work of the Korean artist Jinmo Kang that welcomes the visitor. In the water, a funny wading bird, huge: tubes of metal crowned with a gigantic, bright, half-melted toffee, dripping onto its chrome feet with the gummy texture of a tarpaulin. Fascinating, disturbing. Inspiring. Surprising and explosive. And yet perfectly at home in this setting of water, stones and branches where it lights up at night: it’s ‘GULFF’, UFO or poetic creature with an intriguing presence by Paul Schwer. Further along, on the barren esplanade: a rust-coloured iron giraffe... or a mutation between a tower crane and a lanky extra-terrestrial? A giant stick insect? Wait—an eerie flash of lightning transcends the sky: it's David Nash's ‘Lightning Strike’. And, further on, it’s Jinmo Kang again with ‘TreePortrait’ and ‘StonePortrait’: the Tree and the Stone, transformed by the metal and the hand of the artist to claim their place in space and time.
A spot of light for an intimate dialogue between art and visitors
Just like certain moments, certain encounters, there are also timeless places. Not just outside of time, no, but interlaced with doors between the worlds, cultural spaces, periods, atmospheres. Unique and numerous at the same time. Obvious. And different. The small neo-classical palace that is home to the museum is certainly one of them. Yet it needed the eye and the talent of Margit Biedermann to separate it from the grey rags and architectural vicissitudes accumulated since its construction around 1846. In limbo again, it was literally waiting to be reborn. Its birth, however, was predestined: in southern Germany, which, still imbued with the spirit of Enlightenment, was in a frenzy over the beginnings of Sturm und Drang*. Passionate about classicism, in love with Nature but also with Knowledge, Science and the Arts, the Muses of whom this delightful ‘museion’ is dedicated to. It had a reading and dining room, library and billiard room, and a sumptuous ballroom of cream and gold with chandeliers of glistening crystals; the perfect setting for a Kleist novel**... Is that not, by chance, the ghost of the Marquise of O... dressed in an Empire dress, floating across the waxed floor on the arm of a dashing officer? Yes, over there, near the big white unicorn, powerful and conspicuous, its horn stuck in a wall of gold reflection. A work by Friedemann Flöther made of polystyrene foam and white lacquer. No kitsch, no bling-bling, no fashion effect... without any offence meant to the worshippers of sycophantic publicity stunts involving formalin-infused sharks and balloon dogs: a work chosen with attention to detail and talent. Yes, a unicorn. And yes: it is exactly where it should be. Neither insipid nor incongruous. But in perfect harmony.
Ode to Outrenoir
The renovation of this building is a book in itself. And a declaration of love to the works that it is supposed to highlight, share and give a voice to. In a subtle balance, the austerity and starkness of the original structure were refurbished without obliterating the traces of its subsequent incarnations: the blond wood floors, warm in their luminous simplicity, echo the ephemeral marks left on the walls by the two talented architects selected to carry out this restoration. Respect and continuity that enable observant visitors to read the twists and turns of its history: here, the stencilled lines of the seats of the cinema it was home to from 1930 to 1957, there, a vegetable fresco discreetly emphasizing a doorframe of the same period. And light, everywhere light, the one thing that integrates the materials used; it is the structure of the modern extension built for the new museum in 2008-2009. Sober but without austerity, full of vibes and an elusive texture through which the openwork ceiling is free to filter the light at will, it is now a perfect ‘chapel’ that captivates with the polyphonic songs of Soulages in the Biedermann collection. A subtle symphony that mixes the various shades of its blacks and its effects of matter. A visual and imaginary dialogue that is so real that we are happy to lose ourselves in a space-time continuum that is both serene and vibrant. Ode to Outrenoir: a moment of sheer happiness. Leaving them, with regret, I knew that the canvases would continue their dialogue, multiple voices mixed and whispering, in the parallel and yet so present universe that had welcomed me, passing visitor, dazzled, in the hollow of their confidences. I left with a deep sense of nostalgia knowing that I will return.
Through Forms and Colours... journeys to other worlds.
The pediment of the building simply says ‘Museum’ in golden letters: nothing more is needed. Back to the intended origins—the essence and purpose of Art. To marvel, discover, to be challenged, at times disturbed, intrigued. Reflect along the paths opened both by the work and the artist. Ask yourself questions. Not a fixed space, but a place of dialogue and life: the light, always fluid, like the water of the river at its feet, moving and uniting, and leading down new paths, to new horizons...
This very warm, amply sized space with its numerous doors and spaces through its superb showrooms, is not static. It has several exhibitions a year, thematic tours, workshops for children, concerts, interactive spaces that are permanent and change at the same time. The works themselves are in continuous dialogue with their audience and with each other. With the place. With time. With space.
Visitors are surprised to find themselves admiring the details and nuances of the materials used in the same way they admire the works on display. Because it's a whole. Multiform and changing, yet so present. Timeless.
A dismantled and inordinately elongated red Vespa plays the role of good-natured guardian at the entrance: Stefan Rohrer's work is an eruption of sheet metal full of joyful madness that announces the Colour, an immense burst of laughter: ‘Dolce Vita!’ It invites you to dive into the museum’s current exhibition: ‘colourful. farbenfroh’. Framed around a brilliant star: the great artist, still little known in Europe, Dorothy Fratt. Painter and woman and colourist of genius in line with the Washington Art School of the 1950s and 60s. Less known than her peers because a female. And yet: yes, indeed, her painting is intensely personal. And intensely feminine. And intensely powerful, because talent has no sex: it simply is. But its nuances and its lines of fractures and life, they are sexed, and multiple...rich in their differences. I did not know her: I discovered her. Love at first sight. At first colours, rather. That she left Washington very early to settle in Arizona seemed obvious to me. The Light, again and again. That of Albuquerque, where she lived until her death last year. That of her paintings. That of her personality and her talent. She said ‘Each painting is a journey and an adventure. I don't understand the process completely. Perhaps no one can’. But her paintings live: the colours come of life in them, literally. Three-dimensional by their intensity alone, they move and pursue their lives, independent and gay, and strong, and powerful. Sumptuous and bright dialogue with the works of Soulages in the huge adjacent room, open to enable fluids and vibration to flow better. Soulages, another painter of Light and Colour. Of every colour. Sublimated and transmuted into the Oeuvre au Noir (nigredo... the Dark Transmutation Process, the first step towards the Magnum Opus ), in alchemy as in painting.
The answers come from all the works and the artists around them, room by room: those who add their voices to this wonderful dialogue, in the background, in support, solo, in chorus. The unusual shapes and sizes of Georg Karl Pfahler. The notes and graphic contrasts of Günter Fruhtrunk. The monochrome sculptures of Thomas Lenk. The symbolic evidences, set in constant movement to a rhythm of jazz, of Winfred Gaul. The candid pigments of Gerhard Langenfeld's panels, a raw and powerful chorus of uncompromising notes, played in a polyphonic concerto and basso continuo in lemon yellow with Rainer Seliger's ‘Pallone giallo’. Stuck in the moment, as if surprised and frozen in full motion within the limits of their respective frames.
The movement, actually: it’s the flow of traffic and noise of London captured on the fly by Matthew Radford. The red spot of a double-decker bus on the incessant flow of cars and passers-by. On the impersonal streets and pavements of a London stripped of its emblematic monuments, reduced to the essential: its pulsations of life and energy that the canvas seems to struggle to contain. Nervous but controlled brushstrokes, powerful, intensely vibrant. Almost sonorous: reflecting not only the movement but the noise, the buzz of traffic, the horns, the rumble of the city. Its monstrous and impersonal strength, impassive, without qualms. Just the movement. And the noise.
We are stunned. Fascinated. Like a boxer in the ring after the perfect blow. Then we hear, leitmotif and lifeline on a human scale, shattering the noise of the city, a delicate yet strong and stubborn music: the movements and jolts splashed with the red, black, orange and acrylic grey of Heidi Gerullis. Vibrating machines seeking to escape from the paper that cannot contain their fierce desire to live. Energy echoed by ‘Tutto tondo’ by Gianni Dessi: giant tennis ball, entirely in bright yellow, round, black ellipses full of life, leaping though immobile, huge, and juvenile.
And then: a pause. A breath, rather. Heavy with the knowledge and mastery accumulated since the Renaissance: the egg temperas by Paolo Serra. Sumptuous blacks in multiple layers and no background. And dark reds, their power suppressed, an unfathomable mystery. Matter and meaning. United. Intimately. The breath softens. The body relaxes, the eyes plunge into deep but serene abysses. Fleeting images of long, dark, wooden corridors in a Florentine palace, of the glow of oil lamps and candles under the frescoes of a Tuscan convent. Of a mastery stripped to the essence. The soul. The evidence.
We start moving again, slowly, tearing ourselves away from this quiet force that is so much bigger than us and attracts us. It's a shock, a sudden uprooting. You have to breathe, softer. You want to return to the surface, get out of the apnoea. And then the clear water of a stream. The soft blues of a summer sky above the water. The diluted hues of flowers carried, dancing, on the run of the river flowing on the panels of Emil Kiess…captured in subtle and transparent brushstrokes. The spirit of the Water Lilies is not all that far away... The blues and greens are omnipresent, enhanced with pale yellow, pink, like so many spots of light through lush foliage. The same hues and the same Pointillist dots answer them on their left: it is ‘Poltrona di Proust’ by Alessandro Mendini. That the trophy leopard in Ralph Fleck’s strong and controlled brushstrokes contemplates with the despair of a wild animal reduced to impotence in a salon at the beginning of the Century. The precedent: that of Proust and Monet, indeed.
But the colours regain their boldness. Bright and present. Ubiquitous. Alive. Brutal: it’s Keith Haring. Grinning, hopeless, a shape half-man, half-wolf, evoking the disturbing creatures of Mesoamerican folklore. Jaguar demons, Tezcatlipoca sorcerers unleashed in the urban jungle of the Bronx and the backrooms of Manhattan in the twilight of the pre-AIDS era. Man-demon carved in relief in the wood, with flat tints of red lacquer. The colour is hit, punch, hullabaloo, almost hit-and-run. A cry. Desperate. Furious. Violent. It takes another force, less violent but just as powerful, to contain the shock and the rage and impose itself without being annihilated: the marvellous red ‘Rhinoceros’ and the deep blue and black of the ‘Charlottenburg Bridge’ by Helmut Middendorf. A decompression chamber and a protective glaze both before the splash of yellow on a white background of Gianni Dessi's ‘Segni e disegni’, again: acrylic on paper in simple white frames. Surrounding, protecting them, a little man-sculpture full of life and joyful tenderness, discernible on the window frame and the floor against a backdrop stripped of grey trunks, in the park. And then we turn to discover, alone on a wall, huge and gloriously solitary because powerful enough to contain its own worlds and tell us about them: ‘Van Gogh with torch’ by Rainer Fetting. The artist, looking for the light right in front of him, leaning forward, focused, almost obstinate, under his huge straw hat, advancing resolutely, undoing the mass of dark colours, his torch brandished as a weapon. This painting is sumptuous. It sums up both the exhibition and the museum. The quest and the raison d'être of the artist and that of the collector. It questions and disrupts and opens the path. The loop is closed... but it’s a perpetual movement: this work closes and opens the exhibition. And sets the scene for the next. I cannot wait to discover it.
The exhibition ‘colours. farbenfroh’ runs until January 2019. Other exhibitions, temporary and semi-permanent run all year round. Such as the one with the sculptures by the Berlin artist Axel Anklam: geometric lace in steel and evocative smooth and black forms of obsidian idols or petrified and polished lava, sculptures-structures half-minerals, half-animals, almost silky, smooth and yet intensely dense, of exceptional power and presence.
Axel Anklam: WORKS
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*Sturm und Drang: ‘Storm and Passion’ - literary movement but also political and artistic, born in the Rhineland at the end of the 18th century and contemporary of French and English pre-Romantic movements. As a radical extension and in opposition to the philosophy of the Enlightenment, it makes Nature the rallying concept of a whole generation, refusing to see in Man anything but a being of reason and to bend to the classical rules of poetry, theatre, and music. The name stems from a drama, now very forgotten, of the poet Klinger (1776). Goethe, the Jacobi brothers, Lenz, Herder, Hamann as well as the Swabian Schiller are considered its main representatives on the literary level. In music, it influenced Haydn, the Bach brothers, and Beethoven. In painting, Friedrich, Runge, Schinkel and the Nazarene movement.
**Heinrich von Kleist, writer, poet, playwright and essayist (1777-1811), author of major works of 19th-century German literature: Michael Kohlhaas, The Marquise of O ..., The Prince of Homburg, The Earthquake in Chile…