The Century Mark: Tel Aviv Museum of Art Visits Berlin

Pablo Picasso: Bust of a Woman, 1953.

To mark 50 years of diplomatic relations between Israel and Germany, the Martin-Gropius-Bau art museum has invited the Tel Aviv Museum of Art to send 72 masterpieces from its collection to Berlin. The Century Mark is the first exhibition to display the richness of the museum’s collection outside of Israel. With works by Edgar Degas, Wassily Kandinsky, Claude Monet, Jackson Pollock, Pablo Picasso and Mark Rothko (to name a few) the exhibition presents Berliners with a rare opportunity to see the main artistic trends of the 20th century as represented by some of its biggest artists.

But this exhibition aims to be more than a survey of 20th-century art. The curators want to show a dialogue between the great artworks of the 20th century and the current art scene. The Century Mark is therefore supplemented by video and installation art by contemporary Israeli artists, which also deal with personal, social and political subjects.

James Ensor: My Favorite Room, 1892

The curators of The Century Mark therefore have multiple aims: to show-off the museum’s rich 20th-century collection, and reveal how these older works relate to today’s. But this can mean that the exhibition edges upon incoherence. Though the overarching theme given to each of its eleven galleries suggest how the contemporary and 20th-century works placed next to each other may be linked, little other explanation is given. The presence of a dialogue therefore depends on the individual visitor, on how they see the relationships between the works. If there is a dialogue, then it is up to the visitors to create it for themselves.

Alexander Archipenko: Seated Woman, 1920

Leaving this much up to the viewers has mixed results. In some galleries I felt no discernible link between the artworks. The first room, for example, contains a series of 26 drawings by Marcel van Eden, Dizengoff’s Commission (2013), telling the story of the founding of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. Alongside these are several works by the Belgium expressionist and surrealist painter, James Ensor (1860-1949). As individual works they were interesting, but I was unable to fathom any links between them.  

At other points, interesting relationships are highlighted. The following room contains some stunning landscapes by Monet, Paul Signiac, Maurice de Vlaminck and Kandinsky. Next to them is Tzion Abraham Hazan’s Marganith 2012, a 13-minute video artwork that films the Marganith Tower in Tel Aviv. The tower was Israel’s tallest building at the time of if completion in 1987 and is considered a symbol of military and technological supremacy.  Hazan’s slow and poignant filming romanticises the tower. Though it is not a countryside landscape like those by Monet et al., it takes a similarly nostalgic view of its subject.

Marc Chagall: Solitude, 1933

How successfully The Century Mark shows the relationship between contemporary and 20th-century art is debatable. But the exhibition is still worth seeing for the number of works by star artists it contains. This is the first time that the Tel Aviv Museum of Art has sent a selection of its rich collection to Europe, and one suspects that this is not an event that will be repeated too often.

“The Century Mark: Tel Aviv Museum of Art Visits Berlin” is at Martin-Gropius-Bau Berlin until 21 June. 

I am an arts and culture writer currently based in Berlin. As well as writing for Berlin Logs, I have contributed to The Economist, Fanfare Magazine, and Seen and Heard. Follow me on Twitter: @hazel_rowland. Or visit my blog.

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