Critics’ Picks

Chiharu Shiota, Beyond Memory, 2019. Installation view, “And Berlin Will Always Need You.”

Chiharu Shiota, Beyond Memory, 2019. Installation view, “And Berlin Will Always Need You.”

Berlin

“And Berlin Will Always Need You”

Gropius Bau
Niederkirchnerstraße 7
March 22–June 16, 2019

As you cross through an expansive corridor connecting various rooms and an echoing atrium, one thing is abundantly clear: distance pervades. Exploring the gulf between local production and global circulation, the group exhibition “And Berlin Will Always Need You” displays the work of sixteen Berlin-based artists and collectives, most of whom arrived in the city within the past twenty years. Each artist, still tethered to other locales, provides a distinct reading of Germany’s historic marriage between industry and craft.

German cultural institutions are put on view as the authoritative arbiters of this union, and the Gropius Bau, founded as a decorative-arts museum in the nineteenth century, seeks to place itself in this history. Chiharu Shiota’s installation Beyond Memory, 2019, avoids the institutional self-critique present in some works in favor of aesthetic detachment. Here, a high-hanging web of white yarn holds archival documents and photographs related to the founding of the museum. The web’s scale and height induce awe, yet the viewer cannot get close enough to actually engage with the documents.

In the video Le trône (The Throne), 2019, Antje Majewski examines the fraught representation of Cameroonian craftwork in Germany. Using techniques of documentary filmmaking, Le trône explains how Sultan Ibrahim Njoya offered his throne in 1908 as a gift to a German emperor, which was subsequently displayed by museums. The artist shows how a reevaluation of colonial power relations is necessary in order to reassess the throne’s out-of-context presentation to the German public. Like the exhibition at large, Majewski’s work pinpoints the nostalgia of viewing crafts as unobstructed reflections of local conditions, and reminds that handwork in Berlin is coterminous with distances extending beyond the city itself.