Palazzo della Società Promotrice delle Belle Arti

The romantic title of this large exhibition, an obvious Wagnerian reference, refers to the geographical location of the two cities—Cologne and Düsseldorf—in which the 40 artists chosen for this show live and work. In each of these cities one finds a magma of different situations rather than precise cultural points of reference. There are no established schools or prevailing critical currents, but bars, clubs, and innumerable galleries (particularly in Cologne) that are the loci of intense artistic activity and debate. This gives one an idea of the great freedom in which the protagonists of three generations of German artists (those whose work was essentially formed in the ’60s, the ’70s, and the ’80s) move about. Beyond the solidly entrenched painting movements, other modes of expression—video, photography, performance, and sculpture—are developing, which, without falling into a “reworking” of the ’70s, have generously expanded the art scene.

Among the painters in this exhibition was the young Ralf Johannes, who goes by the glitzy pseudonym Charly Banana. Johannes’ imagery ranges from the sad irony of the average man (à la George Grosz) to the banality of fantastic urban skyscrapers. Gotthard Graubner, on the other hand, increases the sensuality of his polychrome canvases by padding them like cushions with synthetic batting. In addition to these, there were a number of excellent (but by now more standardized) paintings by Sigmar Polke, Gerhard Richter, and Jiří Georg Dokoupil.

In contrast, the selection of sculpture was more varied and unexpected: from Ulrich Rückrierns incised granite slabs to the aerial geometric constructions of Alf Schuler and Norbert Kricke, which were a far cry from the rigors of the prevailing minimalism. The work of Gunther Decker, which has a relationship to arte povera, continues to burst with ferocious energy He was represented in this exhibition by Kunstpranger (The pillory of art, 1984), one of a series of wood constructions studded with nails. Nor could one ignore Inge Mahn’s La barca (The boat, 1985); this work, a false emblem of solidity, is a large plaster trough in the shape of a V, weighed down by three plaster “stones.”

Video was not overlooked, as it so often has been in recent years, and it seemed full of potential. In addition to In Memoriam George Maciunas, 1978, an early collaborative piece by Joseph Beuys and Nam June Paik, the Turin exhibition gave one a chance to become familiar with the work of Klaus vom Bruch, who achieved a cinematic synthesis of the romantic and the Futurist ideals in his videotape of a moving locomotive on which images of a couple kissing passionately were superimposed. (Vom Bruch has defined his work as “an encounter between love and science:’) There was also an installation by the young artist Ingo Gunther, who calls himself ”a sculptor who works in video:’ His monitors, suggestively placed beneath a skylight, alternately produced flashes of images and fragments of sounds extracted from normal television transmissions, put together in such a way that they formed a new reality

Barbara Maestri

Translated from the Italian by Meg Shore.