Robert Mangold

Hallen für neue Kunst

The addition of an entire floor to the available exhibition space at the Hallen für neue Kunst now enables it to mount temporary exhibitions alongside its magnificent permanent collection. Rather than adding to the ever more hectic, international exhibition carousel, the museum hopes to make clear “statements” intended to be “read” in close connection with the permanent collection. The aim is to activate the potential of the high-powered clusters of works by European and American artists that this institution has assembled (particularly by Joseph Beuys, Jannis Kounellis, Mario Merz, Carl Andre, Sol LeWitt, Bruce Nauman, and Robert Ryman). The changing exhibitions provide a forum for investigating new trends in the context of the permanent collection, or for highlighting different aspects of the collection itself. This small-scale Robert Mangold retrospective, the first of these exhibitions, has been organized to do the latter. It presents 29 works, executed between 1964 and 1987, that show the many-sidedness of his oeuvre and that meaningfully augment the group of Mangold works in the collection. It also complements the wide-ranging overview of Robert Ryman’s work on permanent display.

The new exhibition space consists of a single large room. The 29 works are mounted on its long walls and on the outer walls of a “room within this room,” which contains only Dan Flavin’s corner installation Untitled (To Sabine and Holger), 1966–71. On entering the exhibition, one sees five paintings done by Mangold between 1970 and 1985, all from different series, which flank the entrance to this room. Unfortunately, the red light of Flavin’s piece creates an aura that interferes with the clarity of Mangold’s work, and the contrast among the five works themselves makes for difficulties that are perhaps even more unsettling, as it becomes clear that such contrast is the basic organizing principle of the exhibition. Deliberately avoiding a chronological presentation, the curators of the show have chosen instead to emphasize the diversity of the work and “the individual effect of each work in relation to the whole, to other not necessarily related paintings in the immediate surroundings, and to specific lighting conditions,” according to a note in the exhibition catalogue. This approach sometimes creates problems, such as where two very small works, 4 X’s (green-gray), 1971, and Cool gray area with curved diagonal, 1966, are flanked by two works of larger format, A curved line within two distorted rectangles (ochre), 1978, and Warm gray area, 1965–66. The same kind of “framing” also occurs among the five works at the beginning of the exhbition, where the problem is compounded by using two “frame” paintings to serve as the “frames”—Four color frame painting #16, 1985, and Untitled frame set B (green-brown), 1970. In hanging the pictures this way, new symmetries emerge that compete with the symmetries within the works and undermine the autonomous structure of the individual paintings; and the frequent juxtaposition of paintings that are of very different sizes and formats produces extreme contrasts that serve to distract rather than to contribute to an overall comprehension of the work. The justifiable desire to demonstrate the full breadth and variety of Mangold’s compositions and expressiveness has thus resulted in a somewhat jumpy presentation. The wealth of impressions and evident cross-connections does not, at any rate, make concentration on the intent and intensity of the individual paintings any easier.

Counterbalancing these drawbacks are the exhibition’s seriousness and the unique atmosphere of the exhibition space. In this spacious room, filled with natural light from two large banks of windows, there are moments when a work is illuminated by exactly the right light and can become a true revelation. To sum up, this highly concentrated survey of Mangold’s work does not open itself to the casual gallerygoer who happens to wander through the exhibition, but for those who overcome its stumbling blocks it is likely to reveal its intuitive logic impressively.

Max Wechsler

Translated from the German by Leslie Strickland.