Dienstag, 17. August 2010

Matthias Merkel Hess at Steve Turner Contemporary

By Simone Kussatz

Having a BA in environmental science from the University of Kansas and a MFA from the ceramics department at UCLA, it is not surprising that Iowa-born artist, Matthias Merkel Hess, would come up with an art project that would engage his viewers in a discussion about societal and environmental issues.

Therefore what would usually appear in the real world in plastic - Rubbermaid Brute trash cans and beer buckets – Merkel Hess turned into colorful glazed ceramics that are displayed in a group show “Wet Paint 2” along with the work of eight other artists at Steve Turner Contemporary, located in the Mid-Wilshire district across from LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art).

Merkel Hess' works, which are presented in either dark blues, light yellows and pinks, or a combination of dark blue on the outer and ocher or orange in the inner, remind one of the sculptures of Swedish-American pop artist, Claes Oldenburg, who also turned ordinary objects into art objects. Yet, Merkel Hess' work is much smaller in size and not been seen in public open spaces yet.

During an artist talk at the gallery that followed the day after the reception, Merkel Hess mentioned that his project is partly influenced by a book by Thomas Hine "I Want That", which made him think about American society and the relationship between people and objects, as well as his take on it. “I make objects, sometimes big, physical things, so I'm trying to understand both my own interest in objects and how we value them as humans,” he said.

The young artist also mentioned that being a potter made him always interested in vessels and their meaning and how people use them. However, instead of making bowls, coffee mugs and teapots, he wanted to make pottery that would be of interest to a contemporary art audience.

Furthermore, Merkel Hess, a former artist-in-residence at the 18th Streets Arts Center in Santa Monica, explained that since we live in a “hyper-consumer society”, where people are desensitized to the fact that the merchandise they find in current department stores were once luxury items, his work attempted to deal with this “by taking mundane, utilitarian objects and through a transformation of material, make them something for people to think about and consider more closely,” he explained.

Although Merkel Hess' art objects look as if they have a function that is to say to store our garbage and cool our beers, they are actually unsuitable for what they were designed to do as they are heavy and fragile. Therefore, instead of serving a literal function, they become a point of discussion. “I believe this is the main function of works of art,” he said.

Merkel Hess' work will be showcased at Steve Turner Contemporary till August 21, 2010, followed by a solo-exhibit “Devils Tower-LA” between September 4th until October 2nd, 2010 at Las Cienegas Projects.

For further information about the artist, please visit his website http://www.merkelhess.net/ or Steve Turner Contemporary's website http://www.steveturnercontemporary.com/

Photos by Simone Kussatz
All the contents of this site belong © to Simone Kussatz

Mittwoch, 11. August 2010

Galerie am Rathaus - "The Second Life" of Renita Schnorr

(Images by artists Karl-Heinz Koch Stoeber, Dhanya Dampfhofer, Ewald Christian Tergreve and Peter Z. Malkin)

Galerie am Rathaus - “The Second Life” of Renita Schnorr

By Simone Kussatz

Situated in a historical district in Berlin known as Bayerisches Viertel, a former predominately Jewish area close to Rathaus Schöneberg (the city hall in Berlin where John F. Kennedy held his famous speech proclaiming “Ich bin ein Berliner”), Galerie am Rathaus is a contemporary gallery featuring figurative and abstract paintings, landscapes, photography and sculptures.

The gallery is run by Regina Schnorr, a retired pulmonologist born in Dresden, in former East Germany. “During my childhood and youth it was natural for me to be interested in art. My father, whom I lost during the war, had many art books,” she explains. “Also, the Dresdner Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister [Dresdner Old Masters Picture Gallery] turned into my second home, where I would meet up with friends when it was raining. I always had the need to own a picture. Sometimes I would cut a print out of a book, frame it and hang it up in my room.”

As a young doctor, Schnorr started buying paintings from a Russian artist, as well as from her students, and exhibited the works in the clinic where she worked. But instead of making a name for herself, she clashed with the ideological foundation of the Social regime. In the eyes of her colleagues and authorities, she acted too independently.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Schnorr went into business for herself and led a large pulmonology office in Berlin Mitte [a district in Berlin that used to belong to East Berlin]. “This enabled me to showcase artists in my office,” she says. Soon after “The Turn”, an old schoolmate of Schnorr, with whom she used to play music, told her about painter and musician Karl-Heinz Koch-Stöber, whose paintings were forbidden in the former German Democratic Republic (DDR) after he was continuously seen socializing with French artists and university lecturers during his stay in Cambodia. “I liked his paintings and bought many of his works so that he could finally exhibit them. This became a friendship that lasted until 2000, when he died.“

During the 1990s, Schnorr and her husband went on a trip to San Francisco. One afternoon while they were walking through the streets, they came across Vorpal Gallery, whose windows were covered by blinds. Curiosity and intuition brought them into the building where they met the curator, Jerry Emanuel, who gave them a long tour through the gallery. When Schnorr saw a painting with colorful figures in a golden shimmer, she fell in love with it and learned from Emanuel that it was created by Israeli painter and poet Peter Zvi Malkin, who captured Adolf Eichmann [ Eichmann was a German Nazi, responsible for facilitating and managing the logistics of mass deportation of Jews to ghettos and extermination camps ] in Argentina in 1960.

“I couldn’t stop thinking about Malkin’s painting,” Schnorr reveals. “I got to know him later on and we developed a very deep friendship. Unfortunately, he passed away in 2005, but I have exhibited him several times in Berlin - in my office as well as in my gallery. Through his story and paintings I will always stay connected to him and will continue to exhibit him in the coming years.”

More than a decade later Schnorr followed her creative passion - writing. In 2004-2005 she published her first novel, “Die Mahagoni Schatulle” [The Mahogany Casket], published by Goldbeck-Löwe. The novel is about an attractive and intelligent Jewish woman who makes it through the Nazi era in Germany due to her will to survive and ruthless adaptability. The first reading of the novel was held by an actress at a gallery in Schöneberg.

Due to her wish to keep her autonomy and independence, as well as to show her collected artwork to the public, Schnorr decided to give up her medical office in 2007 and opened the Galerie am Rathaus in order to start “a second life.” She also wanted to create literary salons and provide music performances for the public, yet the gallery, which shows exhibits between 5-6 times a year, has not sold as many art pieces as she had expected. Schnorr hopes to change this soon by attracting more contemporary artists to her gallery. “I have plenty of offers, both from Berlin and other countries - Italy, France, Austria. I’ve already exhibited the works of Russian and American artists. What’s important to me is to have a good connection to the artists and they need to be good and reliable.”

For more information, please visit the gallery’s website: http://www.kunstgalerie-berlin.eu

All contents of this site © belong to Simone Kussatz

(Edited by Marta Kos)