A Look Back into the Future
The Press on Utopia Matters at the Deutsche Guggenheim
From the Nazarenes to Bauhaus—the 50th exhibition at the Deutsche Guggenheim examines utopia as an inspiration for artistic creation and as a model for the life of artists' communities. The show, curated by Vivien Greene, addresses a key theme in modernist art history. While the exhibition concept is discussed controversially, the reviewers all agree on one thing—the extraordinary quality of the works shown.
"A look back into the future" is how the magazine Monopol calls the show Utopia Matters at the Deutsche Guggenheim, while Gabriela Walde in the Berliner Morgenpost speaks of an artistic "tour de force" with "first-rate loans of works by Kandinsky and Pissarro through Dante Gabriel Rossetti." "It's no small achievement that the anniversary show at the Guggenheim investigates utopias, particularly in a time of crisis."
"The exhibition succeeds amazingly well in depicting both the elements that change and those that stay the same in art's utopias," writes Barbara Wiegand of Deutschlandradio Kultur. She especially stresses the references arising between the works of the nine artist groups presented. "Apart from the chronology, new perspectives reveal stark contrasts and surprising parallels. It becomes clear that utopia is not merely a vision for the future, but can also be an idealization of the past. What a huge difference there is between the (…) images of saints as the Pre-Raphaelites painted them in a gesture of religious withdrawal and the abstract, purist forms of the Bauhaus; what similarities can be discovered between a photograph of Alexander Rodchenko, once so experimental, and a painting from the early 19th century."
On the other hand, Carsten Probst of Deutschlandfunk complains of the absence of "Futurism, with its obvious overlap with Italian fascism" among the "nine significant positions" at the Deutsche Guggenheim. "The curators have remained cautious, if not to say politically correct." He also criticizes the show's concept. "The question as to what they really mean with the concept 'utopia' is not really addressed in the exhibition. (…) What remains is a public-oriented show with magnificent art from the Nazarenes to Kandinsky und Mondrian." J.S. Marcus in the Wall Street Journal writes of "an ambitious show (…) that brings together an astonishing range of fine and applied art." Yet even he is not fully convinced: "The exhibition—rich in imaginative sources, but devoid of any larger historical or political context—cannot seem to distinguish between the utopian and the merely idealistic. But museumgoers can relish the chance to see compelling works of European Modernism." For Nicola Kuhn of the Tagesspiegel, the show's "particular quality" lies in its aim to cross genre borders: "Utopia Matters not only combines artistic movements over a large spatial and temporal distance, but unites a variety of disciplines: painting, sculpture, photography, furniture design, book printing, wallpaper design." Her summary: "a select art historical excursus."