About fifteen years ago, I began to perceive collections - where they are made available in whole or in part to the public - as a unity. Publicly presented in museums art usually follows an artist, theme or concept, while the private collector follows his personality and his impulses. The curator of his collection is his taste, his interest, his inclination. So to speak, he collects in a meandering manner. In the confrontation with some important private art collections, it occurred to me that the portrait of a collection - in facets - shows a portrait of the collector. It allegorically depicts him and his interests.
Every allegory is a labyrinth; to correlate what is said and what is meant forms the field of tension of all interpretations and readings. What does the Otto Nagel Art Collection tell us about the collector Otto Nagel?
In a kind of itself completing way of seeing,I dealt with the pictures exhibited in Berlin. This part of the collection contains artworks of the painters Maria Wirth and Sara Assadi. As a writer, I was guided by the questions: How to find words for pictures? How do pictures find their own language?
What are they talking about? First of all, colors overwhelmed me, clear, ominous, deep, strangely wild colors on large formats. Blue, again and again blue, an overwhelming Paris blue, sometimes expanse, sometimes secret. And yellow! Cadmium- and Naples yellow bathe the eyes in light. In many paintings, bodies throw themselves into the space, dissolve. They are often androgynous figures with characteristics of both sexes, a confusion of roles. Naked or barely covered, they become partially transparent. Some are torn, fragmented or frozen in a reckless dancing pose. They tell of dynamics, of the struggle of the body for ideal and identity.
The look sucks on individual pictures, first on the large format Janus in love by Maria Wirth (2016). At Wirth, Janus is not content with two heads, but rather his body seems to divide into a female and a male with a common spine, a mirror axis. While the male, dark and agitated, rests in himself, the female with her dilated eyes sees a storm arising out of blue and red, uproar and ecstasy. But is Janus, here less Janus-headed than -bodied, capable of fulfillment, is there even one being capable of doing so, which, paralyzed by its own turmoil, cuts itself off of this forever?
Often, creatures of Greek mythology populate Maria Wirth’s paintings: Chiron and Nymph (2017) is one of the most narrative images of the Berlin ONAC stock. Chiron, called the Double-Shaped by Ovid, is a chimera of man and horse, the first of the Centaurs. The robbed maiden, a nameless nymph, clings to him, her gaze lasciviously following his spear, whose tip is aimed at an enemy outside the edge of the picture. She wears a red ribbon around her ankles, symbol of female erotic challenge or bondage of submission? Playfully, the relationship between victim and offender gets reversed, the nymph is the conquered and the conqueror in Lolita-like shape.
Artemis (2018) and Achilles, stumbled (2018), also themes from Greek mythology, are related paintings based on a drawing in pencil and graphite, which makes the body seem filigree and fragile against a background in oil paint. Artemis, the goddess of the moon and the hunt, jumps into our view out of an inflamed background, proudly helmeted. Her breasts are covered with an armor which seems to have escaped a flirtation with Venetian masks, her leg stucks in a boot. These are signals of struggle and subtle masks of the erotic, which never shows more than it veils. Her attitude
is full of bounce and dynamics. Achilles, on the other hand, a god-like worshipped hero in Homer’s Iliad, has fallen.
Pursued by a cleverly tempting but, in secret, haunting female, he is lying, his face tilted to the ground. His chest is covered by a partial mask that merges into his arm. This arm, however, got tragically caught in the same female entity which made him stumble. Achilles’ invulnerability, his morality and his anger have not made him immortal - at the most, immortally in love and very mortally injured.
Also on the painting Golden Flutist (2016 -‘19) golden mask armors cover and embrace
a dream-blue, female nude, whose one eye looks like in a trance into the void or inward. The mask closes the other eye and changes into a golden piccolo at the lips level. The flutist pirouetts to her own melodies, forever producing, caught in the dynamics of her own creativity. An armor made of emblems and ornaments forces her into a dance dynamic that bodies normally would only be able to perform in a dream or under hypnosis; a dance in golden masks of light, disguise or seduction? The body mask changes into form, an articulation of the body. This is how the creature transforms into the creation.
Circle of life (2018) by Maria Wirth, like the figurative pictures before a drawing in pencil and graphite on oil, also deals with creativeness and eros. In front of a fund of light and water, bodies bulge, turn into fish, wind around each other, into each other and apart from each other: a male with a feminine face and a female with a masculine face, touching each other’s hands. He turns his back on her, keeping his eyes closed. As if he would be a male mermaid, the bottom of his body changes into fishes, sucking on the thigh of the female nude as if they are breastfed. The female figure is surmounted by a fish which reminds of a fetus in amphibious stage. In their dynamics, the figures form a wave of bodies, and also the ancient motive of procreation from Zeus’ thigh seams to appear.
However, the creative, erotic element and the supertemporal nature of the motif are broken by the technique: the bodies in pencil and graphite could easily be erased, revealing the fundamental fragility and fleeting nature of our lives.
Also Sara Assadi’s painting Royal Blue (2018, oil on canvas) from the series Man and his background is simultaneously figurative and is it not: Head and upper body of a thinking man arise from the easy handling of the line and its sweep. These are colorful, very dynamic lines that circle around each other, spiraling into each other, looping around until a face emerges. With his chin in his hand, the thinker has skepticism and distance in his eyes and a goal.
Assadi masters the art of lightness: the knowledge of the fleetingness of everything that exists. The background in Royal blue, however, which suggests pride and expanse, and this figure looking into the distance or the future form the lively imago of a visionary man.
The collection includes more paintings, I confess to incompleteness. Its growth is focused on the deep questions of man, on mortality, immortality and the ideal. It tells of visions and goals, of journeys, storms and pride. It celebrates beauty, pleasure and the fright of the body. In its fragility and changeability, the body becomes transcendent, dynamic. He fights, he struggles. The unconditional of this struggling is communicated in the pictures, it has something compelling; and all struggling aims at something higher. But in his absolute struggle, the body is creating; even in the torments of creation grace, genius, uniqueness, and irrevocability appear. And is not there always life behind this in its wild, absurd, wise glory?
The fact that the Otto Nagel Art Collection is shown publicly in two locations - it is literally collected for our eyes under our eyes - is a gift. To participate contemplatively, to take part means to immerse oneself in that struggle,
in journeys and storms, beauty and visions. A wide, extratemporal horizon opens up.
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