Arts & Entertainment

Northern Virginia Art Beat

The German are coming. The Germans are coming! Never mind … they're already here.
'Aachen to Arlington: Imaging the Distance'

Through Sept. 22, at the Arlington Art Center (3550 Wilson Blvd., Arlington). Gallery Hours: Tuesday through Saturday 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. Call 703- 248-6800, or see www.arlingtonartscenter.org. Opening Reception: Friday, Sept. 7, 6 – 9 p.m.

Aachen, Germany and Arlington, Virginia are designated as “sister cities” and as such, are exchanging art for this event. The main floor galleries at Arlington Art Center house the German art, while the two basement galleries offer a preview of the art headed from Arlington to Aachen. The Aachen works are a tight-but-varied collection created by five Germans.

Photographers Andreas Magdanz and Irmel Kamp-Bandau, both working in black and white, offer up two completely different versions of German architecture. Magdanz's photos document a secret government compound run by the “Bundesnachrichtendienst” (BND), the German foreign intelligence service and are at the bare minimum creepy, tending towards down-right scary. There is a hyper-controlling air of maniacal secrecy and assumed dirty dealings about them. One wonders what our reactions might be if this “black” facility were found in say Italy, or France. Its German locale, and the substantial grief brought on the world by the Germans in two world wars, give these an edge that makes you squirm.

Founded in 1947, the compound was designed to be totally self sufficient — to the point of having schools for the children of its employees — and cut off from the outside world.

All photos were by decree to be devoid of any employees, which frankly gives them an even creepier feel. Here we literally find the structural machinery of faceless secret governmental actions.

The most poignant photo of all is the “Human Isolation Facility.” It's a sort of fun-house image of doors so disorienting an arrow was placed on the floor to show the way out … or in. One wonders if people who entered, ever exited. When you get right down to it, the whole place is one big giant human isolation facility, which of course makes the actions of its inhabitants all the scarier. People cut off from reality aren't the sort of folks most of us want influencing our lives and freedoms.

Irmel Kamp-Bandau offers us a far more relaxed, even sadly comical version of German architecture.

Kamp-Bandau has documented the Bauhaus inspired architecture of the late 1920s to mid 1930s. In most cases, this might be better thought of as sort of German art deco. A few of the buildings have the sort of harshness we would associate with the Bauhaus, but more so they display the three-tiered motif of art deco.

What is most striking in these photos is the disrepair and decay the buildings have suffered over the years. At least three of which have graffiti spray painted on them. A few are indeed striking structures of clearly German origins, but for the most part they seem fairly typical of modern architecture, which speaks to the way Bauhaus architectural thinking came to dominate the world's urban landscape. The shocking part is the early construction dates. They could easily be taken for photos of dilapidated 1950s or 60s structures in America.

Stephan Mörsch offers up a decidedly different spin on German architecture. Here we find twig models of WWII
German look out posts and one-man concrete (maybe?) bunkers dotting the German forests. The gallery walls provide the context, with a series of vigorous graphite drawings of forested landscapes. The total assembly has a nice feel to it, but from a purely artistic standpoint the small graphite drawings, at times bordering on abstracts, are by far the best feature.

Lest we mire ourselves in some sort of stern Teutonic stereotype, Hans Niehus offers us a lighthearted glimpse at German culture. Here we find a series of tight watercolors almost always featuring Joseph Beuys in one mode or another. Beuys served on WWII Luftwaffe bomber crews and later in life becoming a pacifist. As an artist, Beuys was iconoclastic with Dadaist leanings. Except for a wacky tendency, he's not easily pigeon-holed, which may be a fair bit of the point of all these views of Beuys. Whatever it is, it's fun to look at.

“Portrait: Berlin – Contemporary Photography and Art from Berlin”

Through Sept. 27, at the Goethe-Institut (812 Seventh St. NW, D.C.). Galley Hours: Monday through Thursday 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., Fridays 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. For further information, call 202-289-1200, or see www.goethe.de/washington

“Portrait: Berlin” is a decidedly smaller and somewhat disappointing show of contemporary Berlin photography. Having said that, it is not without interest. Alan Stone's “Falling Woman” is a multi-paneled set of illuminated boxes that together show a female diver tumbling through air before hitting the water. The solid static metal light boxes contrast nicely with the tumbling action they display.

Gerhard Kassner has a series of large scale color portraits of world famous actors and celebrities. Nice as these are, images of Jack Nicholson, Nicole Kidman and company aren't exactly what we expect to find in a show of Berlin art.

The Goethe-Institut is widely known as the hub of German cultural activities in Washington, so I'm sure they just hit a bit of a dud with this one. The 47-page Fall catalog of events and activities is now available.

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