Blind Glances: Seeing and Unseeing in Menzel – A studio exhibition from the Kupferstichkabinnett in the Alte Nationalgalerie
Bodestraße 1-3, 10178 Berlin, Germany
Watercolours, lithographs and drawings. A studio exhibition from the Kupferstichkabinnett in the Alte Nationalgalerie, on the 200th anniversary of the birth of Adolph Menzel
Art is – or was at least for large stretches of art history – based on visibility and the act of seeing. And perhaps more than any other German artist of the 19th century, Adolph Menzel made this lust for looking an explicit theme in his art. In particular, his drawings and coloured works on paper tend to revolve around the central role of the eye as organ and motif of the continual reflection of seeing in the “labyrinth of reality” (as the title of the international Menzel exhibition in 1996/97 put it). This form of self-affirmation becomes particularly interesting and unique when it is not just the excitement of seeing, but also unseeing, blindness, indeed even the radical effacement of the eye or the face that becomes a fundamental aspect of the artistic work.
The Kupferstichkabinett’s studio exhibition in the Menzel-Kabinett of the Alte Nationalgalerie traces this previously unexplored aspect with a selection of gouaches, watercolours, drawings and prints from its famous Menzel collection, many of which have never before been presented to the public. The arc drawn by this exhibition stretches from the scopophilic gapes of zoo visitors in the bear-pit, right through to the concert at Bilse’s, whose audience looks fervently and explicitly away; from railway passengers who in their slumber deprive themselves of the perceptual experience of their rapid journey, up to Menzel’s self-portraits; as observer of the flute concert, and his starkly foreshortened likeness, which lends a visual expression to Paul Valéry’s formulation “I see myself seeing myself”; from rapacious eyes using opera glasses or binoculars as visual prostheses to blind-man’s-bluff players, right up to eyeless apparitions, erased faces and eyes that have been cut or torn out of the paper.
The show was conceived by Frida-Marie Grigull (Friedrich Schiller University Jena), and curated in collaboration with the Kupferstichkabinett to mark the 200th anniversary of Adolph Menzel’s birth. The exhibition and catalogue are a cooperative project between the Kupferstichkabinett – Staatliche Museen zu Berlin and the DFG-sponsored focus program 1688 Aesthetic Proper Times in the strand Image – Sight – Time: the temporality of the aesthetic reception of the image (Friedrich Schiller University Jena, Bielefeld University).
1. Adolph Menzel: Die Badegäste am Meer, 1851. Pastell auf hellbraunem Tonpapier, 37,4 x 30,6 cm. © bpk / Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kupferstichkabinett / Reinhard Saczewski
2. Adolph Menzel: Zwei Rüstungen, 1866. Gouache über Bleistift auf Papier, 29,5 x 22,7 cm. © bpk / Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kupferstichkabinett / Volker-H. Schneider
3. Adolph Menzel: Dame mit Opernglas, um 1850. Pastell auf hellbraunem Tonpapier, 28,2 x 19,4 cm. © bpk / Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kupferstichkabinett / Volker-H. Schneider