Award // Preis der Nationalgalerie für Junge Kunst: conditions of display

Article by Jessyca Hutchens; Friday, Sept. 20, 2013

When it comes to the emerging art-stars of the contemporary scene, what is it that really helps them to rise above the fray? Prestigious awards like the Preis der Nationalgalerie für Junge Kunst play a role in showcasing artists seen as destined for greater things. But other than a list of vague adjectives like “innovative” and “impressive” it can be hard to tell by what criteria artists are being judged and selected for such accolades.

The four-nominees for this year’s Preis für Junge Kunst are currently on display in a joint-exhibition at Hamburger Bahnhof. These artists seem to share little in common in the way of interests or techniques. As in previous years, the prize displays a desire to reflect diversity. What these artist’s perhaps share is a kind of all-roundedness–each are conceptually rigorous, aesthetically on-point creators of well-researched and well-executed artist-projects.

Last night it was announced that Mariana Castillo Deball has been awarded the prize. Castillo Deball created what is perhaps the most immediately impressive installation at the Hamburger Bahnhof exhibition, covering the floors with a massive black and white woodcut. Depicted is a map of the Aztec city of Tonochtitlan (today Mexico City), enlarged from a 1554 map sent to Spain by Cortes, and thought to be the first European map of its kind. Dotted throughout the room are displays of elaborate beaded costumes that the artist had made to reflect the tradition of parody carnivals: celebrations held by indigenous Mexicans that poke-fun at the Carnaval introduced by the Spanish. Thus an indigenous perspective of their colonizers is placed upon a Spanish interpretation of their newly conquered lands; precisely the kind of historical re-contextualizing that Castillo Deball is known for. Overall, the installation has the feel of a particularly artful museum display, an unsurprising comparison given that museums today increasingly incorporate art installation-like displays, and artists increasingly adopt the role of researchers / ethnographers / historians. What works well in this display, as in the best museum displays, is in its spatial interpretation of historical narrative. Visitors walk over the map, contributing to its degradation, and amongst the contemporary carnival costumes: Tonochtitlan disappears but the parody remains.

Simon Denny has also produced a very spatial interpretation of conceptual material. His installation of ninety printed canvases document the 2012 Digital-Life-Design (DLD) conference held in Munich. Creating a rough timeline for the conference, these billboards employ a cheesy power-point aesthetic, complete with digital paperclips attaching images and quotes over fake-wood backgrounds. Their display, mounted perpendicular to the wall in rows, prompting viewers to scan through quickly, is based on the Cover Flow interface used by programmes like iTunes–just one of the ways the work attempts to approximate digital technology in a physical way. In this way, Denny’s work follows the trend of much Post-internet art which aims to give the immaterial digital world a concrete material presence through art. But instead of using the internet as source, Denny documents the tech giants who dominate online media, revealing their world behind-the-scenes to be as flat and unreal as the web itself.

The works of Kerstin Brätsch and Haris Epaminonda both have something slightly mystical and new age about them (but not at all in that 90s illustrations of dolphins kind of way that is currently so prevalent). Kerstin Brätsch combines diverse elements; large abstract works on paper, circular glass sculptures, crystal cross-sections arranged behind glass and slides of painted faces that create an aesthetic dialogue. The radiating colors of the glass works are reinterpreted in the paintings and so on, creating a kind of aesthetic reverberation that manages to remain abstract.

Haris Epaminonda also deals with the mystical resonance of images and objects. Walking down a long white corridor, we find a room of small minimal sculptures. From a dark room around the corner, we hear the eerie sounds of animal wailing and the rhythmic shaking of bells. Four films of surrealist imagery screen simultaneously; a woman spins slowly in a white church-like room bearing a whip in each hand, four men scramble across an arid landscape and perform a kind of ritual, a group of people in religious-looking attire stand sombrely in front of a Roman arch. Evocative of surrealist cinema of the 1960s, think Sergei Parajanov’s The Colour of Pomegranates (1968), or of the dreamlike films of the Czech new wave, Epaminonda carries on a tradition of film-making that is dominated by themes of ritualism and mysticism. The use of simultaneous projections in different parts of the space is extremely effective, it forces viewers to mainly focus on one screen while other images stream into their periphery, tainting the purity of the experience and adding to its mystic-quality.

If one thing unites the four-nominated artists this year, it is in their considered approaches to the conditions of display. Whether presenting digital prints, paintings, wood-cuts or films, these artists have given equal attention to the conceptual implications that modes of display have on artworks. Or perhaps it is a given nowadays, that “good” artists treat their own art-objects as elements in broader installations / exhibitions. This show certainly seems to suggest as much.


Additional Information

Preis der Nationalgalerie für Junge Kunst:
Exhibition: Aug. 30, 2013 – Jan. 12, 2014
Invalidenstraße 50-51  (click here for map)


Jessyca Hutchens is an art writer living in Berlin and an editor at Berlin Art Link.

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