CULTURE

The Zeitgeist of Berlin in the 70s Helmut Middendorf, of the original Young Wild Ones, is showing his work in Thessaloniki

The Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art in Thessaloniki has been hosting an exhibition of works by the significant German painter Helmut Middendorf since June 8. He belongs to the German neo-expressionists who started off in Berlin, Hamburg and Cologne in the early 1970s, becoming known as the Young Wild Ones (or Neuwilde and Nouveau Fauves), and propagating what is known as vehement painting and showing their earliest works at the Haus am Waldsee and Galerie am Moritzplatz. Middendorf’s work is distinguished by its large-scale compositions of almost lurid color, portraits that distort the original characteristics and interventions on motifs, such as with collage or graffiti. The exhibition in Thessaloniki will run until September 29 and will then be brought to Athens. Can you tell us a few words about the exhibition? The exhibition essentially comprises my works from the past 10 years, some paintings I did in Athens, but which were displayed at exhibitions in Paris, New York and Germany. It is a broad selection of works that are neither directly related to Athens, nor inspired by it, but on which I worked for years, mostly abroad, in Berlin and Italy. Urban inspiration There is an Athenian theme, however? In the early 1990s, I presented a collection in Germany titled «Omonia.» The works were related to Athens but more in terms of the colors and shades of the city, mostly abstract. When I work, I begin with a new idea and it is independent of the environment in which I work and live. The subjects can come from many different things, such as photographs I have taken, images from magazines, drawings. I am not one of those artists who looks out a window and paints. Basically, I work my ideas into images and it is very hard to see the origin of the idea in any of my paintings. Neo-expressionism, as it began in Berlin, has been around for some 30 years now. How do you judge it today? Known as Neuwilden, it was a trend, a period of German painting that became known around the world, mainly in the 1980s, and that manifested itself in large paintings, with vivid colors and an abstraction that reflected the Zeitgeist of the era. It was a time of creative tension, with many international exhibitions. But, personally, after a while I became interested in different things, in different techniques. I never wanted to stick to one idea; in contrast, I have always been interested in constantly shedding light from a different angle onto a subject. How significant was the contribution of Martin Kippenberger to the evolution of the movement? Kippenberger is a painter who is part of my generation, whom I met at a young age in Berlin. He did completely different things than me, but there was friendship and mutual respect. It is only natural that this entire generation would create an environment of interaction. There was this so-called «Berlin hard core» and at the beginning you always want to impress others. Evolution next This interaction is visible in all movements, in pop-art, realism, German expressionism of the 1920s. It is natural. Then comes evolution, where everyone follows their individual course. You already know what you don’t want, but you have to discover your identity quite early on. For me, it was usually the human condition, in what form it appears and under what context, but there were also images of abstract art. Today, my paintings have more intense color and I would argue that it has little in common anymore with neo-expressionism. Where do you feel most at home as an artist? People say that you feel at home where you are understood and I feel understood in Berlin and New York. Of course, my home is where my friends are, my wife, but that has nothing to do with artistic output. New York and Berlin (where I’ve had my studio since the 1970s) are key stations in an artist’s life. I work in big cities because I have always been interested in the urban environment; that is where most ideas come from. I am not a landscape artist. Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art, 154 Egnatia, Thessaloniki, tel 2310.281.567, 2310.240.002. Founding member of the Galerie am Morisplatz Helmut Middendorf was born in 1953 in the city of Dinklage in northern Germany and studied painting at the Berlin School of Fine Arts. He, along with other members of his school, is a founding member of the Galerie am Morisplatz in Berlin in 1977 and has been teaching experimental film at his alma mater. His breakthrough came in the 1980s, where he distinguished himself in a group show on vehement painting held at the Berliner Haus am Waldsee, showing his work alongside that of Rainer Fetting, Salome and Bernd Zimmer. That same year he received a grant from the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), which allowed him to go to New York. Middendorf has held numerous solo shows as well as participating in group exhibitions in the USA and around Europe.