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East German artists explore the psyche -- not politics



At the School of

the Museum of Fine Arts.

Through Nov. 30.



ALTHOUGH THE TITLE of New Territory: Art from East Germany implies that the exhibit is a response to the political and social situation in Germany and a reflection of the East German opinion on this situation, the artists actually respond more generally to their society. The reaction to recent developments in Germany is not directly addressed in the exhibit.

Many of the works deal with the psyche of the people, expressing some of the same angst present in the work of the German Expressionists of the early part of this century. The artists focus on the distortion of reality and how agonizing and warped the human condition can be. In many of the works, the human body is distorted or contorted in some way, sometimes severely or unnervingly.

Jurgen Wenzel, for example, does not attempt to analyze the political or social situation of his country in his two works of gouache, ink, and aquatint on paper. His studies of a sheep and a pheasant focus on the characteristics of these two animals in motion, but through color and motion studies, he analyzes the animals and what they mean to his society. He distorts the animals with the use of violent color, depicting how they might be deformed by fire.

"Sheep" presents eight images of a sheep that appears to be hanging by its hind legs over a crackling fire. It is in the same position in every image; what differs from frame to frame are the colors that range from violent red and orange to black and green. The series of images, in which the sheep seems to be burned black by the eighth frame, alludes to a fascination with sacrifice and creates the sensation of roasting an animal out in the fields after a season of hard work. Or, these images could represent the stages of this animal plunging into hell. In any case, no specific meaning is presented to the viewer, who will undoubtedly respond on a more subconscious, visceral level.

Wenzel also examines a pheasant in motion in a series of six studies of a yellow, gold, and red pheasant in a variety of positions. "Pheasant" is more of a study than the sheep paintings, but provides an analysis of the bird in several different lights. The pheasant seems to be suspended in mid-air, possibly over a fire, with one foot burning. The bird is intact, except in one image the animal's feathers, wings, and legs blur together furiously.

The human body is painfully distorted in "The Golden Age" by Angela Hampel, despite the title of the sculpture. The structure of the piece -- a hexagonal tower with paintings on each side, and black tree limbs with golden-handled sickles sticking out from underneath -- seems unnecessary because the painted images are powerful enough on their own.

Each side shows the contorted body of a man who seems to have been cast head first into a very narrow and deep hole. The painful relationship of his head to his body in each image tells you his neck -- among other parts of his body -- is broken; his legs seem to be dangling upwards because the space is so narrow. The meaning of the work as a whole is unclear, but the images themselves are powerful.

Micha Brendel is also concerned with distortion of the human body. In "So is and grows the welcome child having still time to grasp why we are so vigilant/Ruined Child," Brendel explores the desire to retreat back to the womb toward infancy, the only period of innocence and peace in human life.

Brendel places 20 photos of a grown man in a baby's clothing next to an advertisement poster with 20 photos of a baby (the first part of the title). The man has imitated the face of the baby, who is shown yawning, sleeping, crying, pouting, dozing and puzzling in those photographs. This eerie series of photographs presents the man as the "ruined child" and predicts the warped result of his desire to retreat backwards.

Only one artist deals specifically with the events of fall 1989. Uwe Frauendorf documents the mass public gatherings in Germany with a group of four black and white photographs. "Leipzig" shows the strong purpose of the people who caused the changes in East Germany: A huge group of people standing patiently, staring at something very far away, stretches as far as the eye can see. These are the people whose determination affected the changes in Germany. The image, taken at night, is very dark except for the mass of people, the element of importance in the image.

In another photograph titled "Leipzig," people hang off every surface, namely from the elevated train platform and its stair, with their umbrellas glistening in the rain. Both of these images demonstrate how the people of East Germany changed their situation beginning last year.

It would have been interesting to see more artists' reactions to the events in Germany in this exhibit, and probably would have made for a more cohesive group of works. Instead, the exhibition is a body of work that reflects on the present human condition, which is not a totally new idea in art.

While some of the pieces are interesting, together they are puzzling. Hopefully, the works are not completely indicative of what is happening in Germany right now -- the scope of this exhibit is limited by a lack of strong work.