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01 Feb 2013

Adam Adach: The Century of the Jewish Beech at Maerz Contemporary, Berlin


Maerz Contemporary


Duration of the exhibition:
6 February - 23 March 2013
Opening hours:
Wednesday - Friday: 12.00 - 18.00, Saturday: 12.00 - 15.00

Hilvi Pettersson
+49 151 22384027

Maerz Contemporary
Weimarer Str. 16
10625 Berlin

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Das Jahrhundert der Judenbuche
by Clemens Bomsdorf

'Das Jahrhundert der Judenbuche' (The Century of the Jewish Beech) is the heading of Adam Adachs thoughts that he has neatly divided into a text of four sections. The Berlin exhibition, to which these thoughts belong, is prepared in a period when the German newspapers are full of the term 'century'. Yet the turn of the last century, also the turn of a millennium, is more than ten years back in time. Recently, however, the book '1913: Der Sommer des Jahrhunderts' (1913: The Summer of the Century) was released. In this book art historian Florian Illies describes that summer one hundred years ago, the year before the First World War began.

Felix Salten, Franz Kafka, Oskar Kokoschka, Else Lasker-Schüler, August Macke, Egon Schiele, Walter Benjamin, Sigmund Freud, as well as Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin, are the protagonists – people, whose deeds, works and/or atrocities would particularly shape the next hundred years.

It is a coincidence that I had just finished reading this book when I received the request to write a catalog text for Adam Adach's exhibition.

Coincidentally Adach also writes about having stumbled upon Annette von Droste-Hülshoff and her novel 'Die Judenbuche' by chance.

As the preparations of Adach's exhibition are taking place in Berlin, it is 170 years since her novel was first released.

'Das Jahrhundert der Judenbuche', of which the Polish-born artist who now lives mainly in France is speaking, might rather be the century in which the Nazis persecuted and systematically killed millions of Jews, than the century in which the novel was first published. The titles of Adach's paintings are 'Volksschwäne' (Folk swans), 'Nazi holidays' and 'Arno Breker Studio'.

Adach is known for basing his paintings on photos, as are many other artists, among them Gerhard Richter. 'Nazi holidays' shows a beach scene. Sparsely-clothed people are lying or sitting on the beach or are standing at the railing watching the sea. Unrecognizable flags are hanging from the flagpoles; the sail of the boat on the horizon is as white as a flag of truce. Only the title brings cruelty to the painting. In the century of two world wars, the murderers and their families, and also those who had brought them to power, were sunning themselves on the beach. Kraft durch Freude – Strength through Joy.

As with Gerhard Richter's portrait of charming and smiling 'Uncle Rudi' wearing a Wehrmacht uniform, Adach also brings together supposed opposites. Adach's painting 'Danzig (Westerplatte)' seems to be a fairly innocuous, classical still life with a swan and a swan scull. As a former veterinary student, he found the dead object now painted in 1992 on the Westerplatte, close to Gdansk. For the inhabitants of Adach's native country, Westerplatte is associated with much more death and suffering - 'For Poland, World War II began at the Westerplatte,' says Adach in his notes.

Adach describes in his notes how the Droste-Hülshoff-portrait on the 20-mark bill (immortalized in the painting 'Town Money Found in the Woods') led him to read her novel 'Die Judenbuche' many years later, and how he learned that Annette was Jenny's sister ( 'J as Jenny'). He knew of Jenny from his earlier studies of Walter Benjamin. He held the bill in his hand one early morning in Munich before the monetary union. On this morning he witnessed Japanese tourists being persecuted by men that Adach suspected were neo-Nazis. As they approached him, he pretends to be French. They only left him alone because he denied his Polish origin.

'These random elements completed my collection of intimate details and emotions relating to the long history of German culture', Adach writes towards the end of his text, and continues ''Das Jahrhundert der Judenbuche' is not definite. It expands beyond the biographies and events of our history and forms an unconscious, almost mystical dimension whose contours are not confined to Germany.'

Adach was born and grew up in Poland. He now lives and works in France. From Germany's neighboring country in the east to the neighboring country in the west. Two world wars emanating from Germany have shaped the past century. Poland and France played a special role in the war, and today it is especially important for German politicians to have good relationships with the two countries Adach calls his homes.

His thoughts in 'Das Jahrhundert der Judenbuche' deal with these three countries and with Wilhelm Grimm, Jenny and Annette von Droste-Hülshoff, Walter Benjamin and Peter Sloterdijk. Benjamin, whom Adach has portrayed darkly in the painting 'Berliner', lived in Illies' period of time. The other persons are so important within the European cultural history that they probably would have shown up in his book if it was not limited to dealing with the year 1913.

Adach's works are not only referring to the specific historical period of Totalitarianism in Europe. 'Romantics (G8 Rostock)' is dated 2007-2012. The summit of the major industrialized nations took place in Heiligendamm in 2007. The masked person in the painting is presumably protesting violently against the summit. 'Riots in Rostock - 430 police officers injured' was a headline in Spiegel Online in those days. It can only be speculated as to whether the title of Adach's painting refers to the fact that those in Europe who oppose the economic order dominated by the G8 are devaluated with the attribute 'Social Romantics'. In 2012, when the painting was completed, this subject was again very relevant. In the south of the continent, angry citizens are out on the streets demonstrating against the (savings) policies applied to battle the financial crisis which brought their countries to the brink of bankruptcy. Some of the protesters resemble the person portrayed by Adach. Sometimes Angela Merkel is shown with Nazi symbols during demonstrations.

December, 2012, when some of Adach's paintings were being shown in the exhibition 'Premiere 2013' and Illies' book received a lot of attention because of the approaching Christmas season sales and the new year, was also the month in which the head of the largest bank of a small neighboring country of Germany, namely Denmark, was especially defensive since his bank had used pictures similar to 'Romantics (G8 Rostock)' in its commercials. The image of the Danske Bank had suffered a particularly hard blow during the financial crisis and tried to regain its standing with this act of unrefracting ingratiation. These commercials were running in all the countries in which the Danske Bank is represented, including Poland.

The themes of some of Adam Adach's works are almost continuously topical as are the themes of Annette von Droste-Hülshoff in 'The Judenbuche'. These themes might relate to specific events and time periods, but the underlying characteristics are often, unfortunately, timeless.