Mixed Review: Dmitri Prigov, ‘Bridge’

Gallery Foto/Graphik Kaethe Kollwitz; Kollwitzstrasse 58, Berlin, Germany, until 8 June 1999

This open-air gallery at the site of the former home of German artist Kaethe Kollwitz regularly shows new works by various artists. It is a dynamic medium commemorating Kaethe Kollwitz’s deep social and human concern that made her one of Germany’s foremost expressionist artists. Playing on Berlin’s location between East and West, Prigov’s drawing “The Bridge” falls into the genre of his “newspaper drawings” and is open to various interpretations.

Rubinshtein Mix. . . This time, we’ll start like this (Lev Rubinshtein, “This time”, 1987): There is another installation of Prigov’s in Berlin at the moment: “The Bridge”, a drawing on the front page of the newspaper “Moskovskii Komsomolets”, done in Prigov’s usual fashion: he draws a big black blot in ballpen, leaves out the letters BRDG, and inserts the vowels i and e in red paint. The drawing is exhibited in a public display case designed to commemorate the site of the former home of Kaethe Kollwitz (1867-1945), one of Germany’s foremost expressionist artists. The location is Kollwitzstrasse 58, on the corner of Kollwitzplatz, in the heart of Berlin’s most “in” quarter.

Binder Mix. . . And now, we’ll pay our dues to artist Pat Binder who conceived the installation site: The Kollwitzplatz is at the heart of Berlin’s most “in” quarter, the Prenzlauer Berg. What used to be East Germany’s center of unofficial culture is now a busy, somewhat touristy area with shops, pubs, and restaurants, located in turn-of-the-century buildings, some of which have been renovated while others are half-ruined. One of the few new buildings in this area is Kollwitzstrasse 58, the site of the former home of German expressionist artist Kaethe Kollwitz. For decades, the place was left empty, serving as memorial site for the Kollwitz sculpture “Mother with Two Children”. Now a new building has been erected and the monument has been moved. However, to commemorate the place, artist Pat Binder has conceived the gallery Foto/Grafik Kaethe Kollwitz, consisting of a simple public display case featuring changing works by various artists. At the moment, the case is filled by a drawing of the Moscow conceptual artist, Dmitri Prigov. Prigov has taken the front page of the newspaper Moskovskii Komsomolets, and, in his usual fashion, has drawn a big black blot across it in ballpen. Left blank, there are the four block capitals BRDG; a small i and e are inserted in red paint. The drawing is open to a variety of interpretations. In the catalogue that accompanies Prigov’s Berlin installation, “Pulsating Black”. Pat Binder suggests that they be read as BRD (the German acronym for Federal Republic of Germany, commonly used in the East), or backwards as GDR (for German Democratic Republic), and calls to mind the biblical Writing on the wall. The word “Bridge” may also refer to Berlin’s geopolitical position, or to the Kollwitzplatz’s function as a bridge to East Berlin for Western tourists. This sociopolitical significance of the otherwise unprepossessing drawing would match the pathos of Kollwitz’s later work. It may, however, be that Prigov is simply poking fun at the viewers who try to find a message of this kind in the “Bridge”. In the performance that opened his exhibition, Prigov chanted, mantra-like, the opening stanza of the all-time classic of Russian literature, Evgenii Onegin. To this reviewer, it seems that the ultimate goal of Prigov’s current work – “Bridge” as well as “Pulsating Black”- is to invite the viewer to meditate on its various possible meanings, up to the point where a state of complete mindlessness is achieved. Whether the Kollwitzplatz is the right place for this, I don’t know. Even during the opening, mindlessness was more easily be attained in one of the numerous bars in the area.