The World on Paper
The Opening Exhibition of the PalaisPopulaire

It is the most comprehensive exhibition of works from the Deutsche Bank Collection to date. With around 300 highlights and new discoveries, “The World on Paper” shows the fascination this medium has exerted on artists since postwar modernism. At the same time, the exhibition makes it clear that even in the digital age paper has continually opened up new possibilities.
In the rotunda of the PalaisPopulaire you feel like you are walking through a moving drawing. In her installation Moondiver II, the Swiss artist Zilla Leutenegger fuses mural, drawing, and video projection. The stairway is like an animation containing lines and a spot of color as well as the visitors climbing the stairs. Leutenegger has a full moon rise. But the celestial body is only a dummy. It is hanging on a construction crane drawn on the wall, which by means of projection continually lifts it up. Each time it shines in a new color – like a lampion at a night garden party. Moondiver II is wonderfully melancholic, romantic, and simultaneously full of comedy. But the truly amazing thing about this work is that Leutenegger treats the entire space like an empty, white sheet of paper on which a little, absurd story is drawn that encompasses the viewers, the banisters, every detail, every movement.

Almost unnoticeably, Leutenegger draws us into an imaginary world in which something that is mundane takes on a new, poetic meaning. Her contribution marks the beginning of The World on Paper, a show featuring works by 134 artists from the Deutsche Bank Collection. The opening exhibition picks up on the architecture of the PalaisPopulaire and on three floors presents three thematic “worlds” that deal with central aspects of contemporary art.

The exhibition begins on the top floor with a section devoted to abstraction on paper. Here, constructivist postwar modernism – the colorful squares of Josef Albers or Hermann Glöckner’s mobiles made of newspaper – meets the Post-Minimal art of Bruce Nauman and Eva Hesse, as well as conceptual works by Hanne Darboven and Karin Sander. All of these works illustrate the experimental character of the medium of paper. They examine space, surface, and line. Artists such as the American Lauren Seiden and the Chinese Yang Jiechang lend a three-dimensional structure to paper: It crinkles and waves, curves upward or forms valleys like an abstract landscape seen from a bird’s-eye view. For artist-musicians such as John Cage and Gerhard Rühm, as well as for the members of the ZERO group, paper is a means of playing with chance, materiality, and composition, while the paper works of Markus Lüpertz and the Abstract Expressionist Joan Mitchell are examples of Informel, gestural painting. This section also features young, global artists who are carrying on the legacy of postwar abstraction under new political and formal auspices. They include Waqas Khan, Haegue Yang, and Achraf Touloub. From a distance, the hundreds of vibrating lines in the drawings of the latter, a Moroccan artist, look like an impenetrable tangle. But a closer look reveals that they are the intricately interwoven outlines of human figures. The surface of the paper, says Touloub, is like “a kind of screen that repeats the fractal reality of our continuous, connected world.” In his work, Touloub references both the centuries-old Arab art of calligraphy and current network theories.

The works on the ground floor concentrate thematically on people’s self-image, on the artistic view of the body and identity, as well as personal and collective history. A focal point is a room built into the hall that is dedicated to early drawings and watercolors by Joseph Beuys. The artist kept them together as a group until the 1960s, and the last time they were jointly exhibited was 28 years ago. The Beuys works correspond with works in which artists engage with their own bodies and, in the process, lend an almost physical quality to the paper. An example is the ink drawing of the Japanese performance artist Atsuko Tanaka, which she used as the basis for her Electric Dress in the 1950s. Or a self-portrait by the Indian painter Bhupen Khakhar, on whose head becomes a whole universe of overlapping images of people, plants, and animals. Another part of this section is devoted to the subjective, artistic view of our collective memories. It shows how history is inscribed in our memories as well as our bodies. This is particularly apparent in the work of Evelyn Taocheng Wang, which recalls a Chinese hand roll, a centuries-old medium. The artist uses this format for a completely new construct that blends together allusions to history, literature, and her own life. This section also contains works by women artists such as Kara Walker, Ellen Gallagher, and Wangechi Mutu, which deal with racism, sexism, and black diaspora.

The show concludes on the bottom floor. The final section artistically investigates urban spaces, exploring technologies as well as new economic and symbolic functions of images and products. The works on display continually draw connections to other media such as installation, performance, sculpture, film, theater, literature, and even the graphic novel. Doug Aitken’s Ultraworld series is a kind of visual mood board on whose basis the Canadian artist later created his multimedia works. These collaged pictures are very similar to film, reminiscent of the façade screens and holograms in Ridley Scott’s science fiction classic Blade Runner, in which images from advertising and entertainment are projected on skyscrapers all over Los Angeles. Other exhibits, including the works of Larissa Fassler and Charles LaBelle, map urban space. While the U.S. artist Andrea Zittel combines the pioneering spirit of the American West with the visions of the Bauhaus in her designs for mobile houses, the Egyptian artist Basim Magdy conjures up a future, post-human world in his psychedelic, brightly colored drawings.

An examination of media images and mass culture also plays an important role in this section. This is evident from works by prominent artists such as Andy Warhol, Sigmar Polke, and James Rosenquist, as well as in works by newcomers, including Karl Haendel and Ciprian Mureșan.

For art after 1945, the Deutsche Bank Collection is one of the world’s most important collections concentrating on paper. The World on Paper documents how a focus on works on paper gave rise to a very young, experimental collection. The show marks the beginning of an exhibition series at the PalaisPopulaire that in the years to come will illuminate ever-new aspects of the collection.   

The World on Paper
PalaisPopulaire, Berlin
9/27/2018 – 1/7/2019