Hamburger Bahnhof

National Gallery Prize for Young Art 2009

11 Sep 2009 - 03 Jan 2010

Dahn Vo, Keren Cytter, Annette Kelm, Omer Fast
Foto: Philipp Schumann
11 September 2009 - 3 January 2010

The Preis der Nationalgalerie für junge Kunst (Nationalgalerie Prize for Young Art) will be awarded for the fifth time this year. With prize money amounting to 50 000 euros, the Nationalgalerie Prize for Young Art is one of the most generous awards for contemporary art in Germany. The prize is awarded to artists under the age of 40 who live and work in Germany, irrespective of their nationality.

Four artists have been nominated for the 2009 prize who all live in Berlin: Keren Cytter, Omer Fast, Annette Kelm and Danh Vo. Their works will be presented to the public from September 2009 in a joint show in the Hamburger Bahnhof - Museum für Gegenwart - Berlin. After the exhibition has opened a jury will decide on a winner. The prize comes with a sale: one work by the winner of the award is purchased for the National Gallery.

Winner 2009: Omer Fast

The nominees, Keren Cytter, Omer Fast, Annette Kelm and Danh Vo are artists whose respective works are characterised by deep reflection about our perception and our relationship to art and society. However, the subjects and the approaches chosen by each of the artists could hardly be more different. As a result, the presentation of their works in the Hamburger Bahnhof museum displays a large degree of diversity. Rarely used side rooms were purposefully included in the staging of the works. Thus, the exhibition begins with a botanical excursion:

Danh Vo has planted a garden on the roof of the historical passageway using plants which former French missionaries introduced to Europe on their return from Vietnam. The artist ordered these plants from a special horticultural nursery in North Rhine-Westphalia; they may be regarded as descendants of the varieties that were originally introduced, among them predominantly different species of rhododendron. On the roof of the Hamburger Bahnhof the signs and ribbons attached to the plants still indicate the respective variety and identify the plants as representative specimen: the intention is not to illustrate the romantic idea of a garden but the consequences of colonial history which are still felt until the present day. Objects like a sword, a rifle, a wooden burial niche, which Danh Vo displays in the gallery room on the opposite side, point in a different way to the past history of Vietnam. The most prominent object is certainly an original chandelier from the Hotel Majestic in Paris, which Danh Vo succeeded to obtain after prolonged negotiations and beneath which the Vietnam peace conference was held in 1973. In all of Danh Vo's objects the political or also metaphorical charge of things becomes at the same time intermingled with the artist's own biography in a surprisingly subjective gesture.

Omer Fast has produced a film trilogy entitled “Nostalgia”, which in content and spatial dimension shows a sophisticated dramaturgy of its own. All three films are based on the real story of a West African refugee who is asking for asylum in London. On the flat screen still outside the actual film room you can watch “Nostalgia I”, a film showing a British gamekeeper building a simple animal trap. This is just the action which the African refugee describes in the original interview, the soundtrack of which has still remained intact in “Nostalgia I”. The second film, now in duo-track, shows a virtuoso interview, again about the story of the refugee, but interpreted by the artist visually in a completely new way. Finally, in “Nostalgia III”, shown as a large projection at the end of Omer Fast's spirally built film room, one finds elements of the same refugee's story. Here, they have, however, been transformed into nightmarish scenes: the partially fantastical story is far removed from our present-day reality and instead is set, in a similar way as the movie “Blade Runner”, in something like an “alternative past” (Omer Fast). By intertwining the three films Omer Fast asks the question of how history and reality are treated by the mass media, and, especially, in a film's narrative structure. Taken together, the project “Nostalgia” does not only combine documented fact and fiction, but also, in particular, the High and Low of the devices used in filmmaking: they range from simple interview scenes to lavishly staged actions which in their technical brilliance come close to the big screen.

Annette Kelm shows a selection of completely new works in a very clearly structured open presentation. The pictures themselves are full of riddles. What at a first glance may appear simple or even easily comprehensible is beginning to look weird and profound when taking a closer look. It always seems as if something inappropriate or absurd has crept into the pictures. In the series of a field of sunflowers, for example, a feeling of uncertainty is conveyed by the perspective and the strong light. In “Michaela, Coffee Break” one is wondering about the awkward posture of the depicted young lady. Why does she hold the cup so high? Is it a quotation of an old-fashioned gesture used in painting? All these questions remain without answer. With her crude assemblies Annette Kelm is creating a certain irritation, which instils curiosity and the search for links. Particularly instructive in this regard is her series about photographs by Herbert Tobias, an important portrait photographer of the 1960s and 1970s. Annette Kelm has photographed his late works for album covers and their presentation in a museum; she has thereby exposed the cultural layering which one is subjected to in any kind of retrospective. It is exactly this interaction of strange references and reminiscences that distinguishes the works by Annette Kelm and makes them unique among the more recent developments in photography.

Keren Cytter has produced three new films for the exhibition; all of them are based on the idea of using some extreme news found on the internet. According to this news, three equally hair-raising stories happened at the beginning of the year 2009: A woman who gets up after being shot in the head and continues to live; a man who jumps twice from the fifth floor of a high-rise building and also survives; finally, another man who is killed openly in the street by supposedly “eleven stabs with a knife in five seconds”. In her films Keren Cytter has reconstructed these gruesome scenes with actors, but leaving the theatrical stage-setting in plain view. It is also obvious that the dialogue in the films has been invented by the artist. The combination with the partially rather trashy interior and cool remix music from crime movies of the 1960s produces a poetical retouching of the stories, which extends into the surrealistic. In the end, the films are more likely to be interpreted as free psychological studies which explore aspects of the finite nature of human existence. In addition, a special dramatic effect is created by screening them in side rooms of the Hamburger Bahnhof; for example, one of the films is shown in a narrow stairwell - the “classic” location in a crime thriller. In this manner, the films by Keren Cytter always also paraphrase with some virtuosity our clichés of violence and death, as they are ubiquitously present in the annals of film and television.

The works of all artists were produced with the support of the Verein der Freunde der Nationalgalerie. The film project “Nostalgia” by Omer Fast has been co-produced by South London Gallery and Berkeley Art Museum.

Tags: Keren Cytter, Omer Fast, Annette Kelm, Danh Vo