In Europe it is the second wave of museum closures due to COVID-19. In Istanbul, where this wave has not reached yet, Arter is hosting the exhibition entitled "Big Picture", bringing together a comprehensive selection from KP Brehmner's (1938-1997) works. Born in Berlin, he was one of the prominent agents of capitalist realism.

I am pleased to meet KP Brehmer via this selection of works that unforld different eras of his life. This meeting made me think on the political value of art. Especially that the discussions on political art and questions on the function of art has in our day came to a whole different extent. And I am intrigued by his creative strategies to visualize global capitalism and to make art accessible for everyone.

To talk about how this exhibition came to live, I met the curator of Arter side of the project, Selen Ansen. The process itself as she puts it, gives hints about looking at the artworks from today.

Seniha Özden translated the interview to English.

In the cover photo, Selen Ansen is in front of te work entitled "Proportion of Public Sector Employees". Here we are together after the interview. Photos: flufoto, 2020.
Co-production of Four International Institutions

Sedef: How did the curation process develop? 

Selen: This retrospective exhibition project is a co-production of four international institutions: Neues Museum Nürnberg, Hamburger Kunsthalle, Kunstmuseum Den Haag and Arter. We started working on the project in 2017. Each institution appointed a curator, and then the team met in Berlin for about a year to establish a joint pool of works and archival material. 

We borrowed the majority of the works from the KP Brehmer Collection and Estate. Sebastian Brehmer, son of KP Brehmer, who manages the Estate, gave a lot of support to this exhibition project and opened their doors to us fully. It was a very precious experience for us to be able to access the archives and dive into the oeuvre and thoughts of an artist who is no longer alive… We met regularly as a team in Berlin, where we rented a place to work together and examine the artworks in a secure and concentrated manner. 

Installation view from the exhibition, flufoto, 2020.

Among the people who guided us through the preparation process of the exhibition was René Block, KP Brehmer's gallerist and very close friend, in fact his neighbor for many years. The companionship of all these people who knew Brehmer himself and his art very well was very valuable to me. I am not of German culture and because of my age, I can only personally capture the international art scene of the 1970s and 1980s to some extent. René had a wisdom born out of his friendship with Brehmer and sincerity brought by both his witnessing the art scene of these periods, and his involvement in KP Brehmer's production as a gallery owner. 

KP Brehmer's ex-wife Monika Brehmer also supported the project generously. She opened her house to us, we were able to see the environment where KP Brehmer produced his work, sometimes with the contributions of his family and friends, and we went to the neighborhood where he lived. It was very valuable to be able to experience this together with the whole team. Actually, I am thinking now that this experience was in some way an effort of hearing an artist who was not physically among us through what he had left behind, and through those who knew him closely. 

Different Names to Each Exhibition

We formed the route of the exhibition project as a team. The first exhibition took place at the Neues Museum in Nürnberg under the name Kunst ≠ Propaganda Each exhibition that further took place in the other three venues was different and took a different name.

The title of the exhibition at Arter is KP Brehmer: The Big Picture. With this title, I wanted to point out Brehmer's practice of "visualization" as an image producer on the one hand; and on the other, to stress the distance necessary for individuals to form a critical reflection on historical and social processes.

So, rather than moving a single exhibition from institution to institution, the curator of each institution created a different exhibition with a different title. Even when an exhibition travels from venue one to another “as it is'', it is installed differently each time, in line with the architectural characteristics of the exhibition space. But in this retrospective exhibition project, beyond that, each curator created a unique perspective out of a common pool of works. 

Sedef: Such an enjoyable process. Is his house open to visitors? 

Selen: KP Brehmer started his art practice in Berlin; as I said, Monika Brehmer still lives in the house where he produced most of his works from the 70's and where they lived together when married; that is, it is not open to visitors. Brehmer then worked between Berlin and Hamburg. He started teaching at the graduate art school in Hamburg (Hochschule Für Bildende Künste), traveled between the two cities for a while, and then settled in Hamburg and passed away there. By the end of the 80's, his identity as an instructor became more dominant. 

Art ≠ Propaganda

Sedef: Why did you choose Art ≠ Propaganda as the common title? 

Selen: The answer to this question is very relevant to KP Brehmer's flag work that you enjoyed.

Correction of National Colours, Measured by Distribution of Wealth, 1970/1973

When we first set out for this project to make a single exhibition with a joint title, naturally the question emerged of what this title should be. Many of our enjoyable conversations in Berlin were also spent in search of this title. In fact, Eva Kraus’s introduction in the exhibition catalogue is about this search. Every language has a unique way of thinking. While we were looking for a title, we first looked for terms employed by KP Brehmer himself, but preserving the meaning of an expression in one language within another can be difficult. For example, a term such as "Sichtagitation" used by Brehmer becomes ambiguous when it turns into a heading such as "Stimulating the Ways of Seeing" in Turkish, and does not resonate in the same way. Or, for example, someone whose language is German immediately understands what some of his terms or phrases indicate because of its context, but sometimes it doesn't make that much sense when translated into English or Turkish. 

Sedef: A discussion that reveals the perception style in different languages…

Selen: We were after the title that would satisfy all of us, and be meaningful for everyone… After all, when you enter KP Brehmer's oeuvre, the first striking layer is his political approach to art. This attitude he applies to his artwork has also proven itself to be important for him while approaching art in general.

Accordingly, Art = Propaganda was proposed for the title. This proposal was highly ironic. As a matter of fact, Brehmer shows and criticizes how images are used for propaganda by states and political forces through his art; in other words, he produces anti-propaganda art by appropriating the images that are used for propaganda purposes.

Flag Action

In the end, the comment that led us to decide on the title that later became the title of the exhibition catalogue came from Sebastian Brehmer. 

KP Brehmer Flag Action (Fähnchenaktion), KP Brehmer produced a series of works that were translated into English as Correction of the German Flag. He asked passers-by to choose one of the three colors of the German flag. He assigned each color a political value, an ideology, and asked people to choose the color they feel closer to. In this way, he produced a piece of art with democratic methods, through elections. During the performance, a passer-by said “I have no business with art that is related to propaganda”. The title, Art ≠ Propaganda aims to indicate this ambiguity.

During the installation of the exhibition in Arter, I became even more aware of the ambiguity that Brehmer's art provokes. Since Brehmer appropriates images and symbols that are used for propaganda to produce his own art, he leaves us wondering whether he is also making propaganda. 

Sedef: A subject on the edge. 

Selen: Yes. 

A Story of Visualization

Sedef: He expresses what is happening in society, and wants to do it in a way society understands. I wonder if he was able to interact with the public as much as he wished? For example, how did a worker of that period feel when he looked at the "Soul and Feelings Of A Worker" piece?

Soul and Feelings of a Worker, Whitechapel Version, 1978-1980 Acrylic on canvas2 parts; 111 x 604 cm each, Arter Collection. Photo: flufoto

Selen: KP Brehmer's works are related to surface, image and appearance. 

According to a Platonic understanding, he deals with simulacra, that is, phenomena that distract us from reality, that cause illusion and blindness. Brehmer reveals this mechanism by visualizing it through art. His oeuvre is concerned with what shapes our daily lives, and he sheds light on them through art in a unique way. Indeed, his art is all about "visualization". 

Brehmer's works are mostly two-dimensional paintings and prints, and three-dimensional objects and installations; in addition to this, even little by number, there are pieces we can call “performative”, that are based on participation. These works are also an indication of the art of the 1960s and 70s,which gives the audience a more active role. Bringing art to the street, feeding art from the street, then bringing art back inside an institution, and establishing contact between what’s inside and outside of the field of art… These were issues Brehmer was closely interested in and methods he applied. Although he remained critical towards art institutions, such as museums and galleries, he criticized existing systems by actually entering them with his art, bringing in what he saw on the street and took from the streets, establishing in this way a connection between "inside" and "outside".

Art and Street

Brehmer applied different strategies to ensure a wider access to art, in order not to limit his art with collectors, art professionals or art lovers, and to keep access as wide as the images he used. His primary method, you may have noticed in the exhibition, is repetition and serial production that are enabled by printing. Brehmer also repeats the motifs he uses in different contexts, such as the Swastika symbol and the eye motif. In addition to this, he produced most of his works in ways that can appeal to three different categories of audiences: the first one is unique artworks for institutions such as museums, paint or unique prints, the second is limited edition works for collectors, and the third is print editions in postcard or poster format that the public could buy for a cheap price. 

Strategies for Art to Reach Masses

Brehmer applied different strategies to ensure a wider access to art, in order not to limit his art with collectors, art professionals or art lovers, and to keep access as wide as the images he used. His primary method, you may have noticed in the exhibition, is repetition and serial production that are enabled by printing. Brehmer also repeats the motifs he uses in different contexts, such as the Swastika symbol and the eye motif. In addition to this, he produced most of his works in ways that can appeal to three different categories of audiences: the first one is unique artworks for institutions such as museums, paint or unique prints, the second is limited edition works for collectors, and the third is print editions in postcard or poster format that the public could buy for a cheap price. 

Sedef: Good strategy. I just met KP Brehmer, and my last question is, why are you most pleased to meet him? 

Selen: I didn't know KP Brehmer's art until I discovered his works in the Arter Collection. At first glance, I thought they were far from the subjects and textures I was personally interested in. In other words, I did not fall in love at first sight, but it caught my attention. With this exhibition, I was given a very valuable opportunity: to dive into an artist's production and slowly discover his multi-layered works one by one.

Because the visual dimension of Brehmer's art is strong, it attracts attention without any reasoning and it can be grasped immediately. However, it also allows us to go a little deeper, if we want.

For example, it was very interesting for me to see how the images, motifs and themes used by Brehmer are interconnected and how they can relate to the present. Logos and statistics that come into our daily life, the colors and visual language which dominate today's advertising world… I started to see KP Brehmer's work everywhere.

The Issue of Color

Color was something I was interested in by education – the relationship between color and emotion. This relationship is intangible and subjective on the one hand, and a conceptual and historical connection on the other. This exhibition made me think about color, its political and social expansions. I had the opportunity to experience more closely how Brehmer has established relationships between the history of thought, the politics of desire, past and present, and his own art through the issue of color. And actually, in a much simpler way, I've started questioning why our minibuses are yellow and why we attribute the color green to nature. 

Sedef: As in the ideal landscape work. Thank you so much.

KP Brehmer, Ideal Landscape (Meditation Triangle), 1968. KP Brehmer Collection and Estate, Berlin. Photo: Roman März

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