Imran Qureshi saw the carnage on TV after a bomb ripped through a market in his Lahore neighborhood, a place where he’d once enjoyed shopping with his wife.
What struck him, he said at yesterday’s opening of his exhibition in Berlin, was “how a landscape can change from one moment to the next from a place of life to a place of blood.” That contradiction of life and destruction is the core of his work, on view at Deutsche Bank AG’s KunstHalle.
A heap of loosely crumpled papers stained with blood-red paint inhabits an entire room, like a pile of discarded rags used to mop the floor of a slaughterhouse. Dining-table-sized oval canvases are splattered with scarlet paint and bloom with blood-red flowers like exposed internal organs.
Qureshi, Deutsche Bank’s Artist of the Year for 2013, trained as a miniatures painter at Pakistan’s National College of Arts in Lahore. The works on show are either enormous or tiny. The decorative, delicate miniatures, some using calligraphy and threaded with gold and bright colors, are also splashed with gobs of crimson paint.
The effect is gory and opulent, like a bomb at a temple or a shooting spree at a royal parade. The paintings are both beautiful and terrifying, blending the brutality and fragility of modern life with a tradition of painstaking craftsmanship that has survived centuries. Qureshi said his exotic red flowers represent hope for a better future in a violent present.
Qureshi exhausted supplies of perylene maroon acrylic paint in Berlin’s art shops during his visit, according to Friedhelm Huette, Deutsche Bank’s global head of art. Luckily, the Internet came to the rescue.
The bank’s space for contemporary art on Unter den Linden was until last year operated in partnership with the Solomon Guggenheim Foundation. They announced an end to that cooperation after hosting about 60 exhibitions over 15 years.
Deutsche Bank will continue to operate the space alone, said Stefan Krause, chief financial officer. Art is important for the bank “because it responds as a seismograph very early to social change,” he told the opening press conference.
Plans include a painting exhibition in cooperation with Berlin public museums, guest appearances by museums including the Tate Modern, and exhibitions of works from the bank’s own 60,000-piece collection, one of the biggest corporate art troves in the world.
Deutsche Bank’s “Artist of the Year” program, now in its fourth year, chooses an international artist who has created a substantial oeuvre in paper and photography, yet has still to enter the mainstream.
Previous winners are Wangechi Mutu of Kenya, the French-Moroccan artist Yto Barrada and Roman Ondak of Slovakia.
Qureshi may be about to enter the mainstream, with a project for the roof garden of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York scheduled for May and the Italian pavilion at this year’s Venice Biennale.
“Imran Qureshi: Artist of the Year 2013” is showing at Deutsche Bank KunstHalle on Berlin’s Unter den Linden boulevard through Aug. 4. Information: http://www.deutsche-bank-kunsthalle.de/kunsthalle
(Catherine Hickley writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Any opinions expressed are her own.)
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