Benjamin und Brecht: Review of the Exhibition at the Akademie der Künste, Berlin

Yesterday I had the chance to (at last) visit the exhibition on “Benjamin and Brecht: Denken in Extremen (Thinking in Extremes)”, focused on the versatile and challenging life and work of the two intellectuals. With a particular focus on the ambivalent and controversial, heavily criticized (by their surroundings) friendship, the exhibition manages to guide us through the lives, work and mentalities of the two philosophers.
Extremely rich in information, widely provocative and multi-sensory, the exhibition is a top-notch must-go if you are even just familiar with the names Drawing from a rich compendium of information from the Walter Benjamin and Bertolt Brecht Archives which belong to the Akademie, the curatorial team has managed to bring alive the multi-faceted relationship and communication between the two men. Also, the setting of the rooms and the curation of the space are quite user-friendly, so don’t be afraid to read, touch and ask questions to the members of the stuff who walk around.
With a provenance in ‘conservative’ criticism and philosophy Benjamin and acute denial of the established status quo of society and dramaturgy, Brecht are brought together under the same roof of the first floor of the Akademie. The space of the exhibition is roughly divided into two ‘thematic’ chunks; one deals with the actual historical and sociopolitical framework within which the two intellectuals worked and lived. the other part deals almost exclusively with artworks made as ‘actions’ or ‘re-actions’ to the themes of the exhibition by contemporary artists. On the historical trajectory that is shown in this exhibition, one can exert valuable information not only about the works of the two per se but also about the ambivalence of the era in which they lived and influenced each other. On the other hand, the artworks made for the occasion highlight a modern perspective on the work (sometimes assigned to current politics in parallel to Nazi politics in the times of B & B).
When I mention ‘action’ and ‘re-action’ I mean to distinguish between two kinds of interaction with the primary material of the exhibition; by ‘action’ I mean the production of new material, of new subject matter as indirectly inspired by or referring to the materials on show. By ‘re-action’ I mean to refer to the direct reflection of the influence of B & B to the contemporary artwork. On the walls of the two vast exhibition rooms, there are also iPads with headphones where one can either listen to originally recorded recitations or dialogues of the period and read on the screen at the same time.
The walls are enhanced aesthetically with quotations from the two which serve to accompany the exhibited materials. The exhibition is a combination of original memorabilia and modern installation techniques, thus providing a holistic approach. In assistance to the multi-sensory navigation, the artistic discourse is enriched by counter-arguments which are reflected on the yellow panels in the first room of the exhibition. As one explored the life and relation of the two intellectuals, one can also read the reactions to this friendship by other contemporaries, including Hannah Arendt, Elisabeth Hauptmann and Asja Lacis.
Other references include a tribute to Kafka’s Der Prozess which was one of Brecht’s favorite books and Marx who greatly inspired Brecht.
In a few words, a must-go
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