The anniversary of the Reformation is being accompanied by a contemporary art project. The old prison in Wittenberg is being transformed for the exhibition entitled “Luther and the Avant-Garde”.
Art in jail – or Luther and the Avant-Garde!
International contemporary art meets the Reformation. A large exhibition project marking the 500th anniversary of the Reformation takes a contemporary look at the seismic events of the sixteenth century. From May to September 2017, the works of around 60 renowned and international artists will be exhibited in Wittenberg, Berlin and Kassel.
Freedom as a focus
Ai Weiwei, Markus Lüpertz, Isa Genzken, Olafur Eliasson, Assaf Gruber – next year in Wittenberg artists from all over the world will present their perspective on the Reformation and current societal questions, reusing the space of former prison cells with their works for the project “Luther and the Avant-Garde”. Two smaller parallel exhibitions in Berlin and Kassel round the project off.
The focus of the exhibition is on Luther’s idea of the “Freedom of a Christian”, freedom of faith and conscience, explained Margot Käßmann when presenting the plans last week. But the project is not about religious paintings, it is about examining the thought of Martin Luther, stressed the ambassador of the Reformation for the German Evangelical Church (EKD). This was Luther’s “trail-blazing insight” that also put the idea of tolerance into circulation, says Käßmann.
“Open to negative insights”
Another aim of the project is to give expression to the “contradictions of such an important figure as Luther” and address his anti-Judaism, says Kay Heymer, one of the exhibition’s curators. The exhibition “Luther and the Avant-Garde” is hence open to “negative insights”.
The Church and art have “gone hand in hand” for centuries, said Berlin’s former state secretary of culture André Schmitz, chairman of the exhibition’s advisory board. Over the last century this has “become elusive” and has often been “a taboo”. The resonance with artists has nevertheless been overwhelming, said Schmitz. “We could have filled a much bigger prison.”
Around half of the works are new and will be developed in the prison cells themselves. Part of the plan is to take stock of contemporary art, said Walter Smerling, spokesman for the board of trustees and chairman of the Stiftung für Kunst und Kultur (Foundation for Art and Culture). Critics of the Church are also invited: a small exhibition of works from the 2013 cycle “Scapegoating Pictures” by the British artists Gilbert & George is planned for St. Matthew’s Church at the Berlin Kulturforum.
The exhibition’s curators include Susanne Kleine of the Bundeskunsthalle in Bonn, Dimitri Ozerkov of the Hermitage art museum in St. Petersburg and the cultural historian Dan Xu of the Stiftung für Kunst und Kultur. The EKD is contributing around 2.5 million of the four million euro project. “It’s been a long time since my Church spent so much money on art,” says Schmitz. “I am quite happy to pay my church tax if it is spent in this way on art and culture.”
Keywords: Luther and the Avant-Garde, exhibition, Reformation