View of the installation Lee Mingwei: 禮 Li, Gifts and rituals, Gropius Bau, Berlin, 2020, photo: Laura Fiorio.
The lockdown hit the cultural scene very hard. I work on the art scene, so it made me particularly sad not to be able to visit exhibitions and museums. On the one hand, I am amazed at the diversity of the online program: how suddenly you can get closer to artists, museums and galleries. Everything has become very personal and we can take a look behind the scenes. On the other hand, the experience of art on the spot – the proximity to the work of art, the dimensions clearly in front of me – cannot be replaced.
I am finally happier to be able to visit an exhibition: the first thing I chose is the exhibition by Martin-Gropius-Bau and Lee Mingwei: 禮 Li, gifts and rituals (until July 12, 2020). Lee Mingwei is a contemporary American Taiwanese artist dedicated to the rituals of giving and receiving gifts.
The exhibition is designed to be interactive, you are challenged to enter yourself. It shows performances and installations from the past three decades, but the artist has also worked on the current corona situation – this experience begins in the first room. Small delimited relaxation rooms are fitted out there. The artist asks you to enter the rooms and write yourself a letter, which could answer the following questions: What is the current situation for you? What are you most worried about? What gives you hope? If you then close the letters and write down your address, they will be sent by Gropius-Bau. You can also leave your thoughts to other visitors – open letters can be read. It’s nice to feel this emotional work from the start, it gives you a sense of belonging and not being alone.
Before the exhibition, the artist invited Berliners to take action. You can submit clothing and fabric items, specially designed for you. These items are packed in wooden boxes and given the associated history. The objects seem initially banal, have no meaning for me, but especially for the owner. It was like reading from a stranger’s newspaper – but you’re not ashamed because objects want to tell their story.
Another room has been transformed into a living room and allows voluntary collectors to act as hosts in this room. This creates an “exhibition in the exhibition”. The lenders are on site and are happy to tell you more about the items collected, which can have personal but also aesthetic value. During my visit, a collection of different stones was presented. The love and dedication of the collector particularly touched me. I realized again how different things can have different value for different people.
In another work, Lee invites 11 painters to copy a series of paintings by the American painter Edward Hicks (Peaceable Kingdom circa 1833), with the question in mind: “What is your vision for peace?” They also invited other artists to make a copy of their version of the work. In addition, texts on the works are published which give an overview of what peace means for artists. The result is a wide variety of versions of the original work. Everyone has their own vision, their own interpretations. How beautiful the world is, so colorful!
Each of the other works impressed and touched me greatly. In the end, part of the exhibition totally amazed me. I was approached in the exhibition with the question: “Can I give you a song?” Of course… I was led to a chair and (at a good distance) an opera singer sang a song to me: Only for me! It was absolutely magical. She kept eye contact with me all the time. The first 10 seconds seemed very strange and unusual. Should I smile, look away, close my eyes? This slight discomfort quickly turned into pure enthusiasm. Because when do you get such a beautiful song for free?
So, I went from room to room and let myself discover the beautiful ideas on people’s minds, myself, an experience with another culture and the world of Lee Mingwei.
Lee Mingwei: 禮 Li, gifts and rituals
Exhibition: until July 12, 2020
Martin-Gropius-Bau, Niederkirchnerstraße 7, 10963 Berlin
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