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Mixed media: the Michael Kohlhaas Curtain

Projects | September 1, 2011 | By:

What happens when a near legendary American artist and an acclaimed Spanish engineer-architect decide to collaborate? “Stella & Calatrava: The Michael Kohlhaas Curtain,” a bold, stylistically unconventional mixed media work installed in Berlin’s Neue Nationalgalerie, designed by Mies Van der Rohe.

Calatrava initially approached Stella about working together on a project that would reflect their multidisciplinary approach to creating art and architecture. Part painting, part sculpture, part architectural engineering, “Kohlhaas Curtain” is suspended from the gallery’s ceiling, commanding and countering Mies’ visually austere upper pavilion of steel and glass. The work consists of a 30m mural from 2008 painted by Stella on sheets of tarpaulin shaped into a circular ring and set within a lattice steel framework by Calatrava, called a torus. The result is a panoramic viewing experience of form, color, pattern and shifting spatial orientation.

Stella named the complex work in tribute to Heinrich von Kleist’s book “Michael Kohlhaas: A Tale from the Old Chronicle,” to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the author’s death. If details are lost on the unfamiliar viewer, a sense of Kleist’s narrative is conveyed through vivid color and dynamic forms.

According to Calatrava, “The beauty of this installation is that it plays with the human scale, incorporating the spectator into the painting as well as into the sculpture … By putting the canvas inside of the sculptural ring and enclosing it, you almost get an infinite dimension, because there is no beginning and no end.”

Neue Nationalgalerie organized “Stella & Calatrava: The Michael Kohlhaas Curtain” in conjunction with the Museo Pablo Serrano, Zaragossa, Spain, where it will travel after closing in Berlin on Aug. 14.

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