Two New Exhibits @ Wende Online – Transformations/See Thy Neighbor

How does our perspective on historical moments—past, present, and future—affect ways of seeing? Two new exhibitions presented virtually by the Wende Museum explore how Eastern European material culture has been viewed, dispersed, and interpreted across time, space, and borders. While the Wende Museum remains temporarily closed to the public due to COVID-19 guidance, forthcoming virtual tour experiences will be presented as part of #WendeOnline. As an institution named for change, we are excited about this new way of bringing the museum online.

Transformations: Living Room -> Flea Market -> Museum -> Art

Transformations: Living Room -> Flea Market -> Museum -> Art examines how a political watershed moment, the fall of the Berlin Wall, initiated a radical change in the perception of art and material culture. After the Wall came down in 1989, many people living in formerly communist countries discarded their household items in response to gaining access to a new world of consumer goods. Objects associated with the Cold War ended up in dumping grounds and flea markets or were stored away in basements and attics.

However, with passing time and an increasingly critical attitude toward the realities of life in post-socialist society, historical memory shifted and a new interest in the cultural heritage of socialism developed. Items rose in value and prestige, and museums hesitantly started to acknowledge the significance and aesthetic value of Soviet Bloc artwork and artifacts. Once included in archives and museums such as the Wende, these materials then became available for appropriation and reinterpretation. Transformations thus includes new works by contemporary artists Chelle Barbour, Ken Gonzales-Day, Farrah Karapetian, Richtje Reinsma & Daphne Rosenthal, Jennifer Vanderpool, and Bari Ziperstein, who use items from the Wende collection, displayed in earlier sections of the exhibition, for personal reflections on history, memory, and ideology, past and present. In partnership with the Getty Conservation Institute, Transformations also references the importance of scientific approaches to preservation and how these practices are implemented in a collection such as the Wende’s.

Through a four-part passage from living room to flea market to museum to art studio, Transformations presents the metamorphosis of everyday objects in radically different contexts, highlighting how the ever-changing interpretations of the past are consistently informed by present-day views and concerns.

See Thy Neighbor: Stern Photographers Thomas Hoepker and Harald Schmitt in the GDR

Thomas Hoepker, Russians Carry Historic 1945 Victory Flag in a Free German Youth (FDJ) Vehicle at a Parade for the 25th Anniversary of the GDR, East Berlin, 1974. Harald Schmitt, German Skaters in Front of the TV Tower, East Berlin, 1982.

The Cold War divided much of the planet into antagonistic spheres that defined themselves in opposition to each other. While strictly separated by borders and ideology, the East and the West constantly watched and scrutinized the enemy camp, openly and in secret. This bipolar world order played out most dramatically in Germany, which was split into the Federal Republic of Germany in the west and the German Democratic Republic (GDR) in the east four years after World War II.

However, in the wake of the West German policy of détente toward Eastern Europe and the subsequent official relations established between the two German states, the West German-based news magazine Stern set up an office in East Berlin in 1973, where Thomas Hoepker settled as permanent photo correspondent two years later. In December 1976, Hoepker relocated to New York and was succeeded by Harald Schmitt in October 1977. Schmitt stayed for more than six years and married an East German conservator. He had to leave the country in 1983 when the East German authorities didn’t extend his accreditation.

Through the lenses of Hoepker and Schmitt, See Thy Neighbor illuminates unexpected moments from an important cultural turning point in the Cold War. Both photographers chose similar subjects, as if they had contributed to the same storyboard about politics, culture, and daily life in East Germany. See Thy Neighbor highlights Hoepker and Schmitt’s different approaches to East German life, culture, and society.

Online Opening
Sunday, October 4, 2020, 12 p.m.–2 p.m. PST
Hosted via Zoom – RSVP Here /

Press Discussion and Q&A
Sunday, October 4, 2020, 2 p.m. PST
Hosted via Zoom – RSVP Here


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