You won’t encounter many second-lines on the streets of Berlin, and you’d be hard pressed to find a decent oyster po-boy as easily as you can in New Orleans.
But the two cities have more in common than you might think.
Indeed, the artistic affinities between New Orleans and Berlin are what inspired the current exhibition at Jonathan Ferrara Gallery in the Warehouse District. “Exchange” features eight painters and photographers from Galerie Jochen Hempel in Berlin, and is the first of two collaborative shows in 2015 between the two galleries: seven of Ferrara’s mostly New Orleans-based artists will be shown at Hempel’s gallery this summer.
“Both cities are at the forefront of what’s happening artistically right now,” said Ferrara. “And there’s a particularly dynamic creative energy in Berlin and New Orleans that you just don’t find in many other places.”
Ferrara first entertained the idea of a gallery exchange while participating in the VOLTA art fair in Basel, Switzerland, in 2014, where he found his gallery’s booth situated near Hempel’s.
“Meeting Jochen and his staff and looking at the art they showed made me think that there were possibilities there,” he said. He added that as far as he’s aware, “Exchange” is one of the first exhibitions of its kind to be mounted in New Orleans, and is most likely the first exhibition to focus exclusively on artists from Germany in the city’s history.
Although none of the artists in “Exchange” had New Orleans in mind when creating their work — and while all of the art in the show is more than strong enough to stand on its own — visitors to the show may likely identify several elements that link the paintings and photographs to local themes and visual motifs.
Cool, cerebral architectural landscapes by Ulf Puder feature pastel-hued buildings in various states of composition and decay in a serene watery environment: Bauhaus on the Bayou.
A painting depicting a ship stranded in the middle of a placid agricultural setting by Sven Kroner recalls the surreal juxtapositions seen all over the New Orleans area in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
In their riotous color and sense of controlled chaos, there’s something vaguely Carnivalesque in the grid of small, heavily impastoed paintings by Hartwig Ebersbach, almost sculptural in their thick application of paint. And several of Peter Krauskopf’s pigment studies — abstracted representations on views seen through a window — inadvertently capture the tropical hues of a southern Louisiana sunset.
The spirit that links Berlin and New Orleans also is evident in some of the photos by four photographers in the show who documented the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Gerhard Gäbler’s image of a man in a skirt splashing an exploding bottle of champagne over the heads of a celebrating crowds looks like it could have been taken on Bourbon Street on a rainy evening if not for the Brandenburg Gate looming in the background. And anyone who’s been caught up in a mass of people on Canal Street will identify with the mood of tense expectation that characterizes Uwe Frauendorf’s vertiginous studies of crowds gathering in Leipzig in autumn 1989.
Ferrara also explained that the photographs help provide the exhibition with a sense of place, putting the paintings in the adjacent gallery in a specific geographic context.
But Berlin isn’t the only place the gallery plans on highlighting: Ferrara said that the current iteration of “Exchange” marks the first in a series of cooperative exhibitions with galleries in other foreign cities. Future exhibitions will feature galleries and artists from Mexico City, London and Paris.
“It gives New Orleans art a chance to shine on an international stage,” said Ferrara. “The rest of the world needs to know what we’re doing down here.”