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Helwaser Gallery is pleased to present the first solo show of the German Pop Art pioneer Werner Berges (b. 1941, Cloppenburg, Germany; d. 2017, Schallstadt, Germany) in New York.
For this significant occasion, the gallery will present Chromatic Euphorias, a suite of works created during the late 1960s to the early 1970s in vibrant, post-war Berlin. As media-saturated optimism fueled economic recovery, Berges infused these works on paper and acrylic on canvas with utopian liberation of the female form.
Living in Berlin during the post-war period, Berges’ celebratory portraits of women captured new attitudes that swept Germany during the era, and reacted against the prevailing currents of American Abstract Expressionism and Art Informel. Releasing viewers from the mired legacies of war-time traumas, these bright figures infused with laughter, color, and naivety authorize lifestyles of unrestrained youth. Assertive in claiming her own agency, Blond maintains a sexual appeal rooted in her fierce commanding presence, while Schweidisches Müster permeates ostentatious joy and the desirous gaze of consensual pleasure. The works capture the urgency of the era’s utopian ideals of free love, mind-expanding spiritualism, and high-octane euphoria.
Described as a "specific aesthetic resulting from the historical, political, and societal situation of postwar West Germany" by Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art Max Hollein, German Pop Art emerged in the mid-1960s against the backdrop of the country's post-war recovery. It was at the height of this cultural moment that Berges began to turn towards figurative art, using the formal aesthetics of mass media as more consumer goods were produced and marketed to urban audiences.
Often flat, graphic, and vibrant, Berges' works depict images of the female figure against backdrops of circles, grids, and stripes of color, which evoke commercial magazines. Extreme close-ups and fragmentation of the body utilize the techniques of television production. However, these sharp lines and exacting cut colored vinyl planes bare traces of the artist's hand. By turning to representative and figurative art, Berges commented on the visual culture of 1960s and 70s Germany, and thus became a pioneering, but under-recognized, figure in the German Pop Art movement. This exhibition illustrates a translation of the female nude from art historical trope to modern object of desire, and ultimately to liberated sexual being.
About the Artist
Berges' first solo exhibition occured in Großgörschen 35, an influential artist-run space established by pioneering figures such as Ulrich Baehr, Hans-Jürgen Diehl, and Karl-Horst Hödicke. The year 1966 marked a watershed moment in Berges' career; he began to develop his signature iconography as demonstrated by the works in this exhibition. By 1977, Berges moved away from Berlin; yet, the works he created during his time there continued to define a crucial position within the German Pop Art movement.
His works have been included in over 200 solo and group exhibitions in various venues in Europe and around the world. Notable solo exhibitions include the Goethe-Institut in Lyon (1977), Marseille (1978), and Avignon (1978); Kunsthaus Hanover (2001); Morat-Institut, Freiburg (2014); Kunstverein Kirchzarten (2018), amongst others. Group shows include PRAXIS 81, Palacio de la Vireina, Barcelona, Spain (1981); Torso, Kunstverein Kassel, Germany (1982); German Pop, Schim Kunsthalle Frankfurt (2014); Deutscher Pop, Galerie Diede, Germany (2016), amongst others. He passed away in Freiburg, Germany in 2017.
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