Review: An American artist’s provocative tribute to a 1970s German radical
Even if you don’t know who Ulrike Meinhof was, Daniel Joseph Martinez’s new suite of photographs at the gallery Roberts & Tilton is moving. Created last year during a residency in Berlin, the large images depict Martinez, bundled up for winter weather, at various locations where the Berlin Wall stood. In each photograph, he is holding a medieval-style standard featuring an image of Meinhof; the portraits, taken at different points in her life, include one from her autopsy.
Meinhof was a left-wing journalist, a mother, a co-founder of the militant anti-capitalist Red Army Faction in 1970s Berlin and eventually a prisoner accused of murder. She is, to say the least, a complicated figure to lionize. She died under mysterious circumstances while awaiting trial.
In each image, Martinez is stalwart, holding his banner up like a protest sign or planting it on the ground like a flag. Locations include the building where the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) was founded, a Soviet cemetery and other, surprisingly pastoral landscapes that used to be checkpoints or crossings interrupted by the wall. The photographs are printed in a muted palette of silvery grays, creating a somber glow.
The imagery of a lone American man of Mexican descent quietly holding aloft the image of a German woman is a moving tribute in itself. But Martinez, ever the provocateur, turns a woman often referred to as a terrorist into Joan of Arc. Further, he performs this gesture where the Berlin Wall — the most iconic site of the Cold War — was torn down. It’s a pointed rebuke to the Trump administration’s nuclear threats and promise to build another wall.
A standard is borne into battle; it’s the flag you fight under. The difference between Meinhof and the mainstream left is that she crossed the border from pacifism to violence, or put another way, from protest to a more extreme form of action. In raising her image, Martinez raises the question: Where do you stand? And what are you going to do about it?
Roberts & Tilton, 5801 Washington Blvd., Culver City. Through Dec. 16; closed Sundays and Mondays. (323) 549-0223, www.robertsandtilton.com
The photographer’s full caption for the photo above: “The Kanzleramt in Berlin (office of chancellor) was built from 1997 to 2001 as part of the relocation of the Federal Government from Bonn to Berlin. The Kanzleramt is the highest Government quarter in the world (36 meters) and is eight times bigger than the White House in Washington, D.C."
The photographer’s full caption for the photo above: “This was a tiny valley floor at the 'Rudower Höhe.' The park is located in the districts of Rudow and Alt-Glienicke. The Rudower Höhe was created from a 70-meter-high mountain of rubble in the 1950s. Further east, the Wall ran before the turnaround. Approximately 400 meters of the wall can still be seen in the original. Since 2001, these remains have been declared a Historic Monument.”
The photographer’s full caption for the photo above: “The Soviet memorial park in the district of Schönholz. The Soviet War Memorial in Schönholzer Heide (German: Sowjetisches Ehrenmal in der Schönholzer Heide) in Pankow, Berlin, was erected in the period between May 1947 and November 1949 and covers an area of 30,000 square meters. The memorial contains the biggest Soviet cemetery in Berlin, which is also the biggest Russian cemetery in Europe outside of Russia."
The photographer’s full caption for the photo above: “Teltow Channel close to the Dreilinden roadhouse. The Teltow Channel, (German: Teltowkanal) is a canal that lies in both the states of Berlin (south) and Brandenburg, and at points forms the boundary between the two. Hidden away near the Teltowkanal is the old border control point and roadhouse Dreilinden. The area is part of a nature reserve. Nearby is a bridge across the canal which was divided by a piece of wall during the GDR period, making it impassable."
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