On The Waterfront | Pushing the Wave

On The Waterfront

Culture, 27 January 2023
by L.A. Davenport
The Waterfront in Hamburg
The waterfront in Hamburg, Germany
Being back in Berlin means many things, but one thing that is a must for me when I return is to see the latest exhibitions.

I was delighted to discover that the Berlin Museum of Modern Art is hosting an exhibition that explores the contribution of Hungarian artists to modern art in the German capital.

Magyar Modern traces the way in which these exiles enriched and broadened the avant-garde in the city, featuring well known and unsung artists who produced works in the city from before the First until the end of the Second World War.

From a room featuring The Eight, who debut their French-inspired works at the Secession in 1910, to experimental filmmakers and artists who satirised National Socialism until they were forced into a second exile under Adolf Hitler, the exhibition covers an impressive array of artists, and a wide variety of media.

This era is one that one might see as a pivot point between nineteenth century artistic mores and more modern twentieth century explorations. It sometimes seems to me as a kind of fall from grace, a losing of the innocence of the horse-drawn past and a reckoning with the mechanised world, via the brutality of the First World War.

That is a fallacy, of course, as the 19th century was just has brutal as what followed it, if not more so, but it is certainly the case that the entire framework of our lives became hemmed in by straight lines and boxes, with design conforming to the limitations of the factory production line rather than the imaginations of creative minds.

This era, this shift, which saw us become clock-watchers and automatons, has fascinated me ever since I saw an exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum a good few years ago.

Called simply Modernism, it traced across many countries and several continents the well springs of art, crafts, manufacturing and design that formed the modern world.

This current exhibition is of course much smaller in scope, but by bringing together paintings, sculpture, posters, architectural design, press photography, graphic design, magazines and more, it captures the same sense of a movement that was not limited to one art form, but that captured the evolution of creative thought in a period central to art history.
Another exhibition that I enjoyed immensely was Phantoms of the Night — 100 Years of Nosferatu, at the Sammlung Scharf-Gerstenberg.

This ingenious show examined the impact of the classic 1922 film Nosferatu – A Symphony of Horror, which follows the story of an estate agent, Hutter, as he journeys to the Transylvanian castle of Count Orlok to sell him a house in Wisbourg.

I first came across this early masterpiece after watching the wonderful Shadow of the Vampire, a fictional account of the filming of Nosferatu, in which it is suggested that the actor playing Orlok, Max Shrek, might himself have been a vampire.

In the end, the exhibition, which claims to focus on the influence that the 1922 film had on the visual arts, is perhaps a little thin, even if some of the individuals works, especially the Munch, are fascinating.

But it is fleshed out by a very imaginative and thoughtful interweaving of the film with the exhibition, in a shadowy space that aims to disorientate and instil a sense of the mysterious.
While in Berlin, I was invited to visit another German city that has been high up on my list of places to visit.

I was a little late in watching The Beatles: Get Back documentary on the Fab Four, as they recorded in-studio in preparation for the 1970 feature film Let It Be. But I loved every second of it, and their repeated discussing of their time Hamburg in the early 60s made me want to visit the place all the more.

I had been briefed that there was a Beatles tour one could do around the bars and clubs where they played, and that there was a harbour. But I did not imagine that the city would be so large and impressive, and be such a lovely place to visit.

Once day gave way to evening and then night, I understood the party reputation that Hamburg has earned, and we met all sorts of fabulously friendly German people who wanted to include us in their fun while on our survey of the key Beatles sites.

The next morning, I had the sense that, as fantastic a time I had, there was much, much more to discover, and I am already wondering when I can go back.
It’s not very often that I talk about books on this column, sadly, but I am happy to say that my memoir, My Life as a Dog, has continued to do well over the festive season.

Sales in November, December, and January were well up on previous months, although not as high as the same period last year, and it has now reached a dizzying 92 reviews on Amazon UK at the time of writing.

That sales should be slowing is hardly surprising for a book that is now a few years old, so it is good that it will be joined by a follow-up over the course of this year. I am around halfway through writing it, and have chosen a title, but when it will come out is, currently, anyone’s guess.

In the meantime, you can get your copy of My Life as a Dog here.
Dear Lucifer and Other Stories, my slim collection of short stories, poems, and other pieces, has also been getting some attention.

The three previously published excerpts on this site were joined by a fourth this week.

The Temple is a short story that I wrote while remembering a visit to the Greek temple at Paestum sometime in the 1980s.

I was an adolescent then, and I remember so clearly the blistering heat, the rambling of the guide, the rough stones and the hardy, sharp plants fighting for their lives in the arid countryside.

We spent some time on the steps of the temple before the guide marched off to the next item on the tour, and my mind wandered feverishly in the heat haze. A hundred stories from my beloved Greek myths swam up into my mind, and I wished that a Greek goddess could appear and take my away from it all, ideally to the cool, cool sea by the shore.

The Temple was my attempt to capture that feeling, and the fear that I knew I would have felt if my dream had come true.

I will add more excerpts from Dear Lucifer and Other Stories in the coming weeks, but you can get your copy of the whole book here.
© L.A. Davenport 2017-2024.

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On The Waterfront | Pushing the Wave