Installation view Lee Mingwei: 禮 Li, Gifts and Rituals, Gropius Bau, Berlin, 2020, photo: Laura Fiorio.
The lockdown hit the cultural scene very hard. I am working in the art scene, so it made me particularly sad about not being able to visit exhibitions and museums. On the one hand, I’m amazed at how diverse the program is online: how close you can suddenly get to artists, museums, and galleries. Everything has become very personal and we can take a look behind the scenes. On the other hand, experiencing art on-site – the closeness to the work of art, the dimensions clearly in front of me – cannot be replaced.
All the happier I was finally being able to visit an exhibition: The first thing I chose was Martin-Gropius-Bau and Lee Mingwei’s exhibition: 禮 Li, gifts, and rituals (until July 12, 2020). Lee Mingwei is a Taiwanese-American, contemporary artist who dedicates himself to the rituals of giving and receiving gifts.
The exhibition is designed to be interactive, you are challenged to go inside yourself. It shows performances and installations from the past three decades, but the artist has also worked on the current corona situation – this experience starts in the first room. Small, delimited relaxation rooms are set up here. The artist asks you to enter the rooms and write a letter to yourself, which could deal with the following questions: How is the current situation for you? What worries you the most? What gives you hope? If you then close the letters and write down your address, they will be sent by the Gropius-Bau. You can also leave your thoughts for other visitors – open letters can be read. It is nice to feel this emotional work right at the beginning, it gives you a feeling of belonging and not being alone.
Before the exhibition, the artist invited Berliners to take action. You could submit clothes and items made of fabric, especially made for you. These items are packed in wooden boxes and given the associated story. Objects initially seem banal, have no meaning for me, but all the more for the owner. It was a bit like reading in a stranger’s diary – but you don’t feel ashamed because the objects want to tell their story.
Another room was transformed into a living room and enables voluntary collectors to act as hosts in this room. This creates an ‘exhibition in the exhibition’. The lenders are on-site and are happy to tell you more about the collected objects, which can have a personal but also aesthetic value. During my visit, a collection of different stones was presented. The love and dedication of the collector particularly touched me. I realized again how variably valuable certain objects can be for different people.
In another work, Lee invites 11 painters to copy a series of pictures by the American painter Edward Hicks (Peaceable Kingdom approx. 1833), with the question in mind: ‘What is your vision of peace?’ They also invited other artists to make a copy of their version of the work. In addition, texts on the works are published that give an insight into what peace means for artists. The result is a wide variety of versions of the original work. Everyone has their own view, their own interpretations. How beautiful the world is so colorful!
Each of the other works impressed and touched me very much. In the end, one part of the exhibition totally blew me away. I was approached in the exhibition with the question: “May I give you a song?” Of course … I was led to a chair and (at a good distance) an opera singer sang a song to me: Only for me! It was absolutely magical. She kept eye contact with me all the time. The first 10 seconds felt very strange and unusual. Should I smile, look away, close my eyes? This slight discomfort quickly turned into pure enthusiasm. Because when do you get such a beautiful song for free?
So, I went from room to room and let myself experience the beautiful insights into people’s minds, myself, an experience with another culture, and the world of Lee Mingwei.
Lee Mingwei: 禮 Li, Gifts and Rituals
Exhibition: Until 12 July 2020
Martin-Gropius-Bau, Niederkirchnerstraße 7, 10963 Berlin