by Udo Kittelmann. Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin; Hirmer, September 2018. 384 p. ill. ISBN 9783777430478 (pbk), $75.00.
Hello World is an ambitious and complicated book. In the introduction to the text, Udo Kittelmann, director of the Nationalgalerie, and Gabriele Knapstein, director of the Hamburger Bahnhof Museum, state the goal of the book: “Hello World sees itself as a revisioning of the institution of the Nationalgalerie: it is a great experiment and a new beginning.” This project was prompted by a request from the German Federal Cultural Foundation to evaluate the museum’s collections. Kittleman, along with several curators, museums, and members of the public, hosted numerous workshops and discussions to find opportunities to rewrite art history, particularly modernism, in the age of globalism. From these initial discussions came thirteen exhibitions developed by individual curators. Hello World is a document of the first two-years of this on-going project.
This oversize, image-heavy book is broken up into parts, most of which function as miniature exhibition spaces. Each of the thirteen exhibitions is represented by stand-alone chapters containing at least one essay by the curator and plates both of individual art works and of works in situ. There are black-and-white historical images of artists, documents, and installations. These chapters bring together text and image for each exhibition, removing the need to visit another part of the book to reference large, high-quality reproductions and basic citation information. Yet, this format is limited.
Information like dimension, media, and ownership is in the latter appendices and must be located in an alphabetical index first separated by exhibition, then by medium (such as books, photographs, and exhibition copies). Although each exhibition is separated from others by a title and contents page, the bulk of the text and lack of strong delineation between parts makes the entrance and pacing at times incoherent. Light typographical hierarchies on these pages make it difficult to locate information quickly.
The essays by curators present overlooked artists working outside of Western Europe in the first half of the twentieth century. For example, essays about the Japanese art group Mavo by Gabriele Knapstein and Tomoko Mamine, both of the Hamburger Bahnhof Museum, remind us of the group’s “affinity to artistic currents such as Expressionism, Futurism, Dadaism and Constructivism…” and those inherent geographic connections between Germany and Tokyo.
Each essay and exhibition provides much fodder for discussion and research. The book could easily be used in mid-level undergraduate courses on the methods of art historiography, art criticism and curatorial practice, yet, don’t expect this book to suggest alternative curatorial pathways outside of the institution. Hello World instead provides artists and their works long overdue exhibitions and interest.