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Kandinsky retrospective kicks off world tour in Munich

A major retrospective of artworks by Wassily Kandinsky kicks off in Munich on Saturday as part of a world tour almost as peripatetic as the Russian-born modernist artist himself.

Kandinsky retrospective kicks off world tour in Munich
Photo: DPA

Running at the Lenbachhaus in Munich, southern Germany until February 22, the exhibition includes 95 paintings from all the major periods of Kandinksky’s work between 1907 and 1942, from the “Blue Rider” period through to Bauhaus and his final decade in France.

From Munich the retrospective will be on show at the Pompidou Centre in Paris from April to August 2009 before ending its journey at the Guggenheim Museum in New York from September 2009 until January 2010.

The three venues already house the three largest collections of works by Kandinsky, one of abstract painting’s founding fathers, and this is the first time ever that all three collections have been brought together in one show.

“Visitors will be able to see Kandinsky’s revolutionary development toward radically new forms of art unfold before their eyes,” organisers promise. “There is no doubt that Kandinsky is one of the last great utopian avant-garde artists and a key figure in modernist art.”

Kandinsky was born in December 1866 to a wealthy Moscow family and his life looked set to follow a conventional path with studies in law and economics and a post as assistant lecturer at Moscow’s law faculty from 1893.

But three years later Kandinsky moved to Munich to study painting, travelling around Europe and north Africa and painting in the Alps before co-forming the “Blauer Reiter” (“Blue Rider”) group together with Franz Marc, Gabriele Münter and others in 1911.

With the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Kandinsky moved first to Switzerland and then back to his native Moscow. Following the Russian revolution in 1917 he remained in Russia but in 1922 returned to Germany. Back in Germany Kandinsky was appointed to the Bauhaus in Weimar by Walter Gropius, the school’s founder, taking a job teaching mural painting alongside other artists like Paul Klee and Johannes Itten.

In 1929 he became a German citizen – one of three different nationalities he held during his life along with Russian and French – but the rise to power of the Nazis and their closure of the “degenerate” Bauhaus in 1933 forced Kandinsky to move to France.

Paris saw the third and final phase of his career and despite the war and the German occupation his works came to light in small exhibitions. In 1939 he became a French citizen and died in Neuilly-sur-Seine outside Paris in 1944.

According to Alfred Pacquement, director of the Pompidou Centre, it was thanks to Kandinsky’s widow Nina, his second wife whom he married in 1917 when he was 51 and she was 20, that it acquired such a large collection.

“Kandinsky spent the last 10 years of his life in Paris and from all his work his Paris period was one of the most important, and the last,” Pacquement told AFP. “His widow Nina remained in Paris … the Pompidou Centre opened in 1977 and the year before Nina Kandinsky made a gift of around 30 works that form the core of our collection.”

And when she died in 1980 – murdered at 84 in her chalet in a Swiss ski resort – she left the remainder to the Paris venue.

Works donated by the other woman in his life, Münter, with whom Kandinsky travelled extensively and who owned a house in the foothills of the Alps where they both painted before World War I, form the core of the Lenbachhaus’s collection.

OPINION & ANALYISIS

What’s behind Germany’s obsession with roundtable politics talk shows?

Forget the Bundestag. If you want to understand German politics - and see how lively it can really be - turn on your (almost nightly) talk show.

What's behind Germany's obsession with roundtable politics talk shows?

It may well be one of the most German things imaginable – a roundtable discussion designed to give a fair amount of time to a wide range of viewpoints before (maybe) achieving some sort of consensus.

Failing that, viewers – theoretically anyway – walk away better informed and open to changing some of their opinions after a, again theoretically, respectful discussion.

Welcome to the German political talk show circuit – a collection of moderated roundtable discussions.

Whether its Anne Will on Sunday nights, “Hart aber fair” or “tough but fair” on Mondays, or Maybrit Illner on Thursdays and Markus Lanz on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays – you can tune into several political panels a week if you fancy.

If you have politically-minded German friends or co-workers, you might ask: “Did you watch Lanz last night?” Anecdotally, at least as many people who watch will have strong opinions about why they don’t.

Ukrainian Ambassador Andriy Melnyk makes a video appearance (left video) on the Markus Lanz show on 10 March 2022. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/ZDF | Cornelia Lehmann

“Lanz is a disgrace!” and “I don’t watch Anne Will out of principle!” are both phrases I’ve heard myself more than a few times over the years.

But if you are a fan and you miss an episode, don’t worry – many news outlets will run summaries of what happened during said roundtable the next morning.

“Newspapers regularly publish these recaps almost as if they were relevant parliamentary meetings,” says Peter Littger, a columnist on language and culture in Germany. “It’s super relevant politically. It can increase your voting base and certainly your book sales if you appear there.”

READ ALSO: Tatort to Temptation Island: What do Germans like to watch on TV?

‘Consensus-oriented political culture’

If the nationally-focused ones aren’t enough for you, there’s a good chance you can find a show on a regional broadcaster focusing on issues in your federal state, again in – you guessed it – roundtable format.

As you might have gathered, the show’s name is often the same as its host, who functions first and foremost as a moderator there to facilitate and mediate a discussion between guests who are chosen specifically to balance a panel.

For a discussion on Ukraine, for example, you’ll regularly have people from every political party, from ministers and high-ranking parliamentarians who chair important Bundestag committees to pro-Russian voices from the German Left Party and far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD).

And no one is too high-ranking not to make at least the occasional appearance. Chancellor Olaf Scholz himself joined a Maybrit Illner roundtable on July 7th this year.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz appears on the Maybrit Illner show on 7 July 2022. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/ZDF | Svea Pietschmann

Both European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba have also made appearances on Anne Will this year.

In characteristically German fashion, state broadcasters have extensive written regulations to ensure a panel also has a balance of people from relevant expert disciplines. For instance, a coronavirus panel may well feature a notable doctor alongside a civil liberties lawyer.

“Germany has a more consensus-oriented political culture than you might see in a country like the UK, for example, which is more confrontational and even adversarial,” says Sebastian Ludwicki-Ziegler a PhD researcher at the University of Stirling’s Department of Communications, Media, and Culture.

“You’ll still get some invited guests who are very contrarian and even aggressive – like Thilo Sarrazin (a former politician who wrote a controversial book in 2010 about Muslim immigration to Germany) for example. But even then, the moderator often tries to maintain a softer, more civil tone.”

Ludwicki-Ziegler says that while the roundtable format reflects German political culture, it also reflects its institutional setup. A show producer can simply get more obvious ranges of political opinion in a country with Germany’s proportional representation, which has seven parties in parliament.

Historic roundtables

Unlike the often subdued German Bundestag though, German talk shows can certainly get lively, or even historic.

Perhaps the most notable TV roundtable happened right after the 2005 federal election. With then incumbent Social Democrat Gerhard Schröder having finished only one percent behind Christian Democrat Angela Merkel when all the votes were counted, party leaders gathered in the traditional “Elefantenrunde,” or yes, the “Elephant’s round,” to discuss the results.

READ ALSO: Talking elephants and grumpy politicians: Four things that will happen after the German elections

With the final election result having been so close, observers still discuss whether Schröder lost his chancellorship at the ballot box or during the 2005 Elefantenrunde. In contrast to a calm Merkel, Schröder insisted he would stay on as Chancellor.

Brash and arrogant, some observers have asked whether he was drunk at the time. German media outlets ran anniversary pieces looking back at his disastrous roundtable performance 5, 10, and 15 years later. One such anniversary piece from 2020 called the roundtable “Schröder’s embarrassing end.”

The 2005 post-election roundtable, or “Elefantenrunde,” is considered by many German political observers to be the disastrous end to former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder;s political career. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | ZDF/Jürgen_Detmers

Mastering the roundtable appearance is a big plus for a German politician, or anyone else looking to move the needle of German public opinion.

Satisfying a particularly German impulse, you can certainly also walk away feeling like you’ve considered all sides. But are there drawbacks?

On 8 May 2022’s edition of Anne Will, social psychologist Harald Welzer appeared to lecture Ukrainian Ambassador Andriy Melnyk that 45 percent of Germans were against delivering heavy weapons to Ukraine because of German war history. Many observers criticised Welzer for patronising the Ambassador of a country at war about the need to have weapons for its own self-defense.

The exchange, and a fair few others, lead some experts to wonder whether the roundtable format so many German political talk shows seem to love gives too big a platform to pro-Russian voices or to controversial writers like the aforementioned Thilo Sarrazin.

“If we take Germany and Ukraine as one example, you can get some great guests who come on and really set things straight with facts, data, and plain talk,” says Benjamin Tallis, a Fellow in German Security Policy at the German Council on Foreign Relations.

“But you can get false balance. You’ll get people on with rather fringe opinions given a platform against people who have a lot more experience and evidence. That’s true in a lot of places now, sure, but this talk show format really lends itself to that because of the amount of guests you need on a nightly basis,” says Tallis.

“Unfortunately in Germany, many guests are invited on based on their opinions about an issue rather than the level of their expertise, in order to try and achieve balance,” says Minna Alander, a specialist in German foreign policy who recently joined the Finnish Institute of International Affairs after more than a decade working in Berlin.

“When you start equating opinion with knowledge, it makes it way more difficult to have a fact-based debate. On matters of life and death, like in Ukraine, that can have a polarising effect.”

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