“A Bridge Between Modernism and the Orient”
Fahrelnissa Zeid at the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle

Following its premiere at Tate Modern, the major Fahrelnissa Zeid retrospective was on view at the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle. It honored an idiosyncratic protagonist of abstract postwar Modernism whose life and work also fascinated the press.
“The eccentric Fahrelnissa Zeid was a nonpareil, successful, cosmopolitan—yet she was forgotten later nevertheless,” writes Elke Linda Buchholz in the Tagesspiegel. She was particularly impressed by the artist’s large abstract formats. “Fahrelnissa Zeid called her power package painted in 1951 My Hell. The more than five-meter-wide horizontal-format work effortlessly dominates the room in the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle. Simone Reber from Deutschlandfunk Kultur also raves about the “giant painting with the tiny geometric details that seem to explode and that hypnotize us.”

“In this wonderful retrospective, you can discover one of the most fascinating Modernist female artists,” says Ingo Arend in Kunstzeitung. “It seems extraordinary that an artist of such singular vision, who enjoyed significant success in her lifetime, should have been all but forgotten following her death,” writes Cloe Stead in Frieze. “Fortunately, as institutions have begun to seriously address historical discrepancies in their collections, Zeid’s work—and that of other previously neglected female artists—is finally getting the attention it deserves.”

“The museum on Unter den Linden has long broken up the Western-oriented art canon and extended it to other art traditions,” remarks Gabriela Walde, referring to the Meschac Gaba, Bhupen Khakhar, and Roberto Burle Marx exhibitions at the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle. The art editor of the Berliner Morgenpost is particularly fascinated by Zeid’s “mosaic-like range of colors, which are akin to an animated landscape of the soul. In some paintings you get the impression that with each brushstroke she strikes a blow against her inner demons. The canvases seem to suck in the paint like a vortex.” For Kulturnews, Zeid stands for a “tradition of Turkish avant-garde art that has yet to be discovered here in Germany.” Nina Lekander from the Swedish daily newspaper Expressen takes a similar view: “It’s a pleasure that Zeid is now being discovered by European audiences.”

Needless to say, various Turkish media also reported on the exhibition. NTV Türk devoted a thirty-minute feature to Zeid’s rediscovery, filming parts of it in the KunstHalle. “Zeid is known for her enthusiastic and impressive compositions,” writes Daily Sabah, the country’s biggest English-language daily newspaper.  “Her unique painting style is so vivid and rich that it cannot be described under—or reduced to—a single category.”  “That Zeid was able to work out the human soul with every brushstroke, every color shade, attests to her extraordinary imagination,” observes Cumhuriyet. “The exhibition in Berlin brings together important works from her different work phases, enabling viewers to gain an understanding of her work in its entirety.”  And also Hürriyet reported on the exhibition.

In Film + Kunst, Elke Linda Buchholz emphasizes that Zeid “detached herself completely from the fixed traditions and role models of her origins. At the same time, however, she continued them: with works that create a very distinct synthesis between the free gestures of the Abstract Expressionism of a Jackson Pollock and the formal austerity of oriental ornamentation.” In an article that appeared in Kunstforum and in a slightly altered form in taz, Ingo Arend stresses how topical this approach still is: “That a woman from Turkey managed to build a bridge between Modernism and the orient makes her so exciting at a time when the hemispheres are hostile to one another again and “national identity” is being conjured up everywhere.”

Alongside such disparate media as BLOUIN ARTINFO and the Diplomatisches Magazin, Tip and zitty, two major Berlin city magazines, also recommended the show: “It begins with her early figurative works, followed by works in the inserted mezzanine level in which Zeid engaged with abstraction. It’s worth visiting solely for the view from the mezzanine down to the room in which the meters-long, now purely abstract paintings seem to leap from the wall like predators in an arena,” writes Suzan Kizilirmak in zitty. Ingeborg Ruthe was also enthusiastic about the “Ottoman avant-gardist”: “Her visual language is both individual and universal. A cosmos of colors and abstract shapes opens up,” notes Ruthe in the Berliner Zeitung and the Frankfurter Rundschau. “The works by this unique artist, who is being shown for the first time in Berlin, combine European art movements, European Modernist painting, as well as oriental and Byzantine tradition. There is scarcely any other abstract art that is so material, and thus so enormously sensual and vital. It is something of rare beauty.”