An astoundingly ambitious show hopes to capture the many artistic languages across the continent of Europe at a time when nationalism is on the rise and many countries remain isolated by travel restrictions.
The exhibition “Diversity United,” which will travel to Moscow, Berlin, and Paris, brings together work by 90 artists from 34 European countries that ruminate on freedom, democracy, and dignity. The show was originally scheduled to coincide with the the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II, but was pushed back due to the pandemic.
Now, it is finally ready to open on June 9 across two hangars of the former Nazi airport Tempelhof in Berlin. It will travel to Moscow’s Tretyakov Gallery before heading to a final stop early next year at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris. The final dates have yet to be announced. (The show was originally due to open in Moscow first, but the plans were scrambled by logistical complications.)
Initiated by German curator Walter Smerling, the show is expected to bring major turnouts in each capital.
“The aim is for the countries to come into a dialogue that is beyond their particular interests,” Smerling said on a recent tour. “Europe is 44 countries, and each country is different from the other, with its own identity, history, problems, and visions. But they belong together. And similarly, each artist here has their own language but the works can communicate with each other.”
The star-studded exhibition is supported by the countries’ three presidents, Germany’s Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and French President Emmanuel Macron. Steinmeier helped inaugurate the show this week in Berlin, describing it as “an expression of the self-confidence of art and artists in Europe.”
Some might note the irony of a show about democracy having the blessing of Putin. According to DPA, there is some fear that works in the show critical of Russia might endanger the exhibition’s display in Moscow.
Nine curators in different cities were tapped to pull together their own pot of artists, nearly a third of whom created new commissions for the occasion. Chinese painter Yan Pei-Ming, who has been living in Dijon, France for decades, made a brooding new painting called —so new its paint was not yet dry during a preview. Nearby, a series pays tribute to Napoleon. “The effects of Napoleon, his wars, his strategies are huge—he changed Europe,” Smerling said.
A series of 60 overpainted photographs by Gerhard Richter is installed near Anselm Reyle’s (2015). Work by younger names, including Estonian artists Kris Lemsalu and Katja Novitskova, collective Slavs and Tatars, and France-based Kapwani Kiwanga are also on view.
One of the most memorable works in the sprawling show is Italian artist Marzia Migliora’s (2016), a view of two tightrope walkers in business suits wobbling against the backdrop of the Alps. After all, while the show embraces a certain celebratory air and a true variety of viewpoints, a cautious political warning tows the line: Europe and European diversity are, after all, deeply fragile concepts.