“Berlin Drawings,” Ahmed Alsoudani’s exhibition of works on paper, organized by New York gallery Goff + Rosenthal in the ravaged rooms of Voss Strasse 33, functioned more as a poignant site-specific installation than as a mere well-assembled show. The ruined edifice, where Alsoudani presented 10 of his large, turbulent images of war (all in charcoal, pastel and acrylic), made the reality of the Iraqi-born, Berlin-based artist’s subject all the more immediate.
The building is situated in the center of Berlin on a street that was originally occupied by Prussian aristocracy. It was also the site of the bunker where Hitler spent his last days. Number 33, the street’s sole surviving building, was once part of the Jewish-owned Wertheim department store, later housed offices for the German Reich Railway and was subsequently taken over by the Jewish Claims Conference. Alsoudani’s exhibition was the first officially sanctioned use of the long-abandoned structure since the Claims Conference sold the property to the city last summer. Peeling layers of orange-, mint-, peach- and chocolate-colored paint, still-stately dark wood ceilings and those sections of carpet not saturated with urine testify to the structure’s grand heritage, though it has suffered decades of neglect and squatters’ abuse. Amid this wreckage, the lingering trauma of past wars seemed as vivid as the horrors of present ones.
Alsoudani’s works, mostly black and white and ranging in size from 6 by 5 feet to 9 by 15 feet, go beyond a journalistic depiction of the atrocities of war. The largest, Baghdad 03 (2009), represents the 2003 aerial bombing of Baghdad as a swirling anarchy of bodies in agony. Marked by a rich and jarring intermingling of imagery, it is centered on abstractions of two well-known communications centers in Baghdad that were bombed, and includes a jackal with its fangs bared—a reference, as gallery staff pointed out, to a John Heartfield photomontage depicting a jackal storming over the bodies of dead soldiers.
Like Baghdad 03, the other works are dense with detail, and loosely rendered sections are set against others that are more developed. Their scale and intensity give the impression that their creation was a violent physical act. The results appear almost as helter-skelter as the turmoil they depict.
Alsoudani exhibited the sufferings of Baghdad in a city that has suffered its own historical anguish. Yet by mounting the show in a building now available for rebirth, the artist suggests that Baghdad too may have a hopeful future.
Photo: Ahmed Alsoudani: Baghdad 03, 2009, charcoal, acrylic and pastel on paper, 1081⁄4 by 1811⁄4 inches;
at Voss Strasse 33, arranged by Goff + Rosenthal.