MUTHESIUS WITH AN AXE AT THE ALTAR
“Too beautiful to be true?” This was the text of a kind of picture meditation held in the chapel of the Evangelical Academy in Berlin, at the Villa Schwanenwerder, on an island in the Wannsee.
An act of piety? That was not the intention. In fact, it was severe provocation. We were witnesses to an extraordinary intervention by the artist Winfried Muthesius.
As the visitors enter the prayer room, Muthesius is standing there in a black, “used look” suit, a broom in his hand, calmly sweeping the floor.
He takes a sheet from a black travel bag and spreads it out across the empty floor space in front of the altar. On top of it, in the middle, he places two wooden crates. He places the travel bag, which looks as though it contains something heavy, to hand next to it. The visitors look on attentively.
Now Muthesius puts on white gloves and walks over to the altar, on which stands a Christ figure with no arms. There is no cross to be seen. Muthesius – all in black – stands behind the
altar, where the pastor would normally stand, but with his back to the visitors. For a while, in silence, he contemplates the altarpiece on the wall; a GOLDEN FIELD. The Stiftung St. Matthäus acquired it some years ago. It is one of his works. Today the light is strikingly diffuse under the dramatic, cloudy sky. The painting acts as an energy source. It evokes eternity; it brings to mind something greater, reaching beyond everyday realities. It exudes calm. It is calm in the chapel, too.
But then… what is he doing now? Muthesius approaches the altarpiece and carefully, with his white gloves, he takes the heavy and cumbersome piece down from the wall and lays it on top of the wooden crates on the sheet. You can almost hear the crackle of the tension in the room as he takes an axe from the travel bag, and raises it to strike. A gasp of “no!”; otherwise a dazed silence.
Then he starts up the chainsaw. Amid earsplitting howling noises, he carefully positions the power tool with its sharp saw blade, slices great chunks off the side of the painting, and destroys the perfection of the fine golden textures.
You could hear a pin drop as Muthesius sets about the painting with the rough power tool. Extreme tension. The people sit there motionless, staring at the inconceivable scene before them.
Then the conference chairman arrives and calls the visitors upstairs. The symposium begins.
What is described here was the beginning of an intervention by Berlin artist Winfried Muthesius as part of his “picture meditation”, as the programme calls it. Art and Church desiring a dialogue. The conference guests had the unique opportunity, without knowing it, of watching over the artist’s shoulder as he was working. They were able to watch as he transformed a perfect GOLDEN FIELD into a BROKEN GOLD. They were eyewitnesses to this extraordinary process which was seemingly brutal, yet performed with great sensitivity.
Just as nothing in life is truly perfect – everything has its blemishes, its wounds, its fate – so too, through the actions of the artist, the GOLDEN FIELD sustained injury and damage, in keeping with the day’s motto “too beautiful to be true”. The whole thing almost brings to mind a meditative comprehension, such as that which took place at the Crucifixion. The perfect golden painting is carried across, placed on the wooden crate, and set about with axe and saw, until it appears to be “dead”. All that is left are tattered and broken remains.
With Muthesius, a GOLDEN FIELD falls victim to the violence of his tools, delicately applied though they are, as though he wanted to show his respect. Large pieces of the border are gone. Nor has the middle of the painting been spared the traces of axe and chainsaw. The result: “Fallen”, in the proverbial sense, from the frame. Shocked, damaged, marked by violence. Hardly any resemblance now to the GOLDEN FIELD it had once been. Something new has emerged: A BROKEN GOLD.
Like Christ on the Cross, man is beaten and injured, yet when he gets up again he is stronger, more mature, and more beautiful. The BROKEN GOLD painting can be seen as a summing-up of this symposium. It is not “too beautiful to be true”. It is true, or truthful, and therefore beautiful. Despite the tears and the injuries, it still shines with the gold that reminds us of the eternal, and which can be found in every man. Always.
ALLE FOTOS: Gierdre Kuliauskaite