16.12.2021 – 09.01.2022
Lukas Liese | Michelangelostraße non finito
Solo exhibition Lukas Liese
Curater Blanca González Galán (CLB Berlin)
In „Michelangelostraße non finito“ the works by sculptor Lukas Liese build a narrative bridge between one of the cradles of Western high art—the work of Michelangelo Buonarroti and the marble quarries around the Italian city of Carrara—and the socialist legacy of Berlin’s urban landscape. Liese’s work combines the qualities, techniques and materials of classical sculpture with a sharp reflection of the present moment and the events surrounding him, making extensive use of this paradoxical tension on multiple levels.
The works presented here are the result of the artist’s recent residence in Carrara, which led him to confront himself with Michelangelo’s legacy, who „consumed many years in quarrying marbles“—as his biographer Giorgio Vasari puts it—and who set the foundations of what is today an industrialized extraction site at the center of the global stone business.
However, the street signs Michelangelostraße & Michelangelostraße non finito take us to a very different geographical location, the second spatial axis of the series and the exhibition: the Michelangelostraße in Berlin Prenzlauer Berg, a rough-looking peripheral street flanked by GDR prefabricated high-rise blocks, named after the Florentine artist on the occasion of the 400th anniversary of his death in 1964 and where Liese has his studio.
The term non finito, literally meaning „unfinished“ in Italian, is applied in artistic contexts to works to which an aesthetic value is attributed precisely because of their imperfection or incompleteness, whether this is a stylistic choice of the artist or an accidental outcome. The non finito is a constant in the work of Michelangelo and has since been used as an expressive tool by many artists. Such an unfinished quality is present also in the work Guardrail, a trivial industrial element portrayed here in tension with the noble material it is carved in, its unfinished side underlining its plasticity and revealing its handmade, non-industrial nature.
Ironically, the Berliner Michelangelostraße, the layout of which we can see in the work Michelangelostr. 1-127, 10409 Berlin, is itself a non finito. When the new residential development was planned as part of the GDR’s housing program, reserve areas were kept free for a major road or city highway. In particular, Michelangelostraße remained under discussion until a few years ago as a possible route for closing the Berlin ring road. In the current context of housing scarcity in Germany’s fast-growing capital the vacant areas are now to be used for housing through “careful redensification“. However, what is one of Berlin’s largest inner-city residential construction projects, originally announced in 2013 and envisioning 2,500 new apartments, is now only expected to be completed with 1,200 units around 2035. In the process the project will need to fight the resistance of a well-organized neighbors association, above all concerned about the reduction of parking spaces as a result of redensification, and restitution claims from former owners of properties in the planning area from the National Socialist era. These empty spaces, waiting to be finished, reveal the overlap of Berlin’s multilayered recent history with its pressing near future, and portray the tension between the city’s old dwellers and the push of an increasing population of newcomers in their apparently irreconcilable claims to the urban space.
In Liese’s portrayal of the contested street, standing on a „cavaletto“, the typical wooden sculptor’s trestle from the region surrounding Carrara, the crude socialist urban landscape competes with the evocative qualities of the rock, which themselves echo those of the personality giving the street its name, highlighting the somewhat absurd association.
Liese dwells on the GDR connection to Michelangelo’s figure in his new work, produced for the exhibition, Renaissance Problem. In the small marble reliefs, highlighted with color permanent marker, Liese reproduces several of these connecting points. On several of them we see the cover and excerpts of the book of the conference „Michelangelo heute“, organized by the Michelangelo Committee of the GDR in the Humboldt University in Berlin in 1964 to commemorate the artist and make a contemporary reading of his work. In it they see an advocacy of the working man, of the reality of life as a point of departure for the arts and their practical responsibility and „perhaps an intuition that lowly folk are its best friend“. Representatives of the borough of Prenzlauer Berg were guests of honor at the conference and their initiative taking up the suggestion to name the thoroughfare after the great Italian sculptor, painter, architect and poet is praised as showing “the will of the working people of the GDR for active cultural work“.
Also reproduced in the work is a collection of stamps of „notable personalities“ issued on 1975 (on Michelangelo’s 500th birthday) including apart from Michelangelo, physicist and mathematician André-Marie Ampère, writer Thomas Mann and actor Hans Otto. These different references reveal Michelangelo as one of the artists of choice of the socialist regime. Two more reliefs reproduce the plan of the Michelangelostraße, including the envisaged building blocks, and the sign of the „Bar Michelangelo“ in Carrara, a meeting point for the quarry workers.
As a pendant to the work Michelangelostr. 1-127, 10409 Berlin, on another „cavaletto“, the landscape model Cut off the top (Via Tacca Bianca) shows a road planned and built by Michelangelo in the mountains near Carrara in order to open up a stone quarry and to connect it to transport routes. With his plans for marble quarrying and road construction, and his considerations regarding the efficiency of transport routes, Michelangelo set the foundations for the industrialization of Carrara, still active today not only as a marble extraction site, but as a hub for the global stone industry. In this model, the course of the road is chiseled into the broken surface of a block of stone, leading via a bridge and a tunnel to the quarry. Like in this work, the region’s landscape is sculpted by the mining activity, with the tops of the mountains cut off. The original shape of the mountain is suggested in the hollow underside of the sculpture, which at the same time reminds of the gigantic caves left behind by centuries of mining exploitation. Traditionally, the cavatori, the men working in the quarries around Carrara, believed in the regeneration of marble and viewed it as a renewable, non finite resource. The marble, however, like all the natural resources extracted until exhaustion by men, will not regenerate anytime soon.
In the relief series On route these marks and traces left on the territory transfer onto digital space as we are confronted with this 16th century road as screenshots of its course from Google Maps. In our digital age of global interconnectedness, routes and distances acquire a very different dimension, becoming immediate and abstract, detached from its tangible reality. This allows Liese to close the narrative circle of the series, by tracing on the web mapping platform the itinerary connecting the two „Michelangelo streets“ physically, a distance that, back in the analogue world, would take 248 hours to cover on foot.
Michelangelostraße & Michelangelostraße non finito (2021)
Carrara marble, steel
Bardiglio marble, steel
137 cm x 41 cm x 11 cm
Renaissance Problem (2021)
Permanent marker on marble relief
each 21cm x 12cm
Cut off the top (Via Tacca Bianca) / Michelangelostr. 1-127 10409 Berlin (2021)
Bardiglio marble, wood
65cm x 32cm x 117cm & 50cm x 34cm x 105cm
On route (2021)
each 30 cm x 60 cm x 2 cm
Photo: Andreas Baudisch