yinka shonibare, MBE in 'the desire for freedom. art in europe since 1945' at deutsches historisches museum, berlin

17 October 2012
An exhibition devoted to Art in Europe since 1945 needs to identify some common roots and unifying ideas. The ideological boundaries that were erected during the Cold War now look completely anachronistic. Instead, we can see more clearly than ever before that the values and ideals of society were, and are, firmly anchored in the Enlightenment, even if they were, and are, interpreted differently all over Europe.

The Enlightenment has not always been an unequivocal force for the good. Instead, as the intellectual historian, Reinhart Koselleck pointed out as early as 1954, in his
doctoral dissertation, it 'threw the entire world into a state of permanent crisis'. The Enlightenment itself sparked off a never ending process of critique and crisis that has continued up to the present; and the permanently accelerating pace of progress has produced as many moments of destruction as it has created moments of relief and periods of distension. The threat of universal annihilation that was triggered by the rivalry between the competing systems in the Cold War produced the paradoxical feeling that Europe was somehow secure. The globalisation of the economy, resulting from the collapse of communism and unification of Europe, along with the formation of a multipolar world, have taken the varnish off this erroneous belief. Coming on top of this have been the most recent developments, which have shaken the principles of western democracies to the very core.

If the Enlightenment and the attendant dynamics of critique and crisis not only facilitated the development of long-lasting democracies, but enabled them to maintain a degree of stability, this must have been due in large part to the creative potential that the phenomena identified by Koselleck were capable of both generating and suppressing, in equal measure. Art is unquestionably an important manifestation of this creative potential. Through its ability, actually to embody something that is
more generally reflected, it has the power, not only to change political systems, but to threaten their very existence. In other words, art has that special ability, though its own particular brand of aesthetic radicalism, to exercise a critique of social and political conditions and to give expression to the crises to which they are prey.

The exhibition will comprise twelve sections, with a total of some 200 works of art, in a variety of media. This includes 'The Age of Enlightenment - Adam Smith' by Yinka Shonibare, MBE.

The exhibition runs from 17 October 2012 until 10 February 2013.

Yinka Shonibare, MBE at Deutsches Historisches Museum, Berlin.