Munich, July 2020. ‘Tikimania. Bernd Zimmer, the Marquesas Islands and European South Sea fantasies’ is the title of a special exhibition that opens on 10 July 2020 in the Museum Fünf Kontinente.
‘Tikimania’ presents works by the artist Bernd Zimmer together with objects from the South Seas in the Museum Fünf Kontinente’s collections. The dissonances and harmonies this creates results in an entirely new interplay between European art and Oceanian culture.
Bernd Zimmer, who was born in Planegg near Munich in 1948, is one of the most important representatives of ‘Heftige Malerei’ (Vehement Painting). The publisher, book designer, philosophy and religious studies scholar moved in 1973 to West Berlin, an ideally insular environment for the burgeoning art movement later known as the ‘Junge Wilde’ (Young Wild Ones). Together with Rainer Fetting, Helmut Middendorf, Salomé and other artists he founded the ‘Galerie am Moritzplatz’ in Kreuzberg in 1977. A new expressive artistic style was developed with vigorous gestic ideas and strident colours. Zimmer’s breakthrough came in 1980 with the exhibition ‘Heftige Malerei’ in Berlin’s ‘Haus am Waldsee’, which earned him international recognition and paved the way for success. Zimmer’s landscapes were and are a result of his very specific visual talent and highly precise powers of observation. He developed, increased and perfected these talents on his numerous journeys.
In 1995 Bernd Zimmer travelled round the island group of the Marquesas in the South Seas on a cargo ship, applying to maximum effect his observational skills and sensitivity to colours, light and cultural conditions. He produced neither watercolours nor sketches while he was there, but retained vivid images of his impressions which he put into paintings on his return. The myth of the South Seas, a dream of ideal island landscapes and sensual, happy people, was one of his motifs. He went in search of places on the Marquesas Islands that had already inspired the artist Paul Gauguin and writers such as Herman Melville.
Tiki is a Polynesian word for a figure with human-like and often supernatural qualities. Tikis are usually carved from wood, bone or teeth, or sculpted out of stone. The majority of Bernd Zimmer’s Marquesas-inspired works feature at least one tiki.
The appeal of these impressive figures, which are one of the most important and all-pervasive forms of artistic expression in the Marquesas and have also dominated western ideas of the Marquesas Islands from the time they were ‘discovered’ by Europeans to the present day, was the inspiration for the slightly ironic title of Tikimania for this exhibition. With a combination of Bernd Zimmer’s works, the objects from the Marquesas in the Museum Fünf Kontinente collections and the imaginative creations of American tiki pop this exhibition shows tikis in all their various manifestations.
It was not only the figure of the tiki as such but also the (alleged) characteristics of the Marquesan culture that captured the western imagination, resulting in a form of ‘mania’ or obsession that even now still makes a periodic appearance. Longings for an unspoiled paradise as well as abhorrence of the islands that were supposed to be the home of cannibals had already had an effect on Melville and Gauguin.
‘Tikimania’ thus examines the phenomenon of European reception and relates Bernd Zimmer’s works to both the history and culture of the Marquesas and the potent Western fantasies. It was not for nothing that Wassily Kandinsky 1912 included an elaborately carved stilt from the Marquesas from the Museum Fünf Kontinente’s collections in the famous ‘Der Blaue Reiter’ almanac.