With a campy award in an already controversial exhibition space, I had my doubts about Imran Qureshi’s latest show at Deutsche Bank Kunsthalle. A giant pile of discarded posters, oval-shaped paintings covered in blood-red paint, and enough gold leaf to make the pope blush—this is what dominates the main hall of the DBK's first solo-exhibition. While having opened their doors previously this year to a clusterfuck of an open call, the Kunsthalle is now home to an exhibition not nearly as chaotic but unfortunately without even a fraction of the previous show’s excitement. Beyond the façade of historically resonate miniature paintings and delicate yet manic canvases, Qureshi’s work is sadly a dud.
A Sad Start
The last time I was at DBK I was wearing three layers of clothing, chasing down thousands of artists in the freezing cold, reporting about MACHT KUNST—Deutsche Bank’s massive Salon style exhibition. Back then, the exciting news was that DBK had cut off their ties with Guggenheim and were implanting classic PR tactics to attract audiences to their new space. Amid the chaos and bedlam of (almost) every Berlin-based artist attempting to exhibit within the Kunsthalle, there was a sense of excitement in the air that I miss. Their follow up exhibition, a solo presentation of Imran Qureshi, was vainly promised by the Kunsthalle to follow this buzz.
After entering DBK’s doors in the antique neighborhood at Unter den Linden, you are greeted by a small self-portrait by Qureshi. Painted in the Mughal style of miniature painting, also referred to as musawwari, the work is intricate and charming. (I worked briefly as a museum guard where I was surrounded by similar pieces, so I recognized the work’s fashion immediately.)
In the main hall are several large, oval paintings that are adorned with large splatters of burgundy paint that, upon closer inspection, are fastidiously crafted. While from a distance it resembles a splotch by Pollock, up close you can see its complex design. I applaud Qureshi’s skill, yet the paintings are regrettably dull and uninspiring: they look like hotel paintings or something that you would see hanging in a bank’s entryway. Furthermore, in an adjacent room, the artist exhibits a gigantic pile of crumpled up posters featuring the artist’s work. This is probably the most fascinating aspect of the exhibition, as it appears to be a real departure from Qureshi’s oeuvre.
In a final room it looks as if the curator was aware how bland the work can be and decided to go the extra mile. In a dark labyrinth that looks a bit like a dungeon, Qureshi exhibits single miniature paintings in small, individual rooms. This is actually the best way to appreciate his work, which I feel would lose power if shown in a large white space. Qureshi’s work is purposefully anachronistic and, however unluckily, contains zero creative contemporary influence. It’s true these small paintings are mesmerizing, but it all feels way too uptight.
In the end, his work solicits the question: if he’s not doing anything new with this style, why bother making it at all? Don't get me wrong, it's important to revive and carry traditions into the future for upcoming generations. But great artists like Kehinde Wiley are able to capture this trope, whereas Qureshi seems to be stuck in the past.
Article by James Shaeffer