Berlin's Gesamtkunstwerk: Show to Feature Art from Fabled Paris Bar

By Ingeborg Wiensowski

Most people associate Berlin's Paris Bar with the steady stream of celebrities who frequent it. Fewer are aware of its respected art collection. For the next six weeks, the works will be removed from the establishment and exhibited at a special show in a Berlin gallery.

Photo Gallery: A Restaurant and Its Art Photos
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The list of celebrities who have walked through its doors is endless. Jack Nicholson, Robert De Niro, Madonna, Helmut Newton, David Bowie, Robert Rauschenberg, Damien Hirst, Claudia Schiffer, Jörg Immendorff, Sigmar Polke, Georg Baselitz: All have stopped by the legendary Paris Bar, by far the most famous eatery in Berlin.

In addition to attracting celebrities and artists, though, Paris Bar has also gained fame for the art hangin on its walls, salon style. The most famous of all was a painting by restaurant patron Martin Kippenberger, who also played a leading role in assembling the collection. Kippenberger died in 1997, but he immortalized "Paris Bar" and made it famous far beyond Berlin with the painting of the same name.

For over a decade, Kippenberger's painting hung in the center of the restaurant, as if holding court, but Paris Bar owner Michel Würthle, an Austrian with a personality as big as that of any of his guests, was forced to auction it for €2.5 million at Christie's after the establishment fell into financial difficulties. Still, art remains an important part of Paris Bar today and serves as a main draw for many visitors. Kippenberger's painting has been replaced with an homage by Daniel Richter, himself a very well-established painter.

Trading Collections

This week, that painting, as well as most of the other artworks at Paris Bar will be removed for six weeks. Basically, anything that could be taken off the walls or is fit for travel will head to Berlin's Haubrokshow gallery for a special exhibition, titled "Charade."

Artwork from Paris Bar, plus around 100 drawings, collages, a few of his own paintings and photographs from Würthle, will be displayed in a show room by art collector Axel Haubrok. In exchange, works in Haubrok's collection by artist Christopher Williams will be hung in Paris Bar.

Würthle is more than just a restaurant owner, he's also an artist who can paint, draw and write in addition to acting. Outside of his theatrical appearances at his own restaurant, the Austrian also acts in movies from time to time. Artist Sigmar Polke has described Würthle as a "talking Mozartkugel." He's a true global denizen, Würthle has homes in Berlin, on the Greek isle of Syros and Paris, where he can be frequently found. He's also beloved by his customers -- and Paris Bar wouldn't be the institution it is in Berlin without him.

Haubrok, a collector and former corporate consultant, says: "Michel is a dandy, an outlandish Dadaist -- the complete opposite of me." Haubrok had long been a regular guest at Paris Bar, but he says it was only after a meeting at Würthle's home that he realized for the first time that the Austrian was something of a Gesamtkunstwerk. "At his home, things look just like they do at Paris Bar -- or perhaps even better," says Haubrok. "In every corner there are bundles of drawings, photographs, signs, collages and devotional objects from the art world set between entire batteries of goodyear-welted men's shoes and freshly ironed pink shirts. It's something you have to see."

Show Will Also Feature Würthle's Art

These days, Würthle only visits Paris Bar if he has to, spending most of his time working feverishly at home to complete 65 new drawings for the Haubrok show. He will also be serving as the show's curator, hand selecting the works from Paris Bar and his own home and determining how and where they will be displayed. In addition, Würthle said he would also select some works from the Haubrok Collection that fit in with his own vision of the show. Würthle said he also planned to read at the opening under a lamp designed by Cuban artist Jorge Pardo. The artist is best known in Berlin for having designed the dozens of colorful lamps that hang from the ceiling of the riverfront canteen for the employees of Germany's federal parliament. In the end, Würthle's show will probably wind up being as quirky and wonderful as the man himself.

When the art at Paris Bar disappears, the naked walls will be covered with the work of American conceptual artist Christopher Williams in a show titled "Rochade". Haubrok plans to display two "Afri-Cola Ashtray" photos from 2006 in, of course, Paris Bar's illegal smoking corner. And "Meiko Smiling," a photo of a woman wrapped in a hand-towel turban, will grace a wall near the bathroom. There are several photos of a camera and "Untitled," a photo of green and white stripes.

The exhibition "Charade: Haubrok Show Michel Würthle and His Artist Friends" runs from Sept. 9 to Oct. 20 at Haubrokshows, Strausberger Platz 19, 10243 Berlin. "Rochade: Christopher Williams au Paris Bar," runs during the same period at Paris Bar, Kantstrasse 152, 10623 Berlin.

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