Paris Agar, Art Curator, Cold War and Late 20th-Century Conflict
Monday 28 October 2019

In 1990, Scottish artist Jock McFadyen was commissioned by Imperial War Museums to record aspects of Berlin after the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989. The Wall had divided the city for 28 years and its removal presented a unique opportunity to explore both East and West Berlin in the immediacy of reunification.

McFadyen spent 10 days in the city, gathering material, such as photographs and physical mementos, which would inform his commission. He had previously spent time in West Berlin but could now explore the East. This allowed his subsequent artwork to provide an unparalleled perspective on the city, its community and urban landscape, in a moment of redefinition. This is a viewpoint no longer accessible.

In total, McFadyen produced five large oils, nine gouaches and two bronze processional sculptures, all of which were displayed in Fragments from Berlin, a temporary exhibition held at Imperial War Museum London from 10 October 1991 to 12 January 1992. The body of work then toured to Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow, and Manchester Art Gallery.

Imperial War Museums acquired two of the commissioned artworks for the permanent collection: Kurfurstendamm, an oil on canvas featuring an accordion player with an amputated leg begging on a street in Berlin, and Reconstructors I, a gouache on paper depicting two workmen undertaking construction work in the city centre. It wasn’t until 2009 that Imperial War Museums acquired a further two of McFadyen’s paintings: Die Mauer and Christmas in Berlin.

Die Mauer, featured at the top of this page and meaning ‘the wall’, shows the Berlin Wall in a state of ruin; the reinforced concrete has been chipped away by ‘Wall-peckers’ who have taken pieces of the structure as souvenirs. This has left window-like openings in the Wall, through which an idyllic landscape is revealed, where a stretch of no man’s land, known as the ‘death strip’, once ran. A deep orange sun, rising in the east, suggests that this is the start of a new era in Berlin.

Christmas In Berlin by Jock McFadyen
Christmas In Berlin by Jock McFadyen

In Christmas in Berlin, McFadyen has blurred the distinction between the Wall and the cityscape.

The Wall can be seen against a wintry grey background in the form of vividly-coloured markings and large-scale symbols representing graffiti. In the distance, festive lights, one in the shape of a Christmas tree, shine dimly against buildings.

Beyond the Wall, the iconic sphere of the Berliner Fernsehturm (Television Tower) in Alexanderplatz dominates the skyline. During the Cold War, residents of East Berlin would visit the top of the Tower, which was the highest point in the city, to view the West.

These large-scale and visually powerful paintings are unique and internationally-significant in the way they preserve a moment, and reveal a specific language of a specific time and place.

From 8 November 2019, both artworks will be on permanent display for the very first time at IWM North. The paintings will be situated in the Main Exhibition Space alongside displays which explore Cold War history from 1946 to 1990, giving visitors a sense of how the Berlin Wall transitioned from being a divisive border to a lasting symbol of the end of the Cold War.

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