My friend, Berliner artist Gregor Hildebrandt, is aptly called a Bunter Hund. German for “colored dog,” it’s an affectionate term applied to types who stick out in a crowd. Hildebrandt fits the bill–usually a half-head taller than anybody else, 43 and ever full of vim, he exudes cool in his signature look—an untucked classic white shirt, nice loafers, and a jacket when the temp is south of nice. I often see him, chin in one hand and cigarette in the other, listening to who is speaking (i.e., an artist) as if no one else is there. Or he his making all those around him erupt with with his wry sense of humor (he calls me Bunter Hunter). Hildebrandt deservedly has the air of a gentleman– he is a most genial and genteel guy, one of my favorites in the city I call my second home. A recognized artist and man about town, he always has the skinny on interesting art events. I make a point of going to them.
Thus when Gregor recommended a judged and curated art show at Montbijou one day in the summer of 2011, I was in. It turned out to be a beautiful setting–a lovely park near the center of town. As always with his suggestions, there was a large crush of international artists, mostly German. A nice bar was packed, of course.
The pieces were all contemporary, ranging from paintings to onsite installations. Several of my German friends gave it a “meh,” but I found the exhibit as a whole interesting. The site-specific installations captured my attention, but one piece held me: a penciled scribble of a portrait of a woman on printer paper. There was something to it, but I didn’t really know what it was…
Until I saw its title, “Portrait of My Mother With My Left Hand”. I looooved that. How clever, I thought. Mommy issues were never drawn so aptly– your non-writing hand is also the one that speaks your truth. How…deep.
I set out to find the man. I bumped around in vain– nobody knew him.
I repaired to the bar to have a quick quaff.
As I approached the bar, a compelling woman stood there alone– tall, brunette, and imaginatively dressed in a black (surprise!) concoction. I ventured a friendly hello. Somehow my overture took and we began to talk. She was just as interesting she looked– and an artist, too.
Not long into our conversation, though, she revealed she was taken by just the artist I had been looking for. I immediately requested to meet the good man. Picking through the crowd, she got me to him shortly.
The American* was an affable guy from Boston, early 30’s, five-foot seven, longish tousled hair. Dressed in running shoes with jeans that crumpled over them, he almost passed for a German artist except for his J Crew shirt and unreserved smile.
We got to talking after I praised the piece. He was gracious. I then learned he had come to Berlin in 2008, the same year I had, and that he was already in major galleries. Which I was not.
“How did you do it?” I asked. To which he uttered the immortal response: “You gotta show your work all the time. It doesn’t matter where. I showed my work at a dog salon. Nobody came. It was great.”
Damn, I thought– that is soooooo profound. It was like the idea that one beat of a butterfly’s wings changes the world. It was so Zen– the idea that a joyful– and to others, a seemingly ineffective– action would be karma for good results somewhere in the future. Also, showing your work in a dog salon is a very Surrealist notion– one that would make me, like him, happy regardless of the turnout.
The American was simply in the head space for the Universe to reward him for his bravery and joy.
God bless Zen. And God bless the American.
*I can’t remember his name for the life of me.