Wandering Wenders' wonders
By Wang Shanshan ,China Daily
Updated: 2004-02-26 09:51

The cultural pages of most Beijing newspapers this week have been carrying headlines to this effect: "Photo exhibition of master filmmaker tours China."

The headlines need a little explaining. German artist Wim Wenders is best known among the city's art lovers not for his photos, but as director of the two films "Paris, Texas" (1984) and "Wings of Desire" (1987).

The latter, a German film much loved in China, has a beautiful Chinese title "Bolin Cangqiong Xia," which translates roughly as "blue sky over Berlin."

It was remade by Brad Silberling into "City of Angels" in 1998, starring Nicolas Cage and Meg Ryan. The German film begins in black and white, with the story being told from the point of view of two gentle, trench-coated angels, who listen to the tortured souls of mortals and try to comfort them beneath the gray sky of war-scarred Berlin.

It blossoms into colour only when the angels see the world of humankind after they abandon heaven for human love and experience the simple joys of human experience like drinking a cup of coffee or having a cigarette.

Wim Wenders

In the exhibit, you can still feel you are seeing the world through the sympathetic but disturbingly sober eyes of the angels through the artist's 34 giant-sized photos on show, which are bursting with colour.

The exhibition, titled "Pictures from the Surface of the Earth," is on until March 21 at the Millennium Art Museum of the China Millennium Monument.

Visitors to the show (tickets are 20 yuan (US$2.40) per person), can enjoy Wenders' films for free at an auditorium beside the exhibition hall.

The show is to hit the Shanghai Museum of Art in April and the Guangdong Museum of Art in May, supported by the German embassy and consulates in China, the Goethe Institute in Beijing, the Beijing Film Academy, Peking University, Dushu magazine and is sponsored by BMW and Motorola China.

It comes to China after showings in the Museum Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin, the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney, Australia, said Chen Yang, co-curator of the exhibition with the Millennium Art Museum.

Some of the photographs go back as far as 1983, when Wenders, a prominent figure on the international film scene, began to use photography as an art medium while scouting for locations for "Paris, Texas."

The still images include scenes in towns across the United States, landscapes in Cuba, forests and temples in Japan, cemeteries in Jerusalem, the coast of Galilee and the deserted expanses of the Australian outback.

"Photography lets you capture the essence of a place the first time you see it," said the filmmaker, who is to arrive in Beijing next month.

"Before you see the picture, you feel it coming to you, you hear its call. Landscapes sometimes are dying to tell their stories, to pass them on."

Wandering around the exhibition hall, where the photos, some 4-metre- tall, hang from the roof, one feels like a soul floating in the air gazing at cities of the earth.

Unlike the moving pictures, in the exhibit each of the photographs stands on its own, creating its own individual context, independent of the other shots in the series.

Through the detached eye of the camera, you look at a Hitchcock-style parking lot in Houston, Texas, where a woman and two cars wait in the middle of the picture, besieged by the darkness approaching from above and below.

Yet most of Wenders' shots of the wild landscapes of the West United States are devoid of human existence, featuring empty shops, deserted gas stations and signs pointing to places that have long since disappeared, said Cui Qiao, who is also a co-curator of the show.

Wenders shows visitors through the gate of an empty house in Las Vegas, nevada, and writes:

"Houses have faces

and characters,

like people.

This one, with the wrinkles on its forehead,

Made me laugh and feel sad

At the same time."

He captures touching details of the Old Jewish Quarter in Berlin, of the "Field of Blood" in Jerusalem and of the sun above the overwhelming dimensions of Australia.

Attracted to the exhibition mainly by Wenders' name, the first visitors on the weekend reacted differently to Wenders' photos, some thinking them interesting while others felt disappointed with the artist's focus on "such common objects and meticulous details of life," in the words of Wang Junyi, who lives near the museum.

"Some visitors tend to measure Wenders' show against the group showing of the work of photographers with National Geographic magazine, which was held at the end of last year at our museum," said Wang Yudong, director of the Millennium Art Museum.

"While National Geographic pictures are dazzling and overwhelming, Wenders' pictures need quiet contemplation to find the sympathy behind the cold lens," he added.

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