Retrospective in Berlin

Efraim Habermann - Photography and Watercolor

In the exhibition Efraim Habermann - Photography and Watercolor, artnow Gallery, which is associated with, presents a comprehensive exhibition of the photographs and watercolors of Berlin-based artist Efraim Habermann.

by Felix Brosius, February 04, 2023

Featuring city views of Berlin and Venice, images of Israel, architectural photography, still lifes, and works from the series Woman in the picture (Frau im Bild), the exhibition includes works from all of the photographer's major subjects, including both some of his best-known motifs, such as the reflection of St. Matthew's Church at the National Gallery (1976), and previously largely unknown works from the artist's private archive. The exhibition is completed by a selection of watercolors that Habermann has made in the Constructivist style since 1980 and that may also be unknown to some Habermann connoisseurs.

Efraim Habermann - Portrait
© Efraim Habermann
Efraim Habermann - Portrait, 1985

Architecture and cityscapes

Cityscapes from Berlin – this is how Efraim Habermann began his photographic work in the 1960s. He travelled with his camera through the city, which was still characterized by the post-war period, and captured both great architecture and minor incidents in equal measure. He was never interested in documenting the history of the city; Habermann’s focus was always on the composition of the pictures. Thus his pictures appear timeless, reveal the city of Berlin and at the same time reflect a worldview which is detached from the city. It is a perception of the image with a validity that extends far beyond place and time. Motifs and perspectives are carefully chosen, partly deliberately staged – the reflection of St. Matthew Church on the Nationalgalerie is well known, but the “minor incidents” are just as charming as the weathered masonry, as posters whose motifs enter into an unexpected dialogue with their urban surroundings and as the people of the city, captured as they merge with the urban backdrop during their everyday lives, first making the backdrop into a city, the empty street into a motif, the photograph into a work of art.

Efraim Habermann - Berlin - Gleisdreieck
© Efraim Habermann
Efraim Habermann - Berlin

Woman in the picture

An American tourist in the Louvre in Paris inspired Efraim Habermann to create the series of works in 1974 known as The woman in the picture. He noticed a female tourist standing in front of the famous painting Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe by Edouard Manet who blended so well into the scenery as if she herself was a character in the painting. The fusion of the woman with the painting, captured by Habermann with his camera, was the first in a series of works entitled lebendiger Collagen (“living collages”), which today encompasses many photographs. “The beauty of what is perishable in contrast to the seemingly imperishable masterpiece.” Through this reinterpretation of famous paintings, Habermann broadens our view of frequently seen icons of art and establishes a direct connection between centuries-old paintings and contemporary perspectives – with mischievous wit and playful joy.

Efraim Habermann - Frau im Bild
© Efraim Habermann
Efraim Habermann - Woman in the Picture, 1985


Portraits by Efraim Habermann are genuine images of humanity. Observed with a loving eye, recorded with an obvious fondness, they always reveal more about the person than their mere appearance. Habermann also succeeds in placing an apparent veil between the viewer and the person portrayed through the use of perspective, image detail, and not least the coarse-grained prints of his black-and-white photographs. This creates a slight distance that playfully contradicts the warmth of the gaze and elevates the significance of the motif far beyond the depiction of a single person ­– the portrait thus becomes a sociological study, a pars pro toto for a type of person, a portrait of the human being in itself.

Efraim Habermann - Portrait
© Efraim Habermann
Efraim Habermann - A Friend, 1991

Still life

For Efraim Habermann, the world is full of beautiful things if we would only know how to look at them with a little imagination. For his still life photography, however, he not only discovers the beautiful things – he appropriates them, arranging them into coherent compositions. Seemingly timeless, his still life images are also always testimony to transience – just as the apple next to the jug is already reconciled to its decay and will soon no longer shine so brilliantly, and a Bible, worn and marked by the traces of intensive use, inevitably points to the past. Many of the still life photographs were created in Berlin’s Fasanenstrasse – at the window of his apartment or in front of the walls of his home. They show the beauty in everyday life and the “real romantic” hidden in the artist Efraim Habermann.

Efraim Habermann - Still Life
© Efraim Habermann
Efraim Habermann - Still life, 1989


Venice, the city of a thousand motifs. Not only for countless tourists, but also for Efraim Habermann, who even in this city that is photographed millions of times a day manages to reveal new, unusual perspectives and depict its mood in his very own style. When he visited Venice for the first time in 1978, he fell “head-over-heels in love” immediately on arriving at the train station and seeing the Grand Canal. Since then he has felt a special connection to the city, has visited it many times and captured it in photographs. He avoids repetition, taking at most two or three shots of each subject, at least one of which must be an improvement. In Venice, which is permanently threatened by collapse, beauty and transience are inextricably linked – the best prerequisites for a tragic love, to which Habermann has also succumbed in his photographic view of the city, with images suffused with poetry and world-weariness.

Efraim Habermann - Venice
© Efraim Habermann
Efraim Habermann - Venice, 1987


»Photography is my work; watercolors are my pearls.« This is how Efraim Habermann regards his watercolor paintings, on which this trained technical draftsman has increasingly focused, particularly since the early 1980s. The motifs are often constructivist in nature, shaping the pictorial space with geometric figures. They are arranged in a balanced way, revealing the same understanding of a successful composition as in his photographs – sometimes in a stark black-and-white contrast, but mostly in strong colors such as red, green, yellow and blue, and often created in small series. And in between there are playful individual works that break out of the strict constructivism – organic forms, small landscape depictions, stylized architecture or references to Aboriginal art. Habermann’s watercolors thus form a complete string of pearls of playful rigor in the rigorous play of free composition.

Efraim Habermann - Watercolor
© Efraim Habermann
Efraim Habermann - Watercolor, 2005


Efraim Habermann – Photography and watercolor
artnow Gallery | Fasanenstraße 42 | 10719 Berlin | Germany

Vernissage:     February 16, 2023, from 7:00 p.m.
Exhibition:      17 February to 25 March 2023
Wed to Fri 11:00 to 18:00, Sat 12:00 to 16:00Art.Salon

Dive deeper into the art world

Efraim Habermann

With city views of Berlin, Efraim Habermann became known to a broad public as a photographer in the 1960s. His works are characterized early on by a distinctive, concise style and unusual perspectives. Today, after a 50-year creative phase, he has an extensive body of photographic work, consistently in black and white, with numerous series from Israel, Venice and Berlin, still lifes, portraits and photographic collages. Habermann's »pearls«, his mostly constructivist watercolors, geometric forms in strong colors, finely balanced into a postcard-sized composition, seem almost like a commentary on his own conception of the image. An extensive exhibition of works from the artist's private archive can now be seen in Berlin from mid-February.

by Felix Brosius, February 04, 2023
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