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West Germans Paint Mock Wall in Pomona : Art: Exhibition features the works of five artists from West Germany, including one who spent most of her life behind the real Berlin Wall.

March 28, 1990|BETH KLEID

The Berlin Wall stands again, across from Ed's Shoe Repair and next to a drapery store on a sleepy street in downtown Pomona.

But this wall doesn't impose a boundary. It serves as an invitation: "Welcome Berlin Artists," reads a slogan etched on the brightly painted wall covered with graffiti. The mock wall is the introduction to the exhibit "Berlin at the New Frontier," which opened earlier this month at Pomona's DA Gallery.

The nonprofit gallery, in conjunction with the city of Pomona, is showing the works of five West German artists, including one who spent most of her life behind the real Berlin Wall in East Germany.

This wall, too, will come tumbling down like its European counterpart. On Saturday, exhibit participants will hammer it down to mark the show's closing weekend. The wall becomes take-home art when 3x3-foot pieces are raffled off at the final celebration.

The wall has been a work-in-progress since it was constructed. Throughout the exhibit, artists and passersby have grabbed paintbrushes and added political messages, poetry and gang graffiti to the Pomona version of the wall. The verdict: "It looks like the Berlin Wall looked," said Werner Zein, one of the artists from Berlin.

For Zein, working on the Pomona wall conjured memories of a chilly Nov. 9 in Berlin, the day the wall was taken down. "I never felt such emotion in my life. It gives me the goosebumps to think about it," said the artist, who lives near the Wall.

That November day was even more powerful for Cornelia Schleime. An artist on the rise like the others selected for the show by Berlin government officials and the Pomona Cultural Arts Commission, Schleime, 36, could not freely express herself until she migrated from East to West Berlin in 1984. As an artist in East Berlin, she could only work underground. "My lifestyle was forbidden," said the punkish-looking artist with orange hair and bold makeup. "My art was forbidden.

" 'Garbage art, that's what you do,' they told me," she said. The East German government never allowed her to show her work. Now she is considered a hot commodity in West Berlin, and is promoted by the Berlin Senate in such shows as the one in Pomona.

To Schleime, freedom of expression is a gift. But ironically, she said the pressure she felt in East Berlin caused her to do her best work. She created almost surrealistic, dream-like paintings. After a few years in the West, her art changed. "The need to react was not as pressing," she said.

In the West, she responded to the more mundane. One of her works in the show is a series of painted leeks. "I react to everyday life now. I eat leeks," she said.

Because "Berlin at the New Frontier" was planned before the fall of the Wall, Schleime and the other artists' work does not address its dismantling. But Schleime says she has no plans to react to this in terms of her art. "It is frightening to me, to go back to my past. I want to look to the future, get new inspirations. That's the point of this exchange with the American art world and the American people. That's why I'm here."

At first, Zein worried that the show would not fit together well. Compare his hanging can of baked beans to artist Ulrich Radke's "Last Supper," a mixed-medium piece of 12 bashed-in TV screens on a table with wine and bread.

"But when we put it all up we said, 'Come on, it fits perfectly!' After all, we are all from the same place," Zein said.

Both Zein and artist Andreas Ginkel, who had not conferred before the show, brought tire sculptures to exhibit in California. "We must have both been thinking, L.A.--car city--bring the tire," concluded Zein.

But Randa Milliron, Pomona's director of cultural arts who organized the show, wanted the artists specifically because of their diversity. "I wanted to show the whole spectrum, to give a taste of the different types of work in Berlin," she said.

Milliron, a member of the band H-Bomb White Noise and a frequent commuter to Berlin, thinks the show will infuse culture into Pomona. "Pomona has all the elements for a burgeoning arts center, like a SoHo or a Hoboken. Artsits can wait two years to show in L.A.; we want them to know we're here," she said.

Why an exchange with Berlin? "Berlin is so vital, I wanted to bring that here." She started working on the show a year ago, when she contacted the Berlin Senate, which funded the artists' trips. She gathered about $20,000 from corporate sponsors such as GTE and Cablevision. She said the Wall coming down generated even more interest.

The exhibit's collaborative spirit has taken effect. Local artist Rick Cummings said he couldn't resist exchanging ideas with artists from Berlin, so he came and painted a scene of palm trees on the wall. When a pony-tailed girl painted right over his work, he didn't flinch. "That's part of it. This exhibit is about things coming together. It's about sharing art and sharing cultures."

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