ter Hell

Painting 1981 - 2012

Works Bio
Photo: Kerstin Fakler

This brief overview of an œuvre of a good three decades might be stunning, perhaps even bewildering due to its stylistic diversity – as if not one artist but a multitude of them was at work. Stylistic unity, the basic concept of art for centuries, has been replaced by ter Hell’s own approach: in each case, he gives his changing topics their appropriate forms. Dis-continuity is the overarching unifier of this work, stylistic inconsistency the stylistic principle.

Emerging during the big rebirth of Berlin’s art scene around 1980, ter Hell belongs to a group of artists who formed in opposition to the neo-expressionist painters centered in the eastern part of Kreuzberg, the Galerie am Moritzplatz. They named themselves 1/61 after the postal code of the district. As a student of revered tachist painter Fred Thieler, ter Hell assumes his professor’s gestural approach as well as his fondness for experimentation. The other point de résistance is Jackson Pollock. Ever since, this mixture of typical Berlin traits – a snotty audacity and a politically charged, anarchist protest culture – on the one hand and an international orientation on the other shapes ter Hell’s work.

There are two points of departure that hold this stylistically disparate work together. One is restless reflection and analysis. With a certain breathlessness, the artist, exploring possibilities of composition and structure, rushes from painting to painting; indeed, physical motion plays a major role in his work in general: like a dancer – or a jack-in-the-box at times – he circles around and shapes his works. Also, he deals with the very site of thinking, the brain: this organ gave name to an entire series of paintings; brain waves are visualized as thread swarms, as „energetic chains“. Again and again words and terms emphasize the cerebral aspect of the work.

The second point of departure is ter Hell’s political, social-critical thinking. „The purpose of my artistic work,“ he says, „is the attempt to find a place from where I can oppose brainwashing, corruption and capitalism.“ Always a keen observer, he wants to enlighten his viewers about the „conditions“, the „system“ and – from his position as a visual artist – create a critical awareness of imagery. A central target is the digitally manufactured ersatz world: he dreams of a big crash, „as if Zeus would shoot lightnings and the entire online system would collapse“.

Tracing the emotions of this pictorial universe, one discovers – behind ter Hell’s rational, „cool“ attitude and an occasionally escalating actionism – a certain melancholy, perhaps even despair, and this concerns not only the state of the world at large, but also the individual’s fate. These paintings are tales about being reflected onto one’s own existence, about the task of all of us to determine and assert our place in the world – the desire to overcome the homelessness. Several paintings are titled „Bezüge“, a term to be understood, it seems, as the desire for humane relations.

Some paintings consist of several, stylistically very diverse panels, that nevertheless together form a unified and harmonious whole – just like the disparate parts of one single work interact as a well-balanced unit. There is some kind of utopia behind it: This art wants to bind together loose ends, give sense to the senseless, and to order and structure the chaotic. Its pursuit of beauty mirrors the ideal of a perfect, pacified society.




1954born in Norden
1976-1981studied at the Hochschule der Künste Berlin with Fred Thieler, Meisterschüler
1979Foundation of the artists group and gallery 1/61, Berlin
1982PS1 grant, New York
1983Art award Glockengasse Köln
1983Philip Morris-Award: Dimensionen IV – New Painting in Deutschland

Solo shows

Over the decades, Ter Hell had solo shows at Galerie 1/61 and the galleries Nothelfer, Fahnemann, Pels-Leusden, Manfred Giesler (all in Berlin) as well as Dany Keller (München) and Tilly Haderek (Stuttgart). In the last couple of years his works were primarily shown at the Freies Museum Berlin. At present an exhibition with roughly 50 works from the Böckmann Collection is being presented at the Museum Weserburg, Bremen (until 10 April).

An extensive group of works is exhibited at the Hotel Pullman Berlin Schweizerhof.

group shows (selection)

1979“Alkohol, Nikotin fff”, Galerie am Moritzplatz, Berlin
“12 Räume – 12 Künstler”, DAAD Galerie, Berlin
1980“Junge Kunst aus Berlin”, Goethe-Institut München; shown in Berlin, London, Singapore and other cities – until 1982
Große Kunstausstellung, München
1981“Ten Young Painters from Berlin”, Goethe-Institute, London
“Forum Junge Kunst 81”, Wolfsburg, Düsseldorf, Kiel
“Bildwechsel – Neue Malerei aus Deutschland”, Akademie der Künste, Berlin
“Situation Berlin”, Museum Nizza, Kunsthalle Wilhelmshaven
“Phoenix” Alte Oper, Frankfurt
“Dimension 81 – Neue Tendenzen der Zeichnung”, München, Berlin, Düsseldorf
1982“10 x Malerei”, parallel to Chaim Soutine, Landesmuseum Münster
“Gefühl & Härte”, Neue Kunst aus Berlin, Kulturhuset Stockholm, Kunstverein München
“Zeichnung heute”, 2. Internationale Jugendtriennale der Zeichnung, Nürnberg, Lausanne, Lisbon
Galeria Peccolo, Livorno (with Reinhard Pods and Gerd Rohling)
“Made in New York”, Paintings and Sculptures by Four Contemporary German Artists – Thomas Bernsten, ter Hell, Barbara Quandt, Klaus Schmitt – Goethe-Institute, New York
“Sieben im Kutscherhaus”, Collection Dr. Stober, Berlin
“New European and American Drawing”, Piran, Jugoslavia
1983“Xenophilia”, The Clocktower Institute for Art and Urban Resources, New York
“Dimension IV – Neue Malerei in Deutschland”, Nationalgalerie, Berlin; Haus der Kunst, München; Kunsthalle Düsseldorf
1984“Neue Malerei Berlin”, Kestner-Gesellschaft, Hanover
“Kunstlandschaft Bundesrepublik Deutschland”, Stuttgart, Ulm, Reutlingen
1985“Kunst in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland 1945 – 1985”, Nationalgalerie, Berlin
“Drawings – 12 Artists from Berlin”, touring exhibition, Goethe-Institute Kairo
1986“Berlin Aujourd’hui”, Musée de Toulon, Toulon, France
“7th International Graphics Biennal”, Mulhouse, France
“Von Beuys bis Stella”, Kupferstichkabinett Berlin
“Kunst in Berlin von 1870 bis heute, Sammlung der Berlinischen Galerie”, Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin
1987“Berlin Art 1961 – 1987”, Museum of Modern Art, New York, and San Francisco Museum
“Dallas – Berlin”, Crescent Gallery, Dallas, Tx.
“Bremer Kunstpreis”, Kunsthalle Bremen
“desire for life”, Pictures from Berlin, Goethe-Institutes, USA and Canada
1989“Malerei des 20. Jahrhunderts”, Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin
“Art in Berlin from 1900 until”, Centro de Arte Moderna, Lisbon
1990“Ambiente Berlin”, La Biennale di Venezia
1991“Berliner Kunst seit 45”, Museums in Riga and St. Petersburg
1992Berlinischen Galerie: Collection, Berlin
1999“Deutsche Kunst nach 1945”, Kunstmuseum Bonn
“100 Jahre Kunst im Aufbruch”, Berlinische Galerie, Bonn, Grenoble, Valencia, Porto, Budapest
2003“Ich bin’s – Zwischenspiel V”, Berlinische Galerie at the Kunstforum of Grundkreditbank Berlin
2008“Die aufregende Kunst des 20. Jahrhunderts”, Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin
“Eine Dekade – 10 Einsichten”, Kunstfaktor Produzentengalerie, Berlin
2010“Vom Esprit der Gesten”, Kupferstichkabinett, Berlin
2013“Synekdoche – The Artists Show”, Freies Museum Berlin
2014“Let’s Fix It!….It’s Fixed!”, Freies Museum Berlin

For a complete exhibition listing please see ter Hell Biography