Friday | 5 July 2024

The melancholy of nudity

Wiebke Mertens was awarded the Karin Hollweg Prize 2024
Wiebke Mertens and an excerpt from her work "Slim fit".
Wiebke Mertens and an excerpt from her work "Slim fit". © Leon Sahiti

While things and relationships are becoming increasingly digitalized, the focus is shifting back to the analogue, the tangible and the sensuality that can be activated away from devices, whose fullness of meaning lies in connecting us with others. And so Wiebke Mertens, a master student of Katrin von Maltzahn, paints the interplay of covering and uncovering with oil on paper with realistic accuracy and without transfiguring veils, adding a traditional varnish sheen on top, but immediately breaking with history again and nailing her works to the wall without a frame. 

© Sandra Beckefeldt

The legs: naked. The upper body: covered by a hoodie. In keeping with the anatomy, a penis hangs lazily from the vertical composition. A penis is and remains a penis, naked skin only naked skin, in which traces of life, time and human experience are inscribed. In Mertens' seven-part group of works entitled "Slim fit" (due to the narrow vertical format of the painting grounds), however, both also function as a sign of more, of expectation, longing and the insecurity associated with it. Not necessarily in a sexual sense. Mertens is fundamentally concerned with physicality and the resistance that restricts the lusts, urges and desires that rage within us, so that there is an acute lack of contact, closeness, interaction, affection, touch and fusion. The individual paintings show different parts of the body, some covered, some uncovered, expressing inhibitions, tensions and gestures of forlornness. The distances at which the paintings are hung also refer to their isolation from one another. Incidentally, the artist views her works from the very top as a self-portrait.

To date, Mertens has primarily worked with portraits, exploring the staging of bodies, posing and moments of being read and categorised. With the fragmented body images in "Slim fit", she has now found an artistically convincing form for her theme. She was awarded the Karin Hollweg Prize at the Gerhard-Marcks-Haus on  July 4th, 2024. The prizewinner's work is part of the exhibition "zip Meisterschüler:innen der HfK 2024", which can be seen there until August 18th, 2024.

Jury statement:

"Wiebke Mertens' works in the Gerhard-Marcks-Haus tie in with the history of portrait and nude painting without neglecting the questions of materiality, of the veiling of the body. She thus navigates through a centuries-old tradition as convincingly as she does confidently. The immediacy of the motifs is reflected in the spatial presentation.

Her pictures oscillate between snottiness and gentleness, old mastery and youth culture, self-centredness and interpersonal relationships, voyeurism and shelter. The body fragments are set against a neutral background and detach their motifs from a specific space. On the other hand, the garments locate the bodies in the present."

Jury 2024:

Matilda Felix, Delmenhorst Municipal Gallery 
Wolfgang Hainke, artist
Annette Hans, GAK, Society for Contemporary Art 
Andreas Kreul, Karin and Uwe Hollweg Foundation 
Ingmar Lähnemann, Städtische Galerie Bremen
Nadja Quante, KH Künstler:innenhaus Bremen
Annett Reckert, Kunsthalle Bremen 
Frank Schmidt, Böttcherstraße Museums
Mirjam Verhey-Focke, Gerhard-Marcks-Haus
Janneke de Vries, Weserburg, Museum of Modern Art

David Bartusch, Chairman of the Friends of the Hochschule für Künste Bremen e. V.
Natascha Sadr Haghighian, Professor at the University of the Arts Bremen


With the Karin Hollweg Prize, the Karin and Uwe Hollweg Foundation has been supporting master students at the University of the Arts Bremen (HfK) since 2007 (this year it was secured for a further five years and thus until at least 2028). The prize is awarded annually in connection with the exhibition of the HfK's master students, which rotates between different exhibition venues. It is one of the most highly endowed sponsorship awards of all art academies in Germany. Each year, a jury from outside the university, made up of art experts from Bremen and the surrounding area, decides on the award. The prize is worth 18,000 euros, half of which is paid out directly to the winner as prize money, while the second half is reserved for the realisation of a solo exhibition. A further 2,000 euros will be made available to the exhibiting institution of the master student exhibition. This brings the total funding to 20,000 euros per year.

Previous award winners: Dilettantin Produktionsbüro (Anneli Käsmayr and Jenny Kropp together with Claudia Heidorn, Anna Jandt and Alberta Niemann) (2007), Verena Johanna Müller (2008), Christian Haake (2009), Nicolai Schorr (2010), Noriko Yamamoto (2011), Janis E. Müller (2012), Franziska Keller (2013), Z. Schmidt (2014), Tobias Heine (2015), Claudia Piepenbrock (2016), Felix Dreesen (2017), Zhe Wang (2018), Mattia Bonafini and Luisa Eugeni (2019), Kate Andrews (2020), Shirin Mohammad (2021), Martin Reichmann (2022), Hannah Wolf (2023).


Wiebke Mertens (born 1997 in Suhl) is a painter who lives and works in Bremen. In 2023 she graduated from the HfK Bremen with a diploma in Fine Arts and has been a master student of Katrin von Maltzahn ever since. In 2022, she completed a guest study programme at the Dresden University of Fine Arts in Anne Neukamp's painting class. She has had exhibitions at Galerie Herold and Galerie Kʼ, among others, and was artist in residence at Kombinat e. V. Spinnerei Leipzig for a year. In addition to painting, Wiebke Mertens also works as a curator, for example for the exhibition Container Love at Tor 40 Bremen, 2023 and for raus.project, 2022 as well as the CIAO exhibition container at Bremen freight yard together with Anne Moder (2019-20