What do painting and theatre have to say to each other, what do visual and performing arts have to say? Can these disciplines talk to each other at all, or is one already over the hills, while the other is still statically hanging within its framework?

The famous Belgian painter Luc Tuymans may have thought when he was asked by the Berlin Academy of Arts, of which he has been a member since 2018, whether he could imagine a double exhibition with a member from another section – and if so, with which one. Tuymans, who once called his pictures "authentic fakes" because he creates them based on photographic models, invited Edith Clever. He knew and admired the great actress from the legendary ensemble of the Berlin Schaubühne around Peter Stein, especially from the films of Hans-Jürgen Syberberg. And she, the shy, scrupulous, self-infinitely demanding and rarely satisfied, a member of the Academy since 1993, accepted the offer and engaged in dialogue.

She says nothing and yet everything

It had become a "very dry exhibition", Tuymans said with satisfaction, which for him means that the arts exist side by side, assert themselves in their sovereignty, develop correspondences out of their autonomy. Uncompromisingness as a principle that thrives on the power to endure contradictions: Edith Clever and Luc Tuymans, each in their own way, sought and found this dialectic. It is based on the overwhelming presence that radiate from his images and their recorded play scenes. The show, excellently supervised by curator Angela Lammert, captures the audience with a sound installation already in the foyer, for which Genoël von Lilienstern has redesigned Edith Clever's voice with its distinctive modulations using AI technology.

At the beginning in the Max Liebermann Hall, named after the president of the Prussian Academy of Arts from 1920 to 1933, who had his studio here, Edith Clever looks into the world: the imperishable face of tragedy. She says nothing and yet everything – only with concentrated eyes, the subtle hint of a smile and the charisma of the art experience of life. This silent "cinematic portrait" was taken in black and white by photographer Alex Salinas, a companion of Tuymans. With the face of Edith Clever, who does not conceal her age, "at the end of her working years" it asserts itself grandiosely between the high walls, whose war damage was clearly marked after the renovation.

Men without a face

For Luc Tuymans, who consistently questions history in his works, whether it is about the Holocaust, Belgian colonialism or conservatism in the USA, these premises with their eventful past are of course a nice challenge. Figurative, but not clearly coded, trace elements of violence and lucid layers of horror can be seen in his paintings.

For example, a wool carpet of 800 × 1000 centimetres, specially made for Berlin, refers to the skylight construction of the hall of the former Royal Academy in which it is located and the dimensions of the old floor plan. The pattern is decorative as well as aggressive and comes from a chair on which someone was murdered. "Himmler" and "The Architect" – Albert Speer – are men without a face in Tuymans' work, who now appear in the very building where Albert Speer and his staff planned Hitler's "world capital Germania". Newer images respond to the Corona period with large-format numerals, such as "The Stage", which presents an empty stage in an organic color mixture of red, indigo and violet. Of course, no one will step into their light spots to recite verses by Euripides or Kleist – as Edith Clever does, who, clever, sublime and truthful, can be heard in a specially recorded recording from the Studio for Electroacoustic Music of the Akademie der Künste.

A rediscovery is the six-hour film "Die Nacht" (1985) by Hans-Jürgen Syberberg (in a version shortened by Clever), which does not let go of you when you have sat down to this "dramatic monologue" and are inspired by the melancholic-heroic clarity with which she sings the "Abendlied" by Matthias Claudius: "So are probably some things, / Which we confidently laugh at, / Because our eyes do not see them." From very far away they come together here, the words that have passed through the body of the actress and the bodies that have fallen out of language, wordless in cruelty and horror. Edith Clever trusts the theatre against the levelling of the masses in the media, while Luc Tuymans insists on painting in order to banish the daily flood of images. It's not only worth it, it's a cross-border happiness.

"Luc Tuymans – Edith Clever". Until 26.11., Akademie der Künste Berlin. No catalogue.