It’s that time of the year: Summer has violently vanished and been replaced by depressing temperatures, the semi-licit outdoor rave program is put on hold and Berlin Art Week is here again.
For the sixth time, the city transforms itself into a hub for art-world professionals. It’s one of the two moments of the year in which collectors, a tribe terribly underrepresented in Berlin, take over the places no real Berliner could ever afford to eat, sleep or drink at and check out what’s new on the scene. It therefore only makes sense for galleries to put much effort into exhibitions showcasing the crème de la crème of their program. The competition to grab the attention of wealthy visitors is more ferocious than dealers would like to admit, and for small and mid-size galleries especially, the financial gain can end up being decisive. However, Berlin Art Week is not per se gallery-centered: it aims to offer visitors a more diversified alternative to Gallery Weekend Berlin, activating both commercial and institutional actors of the Berlin art scene. Its focus expands to exhibitions and accompanying events by museums, private collections and project spaces, of which there are plenty but who tend to be overshadowed by the density of commercial galleries.
The nucleus of this week-long celebration has until recently been abc art berlin contemporary. However, last year’s edition seemed oddly lackluster, with participants admitting to poor sales and a gloomy ambiance. This didn’t go unnoticed by the fair’s director, Maike Cruse, who was smart enough to question its concept and look out for new partners. In April, it was announced that Koelnmesse, the parent company of Art Cologne, the world’s oldest art fair, would be taking over abc and rebaptize it as art berlin. But not only the title has been adapted: this year, the range of works on sale has been extended to modern art, which is in fact a business model successfully implemented by Art Cologne.
The collaboration between the two most important German art fairs is an intelligent move for both of them since they can both benefit from each other’s advantages: cutting-edge spirit and a dynamic local scene for Berlin, a far reach into a more traditional collector base and a larger yet high-quality array of sellable works. By the way, if you’re a fan of art shown in booths and in case you are still ‘hungry’ after visiting art berlin, we recommend POSITIONS Berlin Art Fair at Arena.
Local gallerists, most of which are participating to art berlin, must have had a busy couple of weeks since they have to promote both their fair participation and the shows they’ve organized at their spaces. Galerie Max Hetzler, West Berlin’s prime destination for blue-chip treasures, opens two shows by Richard Prince, the king of appropriation and controversy. For his first show with the gallery, Prince further investigates his (and our) obsession with American pop culture, especially the field of music. In a grittier neighborhood, post-internet stable Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler presents works by the elusive and sought-after Andrea Crespo. After years spent in an austere office complex on Alexanderplatz, KTZ will now be located on the border between Kreuzberg and Neukölln (one could maybe compare that to the area where Bed-Stuy and Williamsburg meet in NYC), confirming a certain trend that sees galleries leaving the former East Berlin and venture into the West.
In Tiergarten, where those two zones meet, Gillmeier Rech is showing prints by Austrian artist Lisa Holzer. For “I come in you – The Party Sequel (Berlin),” Holzer photographed different types of purées and cake icings which, to a certain extent, are reminiscent of feces and bodily secretions. Morris Louis is also mentioned as an inspiration, and in fact, after looking at those strange works for a while, you could transpose their gooeyness into Louis’ bleeding abstractions, and vice versa. Good British sculpture will be on view in the same area: Arratia Beer has invited the young Londoner Holly Hendry for their September show, whose work is in line with the long tradition of great British sculptors such as Sarah Lucas or Tony Cragg, both intimate in form and often epic in scale. Her pastel-colored pieces are somehow reminiscent of a spooky merger between archeological terrain and the worms that inhabit it.
Another highlight might very well be Harun Farocki’s exhibition at Galerie Barbara Weiss, where films by the seminal German artist will enchant those receptive to a certain visual austerity between experimental and documentary film. If what you see at Barbara Weiss isn’t enough for you, Neuer Berliner Kunstverein hosts a retrospective of Farocki as well. At Future Gallery, Nicolas Pelzer shows Cockpit Rule, a new body of work based on parts of civil airplanes, as well as a continuation of previous pieces dealing with the artist’s fascination with lamps. Finally, Alexander Levy presents Felix Kiessling, whose practice explores the forces of nature and how those can be tamed, or at least played with. Many exhibitions will open on the occasion of Gallery Night, which takes place on Friday, September 15; if you love looking at art as much as you love looking at people, this might be the perfect evening for you, as the streets will be flooded with art aficionados.
While galleries must have had a lot to do, institutions have prepared an equally impressive and complex program. At the KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin’s de facto Kunsthalle, Willem de Rooij takes over the complicated space for an exhibition linking pieces from the last 20 years with some of his new work. The Dutch conceptual artist might not reward viewers with immediate visual enchantment, but that’s what makes his approach to image-making so interesting: De Rooij never offers you an easy solution and instead, triggers interest through subtle and strategically placed conceptual irritations. Berlinische Galerie hosts a show by Italian artist Monica Bonvicini, whose multi faceted practice acts on viewers like the sound of a gong: a first immediate loudness is usually followed by an echo that keeps on resonating for quite some time. Interested in the spacial embodiments of power structures, Bonvicini’s show at Berlinische Galerie investigates facades and their function, among other things.
On view until end of September at Museum Frieder Burda | Salon Berlin are Nathalie Djurberg and Hans Berg, arguably the masters of oddly cute creepiness and claymation. A part of the show is dedicated to dialogue with Willem de Kooning’s art; hence it will work well for those who like a bit of Abstract Expressionism with their Freudian malaise. A more realistic form of gut-wrenching yet fantastic art is on view at Martin-Gropius-Bau, where etchings by the master of portraiture Lucian Freud, who was born in Berlin, are to be admired next to two paintings and a watercolor. Freud’s precision, refusal to flatter his models and lifelong quest for the perfect balance between figure and light can also be perceived in his works on paper, who in fact are shown much more rarely than his canvases. Those who enjoy the moving image might want to meet at Kino Arsenal, where the haubrok foundation organizes “la > x,” a film festival plus an accompanying exhibition focusing on artistic viewpoints from Los Angeles.
Beyond these Western perspectives, me Collectors Room inaugurates “Portrait of a Nation,” an exhibition by 50 artists from the United Arab Emirates. Whether on a geopolitical, natural, economical or cultural level, the young country continues to fascinate and intrigue; its ambitious museum policy, with the creation of many titanesque institutions such as the Louvre and Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, will only be one of many aspects this exhibition plans to deal with.
A lot expects the Berlin visitor this week, and the density of compelling things to see proves once again that Berlin, at least in terms of culture, is far from dead, as so many like to claim. A comprehensive list of exhibitions and openings is available in our app, which we encourage you to use for the best possible experience of Berlin Art Week!
Naturally, this yearly highlight comes with its share of events, ranging from wild parties to mild cocktail receptions; we’ve also got all the info about those. So if you want to be always up to date, subscribe to our Exhibitionary Alerts (just follow the link for a description how to subscribe).
– Karim Crippa