This is the busiest art summer in years (ten years to be exact) with Venice, Documenta, and Münster. This newsletter comes almost as soon as the last was sent out. The best place to read it is on the trip from Cologne to Berlin – because our next stop is Gallery Weekend.
Nothing compares to seeing an exhibition in a gallery, no one else cultivates as long and lasting of a relationship as a gallery with an artist they represent. Often they have the only archives of an artist’s oeuvre and deep information about their practice. Galleries are the right place for the whole gestalt of a work to premiere its voice. This is when artwork looks the freshest with a long distance hope entering a permanent institutional collection (which means to have received the honor of 'museum quality'). In this moment galleries are at the forefront of presenting new art, as the esteemed curator Robert Storr wrote “more adventurous gallerists who, aside from the profit motive and in some respects because of it, seem in many cases to be bolder and more curious than their institutional counterparts.”
Gallery Weekend is an event like no other. Unlike the artificial situation in a trade fair or on the auction chopping block where meaning and context are emptied out. Collectors from all over the world come to see art in its primary public source, to buy early, for galleries to step up to the plate and for artists to give it their best.
We cover everything, not just the official GWB program. In our app you will find around 100 openings just for this weekend. To navigate the behemoth is a vast task, it requires orientation and organization, and we give you that with our app. Influential artists, curators and collectors gave us their Picks. So look what Elmgreen & Dragset, Francesca Gavin, Krist Gruijthuijsen, and Anita Zablodowiz recommend to see.
Our home turf and source of pride is Berlin and we hope here to provide a few entry points in this, 'slightly' longer than usual, newsletter. Having in mind what Alain Servais said, “Art is not a luxury good. When people ask me what I collect, I say I collect ideas.” In other words, a good collector thinks like a good curator, looking from a particular point of view at themes they find interesting.
Two gallerists we believe in, who help us to see and understand challenging new works, have booth announced that they are moving into new spaces. Long time friends and supporters of each other, Esther Schipper and Mehdi Chouakri, pillars of the local art community have timed their grand openings with this biggest art event in Berlin. Another wonderful merit of GWB is how galleries share artists (and even collectors) which is a much needed occurrence of altruism.
Like everything in life, every silver lining has its dark cloud. As great philosopher of network theory Donna Haraway aptly put it: “We're living in a world of connections – and it matters which ones get made and unmade.” In Berlin, more so than in any other city, everything depends upon the politics and of who you are connected to. Gallery Weekend Berlin is an event founded and owned by galleries. There are no applications, no official selection process, it is strictly invitation only, with some galleries waiting years to be asked to participate and many never asked at all.
In its lucky 13th edition Gallery Weekend has matured out of its adolescent years, and is not growing anymore – on the contrary they seem to be pruning back as the eight vacant spaces from galleries no longer participating this year have not been filled. Some moved, some chose not to participate and other didn’t have any choice to come back. Only one gallery was selected to participate for the first time, the experimental, exciting, and deserving ChertLüdde.
At an art fair the biggest players are grouped at the front. So how do you know where to start in a vast sprawling city? For us there is one clear answer: Potsdamer Strasse.
Gentrification is in full swing in this area. There are still some rough edges like the lingering hookers on Kurfürstenstrasse but the cycle moves forward: usually first the galleries move in, than the shops with higher rents pushing the galleries out and eventually luxury real estate takes over. This is the well known pattern but we champion a mix of so called 'low culture' with 'high culture' and hope that Berlin can be different.
Besides being very Berlin, Potsdamer Strasse is a great first pin to drop on the app because it is also home to the brand new space of Esther Schipper. In gallery vocabulary the ultimate signifier of blue-chipness is a perfectly designed space of the high “art-architecture complex.” No one is better at planning galleries right now than Selldorf Architects (one of the only living female Starchitects, who designed a breath-taking gallery for David Zwirner, in addition to others like Gagosian and Hauser & Wirth) – and Annabelle Selldorf herself worked on this project. We can’t wait to see it.
There are two inaugural exhibitions. First, one of our super-all-time favorites, the celebrated Albanian-born French artist Anri Sala who responds with a site-specific show. His (sub)themes include the tropes at the intersection of the non-verbal and the narrative; he uses music to unfold open-ended possibilities. The exhibition titled “Take Over” features a new sound/video installation and large scale drawings. A film depicting a close up of the keys on a self-playing piano with a human hand animated along with the machine automation. Two songs, La Marseillaise and the Internationale, written in 1792 are the leitmotivs of “Take Over” charging it with revolutions and anthems. The work is not easy to sit with as it directly confronts the deepest political issues, but like osmosis seeps into our lasting memory. The second exhibition is the much deserving but under-visible Angela Bulloch. Her show aptly titled “Heavy Metal Body” features three steel stacks that recall Brancusi’s modernist masterpiece “Endless Column” updated for our techno-organic age. Variations on the stack – each with distinct rhythm – are made from differing modular rhomboid units. Each painted with colors that play with the eye in an optical illusion of space. Like all great art, they set up their own world of rules and systems, within which they convincingly fulfil the artist’s intention, shaping the way we see the world of colors and forms around us.
Other galleries inside this post-industrial complex of former Der Tagesspiegel (a Berlin newspaper) include mid-sized but large in ideas Galerie Thomas Fischer, the excellent Galeria Plan B, and hipply smart Arratia Beer. These are next to a gallery we respect (his gallery is upstairs, which is trendy) Galerie Guido W. Baudach. Choosing to show a survey of Jürgen Klauke, a long time staple of the gallery and a pioneer of immersive multimedia installation which are the norm now. He also explored “body art” early in the 70s and continued to explore the on-point trope of contemporary condition urban ennui.
Also on Potsdamer Strasse, WNTRP, (the experimental, discursive and independent extension of Wentrup gallery) is showing the radical work of Zanele Muholi. She is known internationally for her series “Faces and Phases” that reverently depicted the South African LGBTI community. Her current show “Somnyama Ngonyama” (Zulu for: Hail the black lioness) deconstructs blackfacing of minstrel theater, depictions of the black body as the other, and ultimately restores the dignity of representations of blackness.
It is important to go outside the well-trodden Gallery Weekend paths, and take the road less traveled which includes going to Tanja Wagner. Showing the multidisciplinarian installation artist Kapwani Kiwanga, who is Canadian-born and Paris-based, working intentionally to confuse truth and fiction, perfect for our post-truth world. It is a form of resistance against the hegemonic norms using cultural imaginaries such as Afrofuturism in order to tackle issues as deep as the memory of anti-colonial struggle.
Berlin is known for having many project spaces, some say there are over 150, but it is an ever changing ecosystem. Center has had a long history of innovative curatorial directors that change every couple of years. Most recently the space is headed up by emerging curator, Thomas Butler (Room E-10 27), who mounted a show with a series of new works from Maximilian Schmoetzer. The video (his main medium) is centered around the destruction of the Roman Triumphal Arch in Syria by ISIS. Another project space we look forward to is HORSEANDPONY. They are showing a group exhibition curated by GeoVanna Gonzalez titled “A New Prescription for Insomnia,” we would be into such a pharmaceutical downer after all the uppers this weekend.
Just south off on Genthiner Strasse is Société, they capture the contemporary zeitgeist before anyone else (everyone seems to play catch up). Always a highlight of GWB, they take a chance by showing an artist outside of their program, Shanghai-born Lu Yang, who was in the 2015 Chinese Pavilion in Venice. Her boundary-pushing experimental practice includes reanimating dead frogs for a video of an underwater zombie ballet. Touching on themes of imaging (such as medical imaging), stereotactic mapping, deep-brain stimulation, cartoonification of the body including Japanese manga, and of course the multi-gendered chimera. She is the quintessential digital native who claims all her work is made online.
Jumping eastward to the expansive Mitte, once ground zero for many Berlin galleries, we hop to several spaces clustered around KW. The great bellwether of Berlin galleries is neugerriemschneider, who is paying homage to the highly influential Michel Majerus, whose estate they represent, to feature his famed aluminium paintings. Majerus was among the first to bring Photoshop to painting through sampling and combining iconography from cartoons, video games, graphic design, and references to art history into the many languages of modernism and postmodernist monochrome painting. A resurgence of interest in Majerus' 90s innovations is timed with the rise of young emerging stars as diverse as Gedi Sibony or Michail Pirgelis (aluminum paintings), Jamian Juliano-Villani (sampling cartoons), or even Lucy Dodd (who is the GWB show of mega-gallery Sprüth Magers).
When people come to visit Berlin for the first time one of the names they already know is the internationally renowned Galerie Eigen + Art, along with the usually candid and charismatic founder Gerd Harry Lybke, called Judy by anyone who knows him. Lybke founded the gallery illegally in his apartment during the GDR and was among the first galleries to show Olaf Nicolai. He is featured in Documenta 14 Athens with one of the works that is most fitting the core theme where he samples radio sounds, riots, and protests, into a phonic collage. Nicolai’s conceptual practise is impossible to categorize. He will certainly surprise us. We heard there are glass beads involved responding to the architecture of the gallery.
Also in Mitte is BQ, mounting a show of Matti Braun titled “Singale Sugat,” an artist shared with Esther Schipper, again pointing to gallery interconnectedness. Braun explores complex themes such as globalization, the cultural exchange between East and West, recognitions and mis-recognitions; but in the end his work is visually arresting with pure beauty including his silk paintings that are dyed wet-on-wet.
Further west is the Wolfgang Tillmans run Between Bridges which is also a trailblazer. Sometimes it takes an artist to recognize the work of other artists. Showing the 78 year old German self-taught street photographer Helga Paris, a top Pick on our app from Francesca Gavin. Paris was born the year before the outbreak of WWII, she lost her fathers and brothers, was forced to relocate to East Berlin in the GDR and has been raised by her aunts among other women. These photographs are incredible documents of the world behind the iron curtain but look refreshingly contemporary in formalist style.
The farthest west is Charlottenburg, a gallery district that unlike its conservative (and hyper-touristy) surroundings hosts some galleries whose programs refuse to bend to the market. The hippest, scholarly bastion for painting in an anti-painting city is Weiss Berlin. They are showing the extremely sophisticated (clearly Tal R inspired) painter Ali Altin. He is a figure in the Düsseldorf scene, who knows everyone and makes artists books including everyone, so it is exciting to see his work finally in Berlin. Close enough is the two spaces of admired Lars Friedrich. One of the shows, Mathieu Malouf, is well worth seeing. A new body of paintings in dark space (literally), but ever witty, portray political and economic figures like ultra high net worth individuals, perfect for Gallery Weekend.
The two brand new spaces of Mehdi Chouakri both open with one single artist, a (reticent) giant of postwar minimalism, Charlotte Posenenske. She died tragically young and worked for only few years (a single decade) yet transformed the history of sculpture with her innovative practice. Only recently is she getting her due, after years of being shown by legends Konrad Fischer and Paul Maenz who helped to historicize her practice. Coming just in time before her major institutional retrospective this year in the temple of minimalism, Dia Beacon. One half, “1957,” shows her earliest works made as art objects, after years as set and costume designer (this informs the “theatricality” of her practice – take that Michael Fried). She contributed to the later generation-defining relational movements of the 90s in making the work of art interactive, in her beautiful “statement (manifesto)” she writes “I leave this alteration to the consumer who thereby again and anew participates in the creation.”
It is not possible to write about GWB without mentioning mainstay Galerie Max Hetzler. Showing one of his youngest artists, 'abstract' but by no means without image painter Toby Ziegler. Ziegler takes a single motif, processes it through our Google Image Search saturated world to create new forms and even new pictorial spaces. In his other gallery Hetzler shows the late giant Günther Förg, presenting a six-part painting series from 2003.
Claes Nordenhake is one of the most important Swedish gallerists, who remarkably founded the gallery complex on Lindenstrasse, another moment of galleries supporting each other. He has been showing the celebrated outstanding Spencer Finch since 2003, among his first shows in Europe. The new exhibition is titled “The eye you see isn't an eye because you see it, it's an eye because it sees you” and continues with Finch’s career long interest in phenomenology, light and color by celebrating and investigating all the ways we experience it.
The last stop we will make is the urgent KOW on Brunnenstrasse. Presenting Candice Breitz’s “Love Story,” a seven-channel video installation. On one video Alec Baldwin is sitting in front of a green screen reminding himself that people are more likely to believe his truth because he is famous. Afterwards his tells the story of his own arrest in Cairo and his life as a refugee, a difficult and unsettling story to listen to. Another movie star, Julianne Moore tells her first person account of facing a brutal attack that she and her children survived, before being forced into fleeing, and near unbearable suffering. Several other actors tell stories that could not possibly be their own. These narratives of escape are retold but not from the faceless who suffered them. The unresolvable divide between the speaker and what is spoken, questions the relations between fiction and reality.
How can you see everything in one weekend? Inevitably exhibitions will be left out, but we face down our FOMO with confidence. We are determined to fearlessly set our course for the non-stop sleepless 72 hours. For that we need the best navigation possible. As we say, if you are lost with their map, download our app.
See you at all the right spots with all the right people, including marathon curator HUO who famously said “Don’t stop. We never stop.” Moving between everything from studio visits, to the official Gallery Weekend dinner, to the awesome unofficial ACUD MACHT NEU after-party, to Pogo Bar, Kumpelnest 3000, to the book launch at KW for Adam Pendleton, hearing talks with legendary artist Kerry James Marshall or curator Daniel Birnbaum and many more. We will be sending out our Alerts (see here how to subscribe) all weekend as soon as the information comes in – we promise you’ll be the first to know.
– Justin Polera