We’ve reached this time of the year again: for a couple of days, the Berlin art world puts on its shiniest frock to welcome visitors to Gallery Weekend. Art shall be admired by, discussed with and sold to the people the city so desperately would need to not plummet Germany’s GDP: wealthy Westerners who possibly have hunting dogs, at least one relative named Hubertus and art collecting in their blood. The 47 official participants have brought out the big guns, which this year once again results in a set of shows predominantly by white men. But such are the rules of the art market, where female artist sadly still tend to be considered from the “bored wife who took on watercolor painting as a hobby” angle. This, however, doesn’t mean the art will be bad. Aside from the chosen 47, everyone else who contributes to making Berlin such a uniquely vibrant place for contemporary art also plans on presenting exciting positions to brighten their reputation, press portfolio or finances.
Let’s dive right in and start with the big players. Esther Schipper dedicates this important spot in the calendar to the mythical collective General Idea and AA Bronson, the only one of its members still alive. Given the magnitude of General Idea’s influence on recent art history and queer aesthetics, this show might not only entice collectors, but also a broader audience hungry to witness an oeuvre that explored questions of race, sexuality, and self-representation fearlessly way before it became a thing to vent frustration with patriarchal structures in Snapchat stories.
At Mehdi Chouakri, the king of visual deadpan humor Hans-Peter Feldmann has decided to continue exploring his fascination with femininity. He shows an installation in which highly realistic sex dolls are arranged in domestic settings – reading a book, cuddling with pets – and displayed on pedestals. While those premises might inevitably turn certain people off, we think that Rainer Werner Fassbinder would have been a fan. Additionally, a display of older works dealing with womanhood will also be on view, as a sort of echo to the sex doll install.
For soothing elegance, visit Tim Eitel’s show “Vie Imaginaire” at Galerie Eigen + Art. On view are the German artist’s signature figurations; in their slick composition and almost monastic simplicity, they draw you into beautiful, semi-realistic worlds, in which handsome people or objects are embedded into minimalist architectural or natural frames, peacefully lingering there, undisturbed by the chaos of reality. It’s like a movie with Tilda Swinton but without any murders or emotions more disturbing than an airy, all-encompassing pleasure.
Neugerriemschneider’s pairing of Mexican conceptualist Mario García Torres and Californian artist Pae White (hooray, a woman!) might be less restful, yet equally thought-provoking. By bringing these two together, it seems the website-less gallery has decided on a strategy of contrast: García Torres’ research on memory, transfer of histories and intellectual ambiguities is as aesthetically stripped-down as White’s room-encompassing explosions of color and texture are flamboyant.
Another blue-chip gallery presenting works by a female artist is Buchmann Galerie: paintings by YBA-artist Fiona Rae are on view here. The Hongkong-born painter’s canvases play with the codes of abstraction by distorting lines and surfaces into arabesques and smoky clouds of pigment; from time to time, they recall preliminary sketches for some twisted orientalist Disney movie. Of all the artists that rose to fame in 1990s London, Ray might be one of the more elusive ones, making this show interesting from both a current and a historical point of view.
Galerie Max Hetzler has decided to honor photographer Thomas Struth. The German artist, who was recently the object of a maximalist retrospective at Munich’s Haus der Kunst, has been so implemental in expanding the stringent rules of German photography one might almost feel crushed by his legacy; but with Struth, each image inventively re-interrogates the hierarchy between subjectivity and objectivity anew. For Gallery Weekend, he’ll present new work: at the gallery’s Bleibtreustrasse location, you’ll see examples of Struth’s interest in the complexity of scientific and industrial environments, while a grand, temporary space on Kurfürstendamm will house photographs taken at Berlin’s Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research. Should you end up there, brace yourself for detailed images of dead animals (just sayin’, for the more sensitive among you).
Gliding into less blue-chip waters, mid-segment and young galleries also have exciting things in store.
As a sort of bridge between established and emerging art, let’s start with KOW. The gallery is filling its very distinctive architecture with surrealist variations courtesy the Cuban collective Los Carpinteros. In “El Otro El Mismo,” they present works in several media, including film and watercolor. As it is often the case, Los Carpinteros will reflect on the caesurae of Cuban history through carefully crafted works focusing on the mnemonic qualities of architecture and space.
At Wentrup, Nevin Aladag brings her seductive reflections on multiculturalism to the table. The Turkish artist’s work was undoubtedly one of the few standouts at last year’s Documenta, an event so traumatically dysfunctional most of us are dreading the upcoming one in 2022. At her Berlin gallery, however, visitors shall marvel at the hopeful complexity of her Social Fabricsworks, in which she combines pieces of carpets from different origin, as well as her sculptures, in which traditional Indian building elements are assembled into beehive-like structures.
In Mitte, alexander levy will see its space taken over by the always adventurous Julius von Bismarck. Arguably the most famous of the gallery’s protégés, Bismarck’s work is often limitless in scope yet condensed in its materiality. You might have seen him performing at Art Basel Unlimited in 2015, seated on a swiftly rotating concrete platform, which illustrated his interest in warping time structures and natural processes (how did he not throw up??). Not much is known about his upcoming show, but an elusive sketch on the gallery’s website indicates we might very well be walking on some giant conveyor belt.
If after all that you’re in the mood for good Turkish food and excellent Chinese art, head towards Kottbusser Tor. There, pop by Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler, where you’ll be able to marvel at the work of Yu Honglei, who draws from the mundane elements of URL and IRL life, combining them into far-from-mundane sculptures and videos. Rare are the artists able to develop a signature aesthetic while remaining multifaceted, and Yu Honglei indeed is one of them. Also, the visual pleasure one might hope for when looking at an artwork never suffers from the artist’s cerebral approach to his practice: he often strikes a balance surprising for his relatively young age.
We also suggest visiting the shows of Jo Baer at Barbara Thumm (a secret tip, as it is not officially listed), Senga Nengudi at Sprüth Magers and Faith Ringgold at Weiss Berlin: all three are killer women whose longstanding practices have always stayed true to a specific idea of radicality and independence from market pressures. And if you’re in the mood for a program that’s been refreshingly swimming against the monotonous stream, go to House of Egorn, which is conveniently located on Potsdamer Strasse anyway and will exhibit the fantastic work of two other exciting artists: Vivien Zhang and Julie Favreau.
But enough with commercial galleries: project spaces and institutions also have mouthwatering things on the menu. Schinkel Pavillon has possibly found the best antidote to the previously exhibited display of gratuitous vulgarity by Jordan Wolfson: a show of works by the legendary Louise Bourgeois. For an institution functioning with such reduced means and a small team, being able to bring a caliber like Bourgeois into its realm doesn’t only deserve critical attention, but also heartfelt congratulations. The show is already on and has been reviewed extensively (and positively), so not seeing it would be akin to refusing a slice of free, fresh pizza when stoned: an unexplainable missed occasion.
New to the game but definitely ready to play is PS120, an ambitious project space that also found its home amidst prostitutes and concept stores on Potsdamer Strasse. The inaugural group show, titled “The Way Things Run (Der Lauf der Dinge). Part 1: Loose Ends Don’t Tie,” has an exciting artist list that includes Alvaro Barrington, Tom Burr, Joan Jonas and Rosemarie Trockel. It deals with questions of physical and psychological displacement, a still very current issue of late capitalism, and we’re happy to see it being explored furthermore. Some Edouard Glissant has been thrown in as a reference – which makes sense, even though the inflationary use of his writing to explain everything from Norwegian cuisine to the Kardashian’s makeup addiction (thank you HUO) has become frankly abusive. But given the space and positions on view, we’re sure this will be a highlight.
Deep in Neukölln, project space horseandpony has managed to put together another stimulating group show. Young and old star in “Haptic House,” a display of “emotive subjecthood” (sic) by the likes of Kathy Acker, Dennis Loesch, Przemek Pyszczek, Jonas Schoeneberg, Alan Sondheim and Zsofia Keresztes, among others. The show’s spice lies in bringing together works that, whether physically or psychologically, transcend established canons and allow for a certain malleability. Curated by Penny Rafferty, it also opens on Sunday and not on Friday like 95% of exhibitions, and the author of these lines can assure you that the space’s ambiance on a Sunday night might be the best remedy to the hangover you’ll probably be schlepping around.
Talking about transcending canons: at Haus der Kulturen der Welt, you may be in for a rare treat. The current show “Neolithic Childhood. Art in a False Present, c. 1930” sheds light on the loose concept of ‘World Art,’ a sauce successfully thickened by artists who questioned their contemporary condition and longed for alternatives to the commonplace departure points of history. Many of them turned their attention to prehistorical, non-occidental and previously ignored forms of creation; the development of new or progress in old sciences, such as ethnology or archeology, was undoubtedly helpful in these cultural explorations. Works by known protagonists of the period, such as Hans Arp or Brassaï, neighbor the ones of artists we might be less familiar with. Additionally, 600 archival sources are available, in case you feel like spending several days in HKW’s striking building.
It goes without saying that in between visiting all these shows, you might want to attend a talk, enjoy a performance or blow off some steam at a party. We don’t only provide you with an interactive map and overview of all exhibitions, but are also there to inform you about such events! Just subscribe to our alerts, and you’ll be that person impressing your friends by knowing more than anyone else about what’s hot this weekend. Turn Push Notifications in the settings of your Exhibitionary app, and you’ll be all set.
We haven’t even covered 10% of all the fantastic things that’ll be on view as of this weekend, and if you made it to the end of this text, you might realize: it’s definitely a lot. This plethora of exciting options is one of those elements that make Berlin unique and such a great place, despite the smell in the U-Bahn and local clubs’ insufferable door policies. But who knows, maybe you’re called Hubertus and will be chauffeured around in one of Gallery Weekend’s limousines, escaping the tortures of reality. Regardless, good hunting and have a fantastic time in Berlin!
– Karim Crippa