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  • Christian Hain

A New Year, A New Art? Four Berlin Gallery Shows

(Berlin.) It might seem a bit late, but lest we forget: “Happy new Year!”

What could be better to warm up to 2017 - not literally, mind: Berlin is soaking in half-frozen mud - than a gallery tour?

Experienced art dealers might disagree. They don’t expect seeing anybody right now, in the middle of January. The lucky five per cent take time to relax, count the contents of, and then carry, all those black suitcases to the vaults of a discreet Swiss bank. Even the Chinese buy Christmas presents today! And some client kept you in suspense till the morning of January 6th, just couldn’t decide on what to give Natalya and Tanya this time, Banksy, Bentley and Balenciaga being all too common and done thrice before. But now, finally, the art market takes a break, and just in time as the winter transfer window opens, now oligarchs, sheiks, Chinese, and those last forlorn, Western, riches, shift focus again to buying footballers for their Premier League team. Oh, the 95% less self-sustaining gallerists? Busy counting the contents of daddy’s/hubby’s Christmas envelope, and calculating if they will carry them through another year’s rent, and maybe to a fair or two.

Now what to do with your gallery space in January?

The answer, as always, is “a group show”. carlier | gebauer is doing precisely that. ( Mrs Carlier is French , and the French write just about everything in minuscules . The " | " is haute couture . ) Their group is a group of photographers, and please excuse us for not saying much about them. We cannot even remember a single image. It all seemed random, boring, seen much too often before. The show’s title The Extended Moment would befit each and every photographic work since the days of old Nicéphore. To us it almost felt like “the extorted moment”, a gallery robbing us of our (more or less) precious time. Or so it would have, had we stayed longer than a moment. Later we realized, even an eminent artist like Paul Graham participates. Certainly not with his best works. The same may be said about Julie Mehretu whose double-feature with Jessica Rankin started in November already, and now has been moved to the backroom. Either all large pieces have been sold, and these are the remains of a successful holiday show, or she thought second range works sufficient for the Berlin winter in the first place. To say it clear: A Julie Mehretu must be huge and cost a million, otherwise it’s no good. Mehretu is the painting equivalent of Hollywood, her small formats are a bad investment, almost comparable to editions (ugh, ugly word).

But then, suddenly, all is forgiven! We do not write this just to be allowed into the gallery again, and make it out alive. No, honestly, there is a very good reason to visit carlier | gebauer, and it's waiting in the third exhibition space, the gallery’s cosy home-cinema. Sebastian Diaz Morales‘ video Insight is downright brilliant.

Hypnotic slowmo images of shattered and –ing glass, small shards reflecting blue studio light and a face occasionally, hovering, moving, floating up and down. Then it all starts anew, and there is a group of people, a living painting, a film team with a professional camera (not go-, but long went-pro), and you take your time to contemplate each face, is that guy on the right brothers with the one in the wheelchair on the left? You think you know that one other person, not in person but in type - rather annoying, and often, too often, met in the art world. You start imagining all their stories, or applying all your stereotypes, when the whole is shaken up in a wave, and the glass explodes. It was a filmed mirror, and now it’s no more, but beauty. Narcissus in the water, Lacan’s mirror stage, there are lots of keys to interpretation for “serious” art critics, or to imagination, as every great artwork ought to - forget about false and true, all interpretation is but thought art. And at the same time, you may perfectly imagine this projected on a wall in the background of a dinner reception in a collector’s holiday home someplace sunny. A painting sort of video, smart and beautiful to behold. Danke bien, carlier | gebauer.

Just around the corner, hidden in the alley behind a Latin minimarket, deep in the container village that harbours scores of more of less obscure businesses, a red lantern does not seem out of place, yet it only leads the way to another gallery, Barbara Thumm. Inside, on the opening night, we found a person that (probably) was not the dealer herself, but a man (hey, gotta be careful these days!). Kneeling down under a burka and a black biker helmet in a sea of black tissue, he was under close watch by two tall, female, ghosts; dummies rising erect from the black below, while keeping the traditional steps behind. On the walls around monochrome photo collages - no : drawings, indeed! - look like early-to-mid-20th Century. The neo-surrealist drawings in a second room, served with a sculpture, are even better! By the way: This is not a group show, Barbara Thumm defies the season and shows one artist only: Chloe Piene.

But back to that installation. According to the gallery’s press release, visitors may slip under the dress themselves, and become part of “the family”. No, not Manson’s, but Chloe Piene’s. On the opening night, visitors were not actively endorsed to do so, and we still wonder whether that guy was not a collaborator to monopolize the role on the event. This work, and another - not shown – so called “Familienaufstellung”, i.e. “Family Line-up”, shall evoke roles that the artist alleges people being expected to play (“soldier”, “man”, “hero”, “villain”; “mother”, “father”, “sister”, “brother”). Chloe Piene seems a firm believer in the power of language. Under that helmet you listen to the soundtrack of that other, physically absent, installation. The family (of man...) is shaping you, but does the uniform, the burka, offer an escape, a safe space?

Chloe Piene’s official inspirations range from Dürer to Bataille, Citizen Kane and M; our vulgar connotation “Lord Helmet” is probably just a coincidence. If you are confused by these “explanations”, be assured: so are we. We don’t want to discuss press releases in depth again, even as they play an important role in contemporary art, even as they are (supposed to be) sanctioned by the artist. But. This one mixes up ethnicity and citizenship rather moronically when telling, Piene were “born in the United States to German and Jewish parents”. Not “German and Jewish-American”, nor “German Jewish”. No, just like “German and French”. This is indeed important given the overall approach to tradition, culture, and their manifestation in – terms describing or designating – sociocultural roles said to be at play in Piene’s work. Maybe she personally embraces stereotypical identification more than you would suspect. “...deeds and structures, ... blood and broken bone that make a person are known only to their origin, but never fully to them.” Their origin? Tell me more, please!

There was still time to visit a third opening on that same night, a third opening that same night, that same night a third opening to visit; and this opening, this opening, this third opening of an art show, the opening of a third art show on that same night, this opening has something, it has something to dodododododo with repetition. Repetition in art. The rhythm of repetition, the artistic rhythm of repetition in art. To do with art based on rhythmic repetition. Has anyone ever imagined a romantic encounter between Hanne Darboven and Thomas Bernhard? Here, at Konrad Fischer Gallery it’s Hanne Darboeven and Charlotte Posenenske. Hanne Darboven, Hanne. Hanne Darboven Darboven Darboven - ... DarbovenEnske, the estates of two well known 20th Century artists join forces for another space filler in the wintery off-season. Posenenske’s form – there’s only one of them! – as usual mimics industrial pipes, it fits in nicely between Darboven’s innumerable variations of the same that resemble each other like a grain of coffee does another. It’s all a matter of taste, a pure matter of taste. It is, we say, a pure matter of taste, of aesthetic taste. That’s what it is, a matter of taste. Repetition plus variation equals music.

One more. cfa does not actually mean “cocaine fashion - arty”, but “contemporary fine arts”. It is one the better known Berlin galleries, and by some associated with German paintings and upstart start-up money, more hip and bling than academic research. They are not French, but think small letters stylish none the less. Openings at cfa are open to the public from 4 to 7, later it’s VIP only. This January, cfa shows two non-German painters for a change. Cressida Campbell and Tim Storrier have been lured into the German winter, all the way from their natural habitat Down Under. That’s cruel. We hope they put at least some poisonous critters in their hotel room, not to loose reflexes.

First thing to see are paper planes on blue skies, made (i.e. painted as such) from whole newspapers. There’s writing on them, most of it Chinese - or Japanese? - ... Korean? – and culminating in Latin question marks that reflect the non art-collecting visitor’s understanding. The first flyer also reads “2017 post history”. We like Captain Obvious joking. Is this wrong or only too right? You can never be out of history, never be “post- it“, are always in, always making it, yet in every moment history is what has passed before, ever around, and never reached. Tim Storrier further shows apocalyptical scenes of melting rocks in red nature. Ayer’s Rock, an Aboriginal inspiration, or UFOs? And a zipper-/bloody Fontana-like cut through another sky, a burning rope mirrored in the dried out desert below. Then a wreath in stormy waters, and green glasses (model “Lennon”) floating in a green ocean. Who drowned, and why? Do we care?

Cressida Campbell paints Japanes-y flowers, here in Germany you may remark: “Merian”. But more Japan. Unobtrusive fine art, some of it monochrome, then reminiscent of photograms. An interior scene with staircase and cat reminds of somebody else, but you just cannot pin down of whom. There’s more. Some of it Arcimboldo revisited, carnivore this time. And one work with tools does not match any other. ‘Strayan painting is not world famous, but could well be the next big thing (now don’t go googling the artists, they’ve not exactly graduated yesterday).

To sum it up: If you sell all your Christmas presents, there’s something good to get for the money in Berlin galleries.

The Extended Moment, 14 January-25 February 2017, carlier | gebauer

Chloe Piene – Surgery, 14 January-11 March 2017, Barbara Thumm

Hanne Darboven & Charlotte Posenenske, 13 January-25 February 2017, Konrad Fischer

Cressida Campbell and Tim Storrier - Difficult Pleasures, 14 January-4 March 2017, cfa

World of Arts Magazine - Contemporary Art Criticism



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