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  • Christian Hain

Berlin Gallery Weekend 2017 Part 1. Fairs, Galleries and Nudity

(Berlin.) It’s that time of the year again! The 2017 edition of the “world’s largest art fair” (they still have not adopted that slogan), the Gallery Weekend Berlin (GWB) is on. As always, there are official events, and others that are not. Paper Positions counts among the latter. The drawing-focused fair was only sparsely visited last year, and to be honest, I very much doubted to ever hear from it again. But they persevered, and opened this Thursday, one day before the official parts of GWB17. Again, the venue is Bikini Berlin, and again, they don’t mention that this is basically a mall. Because it is one. But the opening was crowed, the art is great, and dealers seemed happy. Paper Positions unites twenty-nine galleries, most of them German, and most of these Berlin based, but the additions from abroad are also great. If you got some money to spare, and we all know drawing is the gateway drug to collecting, go there. If you don’t have the cash, do the same. It’s a great, small, fair.

Having said, the Gallery Weekend officially started on Friday, there are exceptions. Some dealers could not wait that long, and opened prematurely. Among those, I chose to visit carlier | gebauer. Did it pay out for them? Well, “il y a eu du monde”. But this would hardly have been different the next day. Or any other date, because the artist is Thomas Schütte. The star shows his giant busts (Messerschmidt, much?) in stone complete with patina, or pigeon poo, - and ceramics, framed by architecture-model related works, woodcuts, and giant bowling pins, or meeples. A small sculpture could represent tyre tracks on a crushed human form(?). Much talking went on outside, with people trying to guess whether the red lighted window immediately upstairs from the gallery was part of the show, or not. It was not, I think. At least, it was dark when I came back on Friday to visit neighbouring Barbara Thumm Gallery that played by the rules, and did not open before the time.

But Friday. A good night’s sleep and a sound breakfast are probably the best preparation for a day of Gallery Weekend. I did not enjoy either. Instead, I woke up at seven in the night to the sound of water dripping from the ceiling. As it turned out, a neighbour’s failed suicide attempt had flooded his apartment. And mine. But this shall not be discussed here. Suffice to say, I could not finish that other article you were supposed to read first, before I left for the afternoon openings.

On my way to Thomas Schulte Gallery, I cursed the GWB map I’d downloaded and printed. They chose to limit it to a single page, making it all but impossible to decipher. As to the .pdf, my cell phone refused to zoom, or only move the image without long breaks. But finally, I made it.

The reason to start at Thomas Schulte’s was the announced performance. Not that I would have known anything about it, apart from it being a performance. But you know what I’ve been telling you again and again about successful performances. I felt in the mood for nudity, and I was not disappointed.

The artist, Michael Müller, allegedly shows not one, but two exhibitions, side by side. Maybe it was for the chaotic exhibition design, the careless presentation of artworks randomly put together without care to create a visual whole, but I was incapable of telling them apart. Maybe it was also for that performance. There were four performers, two males and two females. The males resembled Jonathan Meese and Jesus, respectively. When I arrived, “Jesus” lay on the floor, playing dead, while the two females violently dragged him around. He was in his underpants. I almost bumped into plaster objects on the wall. Then, “Meese” climbed these very objects that suggested mountaineering tools. The women changed rooms and applied themselves to posing on a starting block, while “Jesus” took Rodin’s Thinker pose on a chair. At this point, it all reminded of Erwin Wurm’s living sculptures. The women wore really loose garments, and suddenly, without a warning, my eyes caught a nipple. “Hey, this might get interesting!”

It did. To cut it short, only minutes later, both women and one of the guys (sorry, I forgot to note who) got stark naked, lay down on their backs, and performed Yoga, or aerobics. See, I’m never lucky: Those people standing on the other side of the room got all the insights they wished for. Not me. I got their heads. – Wait, what, me a pervert? Hey, I did not create that performance! And the performer had a semi himself. But if this is art, every strip club is the Louvre. Or the Pompidou, as the concept is timeless. They finally turned around for some exercises, but not the best ones.

Under a shower curtain in the entrance area could be seen the feet of still another performer, many of the works pointed to the fashion industry. It’s probably not a bad show, or: “these are probably not two bad shows”.

Leaving, I walked past Buchmann Gallery’s first space twice, before I finally found it. Then left quickly. There’s a Tony Cragg in the back, but the rest, well, you have seen mistreated white canvasses before, haven’t you? Buchmann Gallery’s second space on the contrary was great. And I mean really great. Tatsuo Miyajima puts LED lights on mirrors, also a countdown on a flower pot. It’s much more impressive than it sounds!

At Thomas Schulte Gallery I had taken a GWB leaflet with a fold out map. It was larger than the self printed version, so much is true. But the placement of galleries, well, it was rather approximate. Somehow, I still managed to locate some of them. One was Isabella Czarnowska Gallery. The show curated by Ory Dessau is called Restlessness, and the best piece is a half-transparent, half-mirroring, plexi-glass and steel curtain by Carla Arocha and Stéphane Schraenen. The paintings by others are less impressive.

Alexander Levy Gallery shows nice photos of nature in buildings. Flooded, and vandalized – or: renaturated -, white spaces arranged and documented by Fabian Knecht. All those galleries offered wine, red or white, or German (i.e. beer), but Levy topped them all with a (not: Captain) pretzel by the side.

I remember Crone Gallery being in that same building where Levy is, but they are closed apparently. And then, I got lost. I needed to walk down the street to play the lottery, it being Friday night closing to seven pm., and when I came back, I tried to make a plan for rest of night. It ended with me throwing that map into a trashcan.

Somehow, I ended up in Markgrafenstrasse, at carlier | gebauer again. And now, their neighbours of Barbara Thumm Gallery were receiving. They show works of Teresa Burga from the 1970s, an installation that may only be entered by two visitors at the same time, is surprisingly unimpressive. Forty years ago, the mere presence of LED lights might have been sensational. It no longer is. The lights were controlled by sensors sensing the visitor’s movement. Ok, this is progressive technics for the 1970s, but still, only interesting from the (not: art) historian’s perspective. The system would crash if you were moving too fast. I had to wait quite a while for people crashing it repeatedly, then entered together with another guy. The intern outside had told us to walk side-by-side in parallel movements. Her colleague inside had given up: Only one after the other. Still, the screen went black after I had approached some steps – or was this actually the not-crashed, intended, version?

Another gallery cluster is found in Linienstrasse just around the corner. Two buildings there host six galleries. These are: Taubert Contemporary with photos you’ve seen before by countless other photographers. Jochen Hempel Gallery with a generously filled drinking cabinet (an installation) whose contents would be just about enough to make me like the computerized kitsch on the walls. Nordenhake Gallery with neons, photos, and drawings that I forgot the moment I saw them. The actual flowers standing in line are nice. Also, their flyer is aesthetic.

Scandinavia is up in the North of Europe, and in Linienstrasse, the Scandinavian galleries reside upstairs. In a shared space with fake Mondrian wall paintings, Danish Nils Borch Jensen Gallery and Finnish Gallery Talk Persons show drawings of Stanley Whitney and Al Taylor plus photos of Grey Crawford. Cool. Swedish Grundemark Nilsson Gallery has large metal cones, paper planes, Chinese hats, or whatever you might see in these intriguing objects. Back to Germany: Konrad Fischer Gallery and artist Edit Dekyndt offer another curtain, this one pierced by countless nails. Like it. But my favourite of the day is Ariel Schlesinger at Gregor Podnar Gallery. The pyromaniac artist plays with fire and electricity. Machines dispense soap bubbles that, falling down, get flambé in electric grids. With bigass explosions. Other objects appear like ordinary tree branches, but have small flames burning on them.

Robert Kuśmirowski at Żak | Branicka Gallery is also nice. In the Nineteen twenties and early thirties, the building hosted an airline, and the artist recreates this past, complete with authentic chairs and journals. I could spend hours leafing through the yellow press of bygone years.

Finally, and a short walk away, Johann König Gallery. I’ve not visited there for a while, and they transformed the entrance into an impressive bookstore (/daddy’s showroom). The downstairs exhibition took place behind a curtain. You were not allowed to pass that curtain without an invitation. I did not have one. My question for the female bouncer with Marine haircut: “Why is it closed?”, got answered with: “Because it will open again tomorrow.” The peasants didn’t even get a drink for free. I didn’t want to stoop so low anymore, but: Johann König won’t see me again anytime soon. (yes, that’s a something -ist joke on the dealer’s blindness. I’m scum, short-sighted scum.)

Anselm Reyle's mobiles upstairs are better than Calder’s, though. And may be seen by everyone, even me, and you.

Don't forget to read parts two and three!

Berlin Gallery Weekend. The exhibitions will run for the usual four to six weeks. Paper Positions won’t.

World of Arts Magazine - Contemporary Art Criticism



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