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  • Christian Hain

Gallery Weekend Berlin 2018 - The Beginning: A Journey to Potsdam and Free Vodka

(Berlin.) Once again: Gallery Weekend Berlin. Still not “gallery-weakened”, still too much to see, far too much to mention all in a single review, however lengthy it may be. As usual, nobody cared about the “mono-ennale”/decentralised fair/festival’s official selection, the list of those profiting from the free publicity - free for those not in the official selection - doesn't stop at commercial galleries, but extends to museums, private collections and non-profit spaces.

GWB’18 offered something of everything, from a bunch of flat-sharing curators showing art in their common room and kitchen to Austrian art quarterlies employing curatorial concepts that once again went over my head (must be my fault, surely!) and the collection of a former dealer with works from the likes of Lawrence Weiner, Rodney Graham, or Stefan Balkenhol, presented in a historic inner-city residence that is under the same ownership (there's a folder with more details about the building's renovation than you'll find information on the art). Johnen Privat regularly opens to the public, and it's definitely worth a peek.

Maybe, the opening Thursday was exemplary: By general rule, one should perceive life as a piece of performance art. It keeps you from loosing your head and running amok should you rely on Berlin’s public transport BVG to get you to the suburban city of Potsdam in time for a secret VIP opening that you had politely been asked not to communicate beforehand. Villa Schöningen is a 18th Century bourgeois mansion on the banks of one of the countless lakes surrounding the German capital. The current owners use it for art exhibitions from Thursday thru Sunday, rent it out for events for the rest of the week, and otherwise rejoice in the property gaining about a million in value every year. The journey from Wittenbergplatz in the heart of West Berlin to this idyllic site where a road sign is commemorating forty years of European division and the Iron Curtain’s fall on November 9th 1989, at 6p.m. (they’re precise, they’re German), right next to the "Bridge of Spies" which you might know from that Tom Hanks movie, took us two-and-a-half hours, owing to some unreachable connections and a couple of busses that did not run at all. For the ordeal, we were rewarded with currywurst from porcelain dishes and a splendid red; the caterer even (re)filled glasses up to the rim whenever he suspected a patron of being thirsty.

The show unites Alicja Kwade and Jorinde Voigt, two artists who’ve made it big with approachable, yet undoubtedly impressive, art. Alicja Kwade still does what you know, love, and possibly even collect her for: Mesmerizing plays with mirrors, light, and wood, occasionally channelling Giuseppe Penone in tree branches stood against the wall. She’s also a keen admirer of Anish Kapoor, and maybe not only his market success. More surprising: the introduction of colour into Jorinde Voigt’s works somewhere between drawing, musical score, and hieroglyphic writing. They appear a little less musico-mathematical now, before that background of blue, red or gold tones. The new dress becomes them well, and no need to understand the science and amateur philosophy behind their glorious front - some guests tried, bending forward, approaching closely, but inevitably gave up on deciphering the doctor’s handwriting. One of Kwade’s works fits the context particularly well: A burst abacus with perfectly circular pebbles spattered on the floor.

Villa Schöningen also owns a beautiful garden, with one more work of Kwade (it is, is it?). Without a doubt the show to go, if you seek to enthuse still ignorant friends and family for contemporary art.

One word of criticism though: At wartsmagazine, we’re keen defenders of every interior designer’s right to creativity, to playfulness, imaginative solutions, a touch of madness even, indeed: to be artistic. But there are limits, and for us, they're reached on the threshold to the restrooms. Beyond, even the brightest design genius should abide to a simple rule that nature herself followed in the design of our human bodies: Form follows function. Freestanding sinks with taps that seasoned engineers struggle to manipulate, causing more water to rinse your shoes than wet your hands, and urinals to which an A4 printout needs be added: “Please stand on the grid” to avoid the worst (they really put it there) - that’s not what you expect to find here of all places. But it sure looks good!

Forced to down a final quarter of Bordeaux in one gulp for after nine p.m., busses to the train station left only once in the hour, our return to Berlin turned out much smoother than the Odyssey in the opposite direction. Next exit: Kottbuser Tor.

Back in the city, an art space operates under the name NGBK, and that’s not NBKV as some will have learned the hard way when heading to Mitte instead. Almost like that "Relox" watch you bought so cheap from a nice chap on the beach last summer, he desperately needed money for his flight home, and you had such a trustworthy face...

Others might have ended up here because a trip to Potsdam and back took them longer than expected, and Stoschek’s - which was actually the next entry on their schedule - had closed by now. NBwhatever shows inflatables, a whole show on the history and present of inflatables – and no, no dirty dolls here, you creep, and no Jeff Koons fake “inflatable” marble either: just a lot of hot air. In the front yard, the deflated exoskeleton of a giant figure/object that must have looked impressive to those who had arrived early enough to see it in all its blown up magnificence, was still welcoming us. Inside (the building!), the show continues with more pool toys, historic drawings, and a film on two screens (“two channel video installation”, to make it sound fancy) on the history of ballooning. Some associations to, and direct quotes from, google earth, microbiology, and Star Trek in that film. A visitor’s brat left his Legos in the middle of the show and many took it for a part of the art, reflexively taking photos. All in all not uninteresting.

Off to a club. The Prince Charles takes its name from the address on Prinzenstraße (Prince Street) and nearby Checkpoint Charlie (guess, you need to come up with some name for your club, and, oh, all those drugs...). From time to time, they show art, and Gallery Weekend was one of those times. Tony Futura’s digital drawings are not half bad, quite imaginative, and suggestive. When it comes to underlying intellectual concepts, very much the contrary of Jorinde Voigt, of course. Samuil Tatchev added a video projection, inside, and also on the neighbour’s walls to be admired through Charlie’s glass roof. Blue views of Berlin tourist spots meet schools of fish. The artist states his mission at the beginning of the (ca.) five min. clip: “I want to shoot 100 tourists and put their heads on fish”, followed by questions such as: “Do fish feel pain, when hooked?”.

Prince Charles also invited a vodka brand who gave out free drinks to everyone. You know those voices: “One more, and you’re finished for tonight, done for the day tomorrow” – “M'kay, I’ll take this for a ‘yes’”? That night, and the resulting hangover, set the tone for many a visitor’s Gallery Weekend.

The story continues, here, and here.

Gallery Weekend Berlin at Villa Schöningen, NGBK, Prince Charles, Johnen Privat, Spike Art Quarterly, and East of Elsewhere

World of Arts Magazine – Contemporary Art Criticism



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