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  • Christian Hain

Gallery Weekend Berlin 2k18 - Part 3: Still more Galleries...

(Berlin.) Welcome back, those of you who still bear with me for this report on the high- and the low! -lights of Gallery Weekend Berlin 2018.

Let’s start with a word of advice: If you want to sell decoration for CEO offices, conference rooms and the waiting rooms of law firms, investment banks, or psycho therapists – do it like Cecilia Edelfalk at carliergebauer with yellow angels on white or brown backgrounds, and wood sculptures copied from Alicja Giuseppe Kwade-Penone. Not like Fiona Rae‘s pastel kitsch at Buchmann Gallery.

For those disappointed with the lack of nudity so far, the king showed some generosity: König (i.e. “King”) Gallery offered “3-Dimensional” paintings, enamel on cut out/sculpted Plexiglas by Evelyne Axell. Ok, to be honest: Apart from two works for the Courbet fan club, most of it was merely 1960s design language with “exotic” motives, which unsurprisingly matches the works’ creation date.

As we’re used from high royal highness, the exhibition was stowed away in a corner on the gallery’s ground floor, hardly taking more space than the shop selling König merchandise (there’s a König Magazine now; can’t say he doesn’t like his name). The remaining 1000 sq. m. (rough estimation) of former St. Agnes church, where today only art is worshiped (and the king) were cordoned off for the peasants - noblesse oblige. Upstairs, a second show. To Claudia Comte, packing and presentation matter as much as content, or: where ends the one, where does the other start? Ceiling high totem poles - peeled tree trunks -, pregnant with small format sculptures, ceramics or wood, nestled into hollowed out shelves. It's surely impressive, standing amid the columns, in a "forest", not seeing the sculptures for the art.

On a side note: If you announce your Gallery Weekend party organized in cooperation with an ultrahip fashion ‘zine with a Facebook event(!) (“open bar all night” – that’s better than Mallorca all inclusive and should have made us suspicious), but then limit access to a VIP guest list, that’s pretty dumb. We, at least, arrived early and did not join the queue but observed those who did, only to find them rejected one by one when the bouncer wouldn't find their names on that list. Then went our way. No big thing, really not, although: it must have felt different for those who were waiting an hour and more in the rain. I mean, you could at least have given them cakes, if no bread.

Let’s stay with the big - no, make that “huge” – names for the moment. Stepping through the doors of Sprüth Magers Berlin-London-Beverly Hills (can't say that often enough), you know exactly you’re looking at millions worth of art, every artist entering their stable easily tripling his prices, this is supposed to be special, and yet: for all that, it’s often a bit... underwhelming. Focus not on the atmosphere, the immaculately white walls, but imagine this somewhere else, on your (Mediterranean villa’s) bedroom wall even.

As usual, SM hosts three show, first Andro Wekua with a female 3CPO/T2/Silver Surfer sculpture, toy birds and tiny dolphins growing out her back as she wades through an empty puddle of water - all before a background of very yellow, very conventional oil portraits. It’s ok. Neither “wow”, not “meh”, just: ok. Won’t give you a lot to think about, but you could enjoy the colours and lines, the painting skills.

Secondly, Senga Nengudi, who has become famous since the 1970s by transforming nylon tights to sculptures, then taking photos of herself woven into them. It’s interesting how these forms, that are supposed to tell something feministic, often appear phallic or testicular (she fills the nylons with sand). Ok too, but won’t blow you away, either. And, finally, in a third space accessible only from the hallway, not the gallery itself: Kara Walker, arguably the best of the three. Chinese shadow puppetry on film, involving some sex and violence, and the shadows are not the only thing black here - the story’s about American slavery.

To close the gallery walk with another favourite, visit Michael Fuchs Gallery. Melli Ink’s glass bugs, not true to scale but greatly enlarged, are impressive and in colour almost cute (poor Gregor!). Artistic insights into the microcosm of dust mites and the like, it could motivate you to observe a minute of silence next time, you wash your bedlinen. Also water colours, and photos of somebody who is not the artist herself re-enacting scenes from David Cronenberg’s The Fly. Who would ask for more?

Just don’t visit the silly playground on their roof terrace (but that was a GWB exclusive, I presume).

Many visitors of Gallery Weekend Berlin 2018 reserved the closing Sunday for a trip to Africa. Ngoro Ngoro sounds like another up and coming superstar, French national selection, defensive midfield, soon to be transferred to a Premier League club for 180 millions at least, but let’s have a look at Wikipedia: “The Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA) is a protected area and a World Heritage Site located 180 km (110 mi) west of Arusha in the Crater Highlands area of Tanzania.”

Indeed. It’s also the title of an art exhibition that took place this year for the second time after 2015 – a triennial inmid the un-ennial. That somebody who told me the expression meant something like “no worries” in an unspecified African language was probably thinking of "Hakuna Matata". The setting was magnificent – not the same as the Yaam, with its concerts, food stalls, football pitch and beach area Berlin’s favourite piece of Africa (although, If I may add: Yaam really does a lot for the African diaspora, but if you want to fight against those evil stereotypes: why exactly do you tolerate an army of African rooted dealers offering pieces of chemical art on your grounds?), there’s actually nothing African about Ngoro Ngoro the art show other than the name. As the story goes, shortly after German unification a successful painter bought a former factory in the Berlin suburb of Weissensee. Now, almost thirty years later, not only the GDR era art academy in the neighbourhood is thriving again, and that artist - who, by the way is represented by Blain Southern - has become a lot richer still, but he used his wealth to convert the site into an artists’ haven. Many of his friends entertain studios here, even a gallery (Sexauer, not one of Berlin’s best) has rented some rooms. You can hardly discover any more traces of the buildings’ former usage except from some niches that are willingly left “rough”, which is why the introduction I had initially in mind for this paragraph: “Following those Dark Rooms, and several similar shows over the past years, don’t you think it was about time that somebody went and did the same with better, or: more famous, artists? Well, somebody did.” No, Ngoro Ngoro created a thoroughly different ambiance!

There’s even a small swimming pool, but during Ngoro Ngoro, swimming was prohibited for safety reasons, and the area not even accessible with a beer bottle in hand – they should have mentioned that those three Euros more for a cocktail also bought you a plastic cup and a place on the “beach”. The various exhibition spaces looked more “Gago Le Bourget” than squatters’ commune - white cube galore. The artists living and/or working on site have a lot of important friends, and some of them teaching at Weissensee art school, they invited their most skilled students to fill the ranks. The artist list was impressive. Really impressive. Really, really, really, massively impressive. Gago-impressive. Etel Adnan. Georg Baselitz. John Bock. Katharina Grosse. Gregor Hildebrandt. Bruce f-n Nauman. Anselm Reyle. Anri Sala. Bill Viola. Bill! Viola! Some of your favourite “&”s, too: Jake Dinos Chapman. Elmgreen Dragset. Gilbert George. And, and, and. Even Martin Eder and Tim Eitel from Berlin’s absolutely best, by far, uber gallery: Eigen&Art (thanks again for inviting me to your party – never said, I’m not corruptible). All in all almost a-hundred-and-eighty artists and not just anybody, but a who’s who of the international elite (plus those students). I almost added a “tongue out” emoticon here.

Talking about the works would take hours, and this article is already long enough. Everywhere you looked, you saw something new and exciting (ok, not everywhere, even here you would find some “trash”, but trash on the highest level). And always the question: “Whodunnit?” Because they chose to keep it non-commercial, limiting artist names to small maps in the floors, handwritten with a an old pencil. Impossible to identify works by any artist whom you wouldn’t recognize anywhere, anyway.

At the end of the day, back to party. If you’re a hip bar in the Little Pyongyang district of East Berlin behind Alexanderplatz; if you reside in a magnificent glass pavilion and regularly exhibit (regularly bad) art, for a rent that most probably would send businessmen (‘cause that’s what you are, there's no way around it) from any other metropolis on this planet to the floor, hysterically laughing, hyperventilating - don’t you think it ridiculous to put up a poster complaining about the landlord cancelling your contract? Your drink prices are not exactly “artistic”, and your patrons look like they wouldn’t worry anyway – they could easily afford double prices for a cocktail, and it still would be a mere fraction of what's vanishing up their noses every night.

Sorry for the rant, and take care.

Don’t miss part 1 and 2 of this year’s Gallery Weekend coverage.

Gallery Weekend Berlin 2018, Gallery shows will continue for the usual four to six weeks.

World of Arts Magazine – Contemporary Art Criticism



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