• Christian Hain

The Weekend is Long and Full of Art - Gallery Weekend Berlin 2019


(Berlin.) Just a few (more) words on Gallery Weekend 2019 today, the annual decentralized “art fair” in Berlin organized by the same guys who are behind art Berlin, the centralized annual art fair in Berlin happening every autumn on the occasion of Berlin Art Week which itself - you guessed it - is organized by them, too. This year, at Gallery Weekend Berlin (short: GWB)'s 15th anniversary, forty-five galleries are participating, not counting the “unofficial” participants, i.e. almost every gallery and exhibition space in Berlin jumping the bandwagon (the most audacious even stea- reference the logo, see image above).

This review, of course, is somehow belated, the weekend past already, but better late than never and besides, all those shows will now continue for the usual four to six weeks and more - that's the upside of a “decentralised” art fair! And second: more timely reviews just stick to a handful of shows. Not this one. Prepare for an overview covering all main areas of Berlin gallery life, from South to West, to Mitte and Potsdamer Str.. And still, it is an abridged report, and very much so, not mentioning many more shows I've seen, and galleries I did not even visit for their being too much out of the way even for Berlin standards. This city is huge, there are artistic hotspots everywhere, or in fact: less and less of them, as galleries keep moving into areas where they have no competitor for kilometres around, and we should congratulate them on their loyal client base. Captain Petzel has survived for years, somehow, and apparently there are even people who'll take the trip to Klemm's! Not me, though.

Leafing through the GWB programme, the gossip minded arthead could hardly suppress a smile: So finally, Jarmuschek is out. It seemed merely a matter of time, the tireless dealer being the guy behind Positions, the other centralized annual art fair in Berlin happening in autumn during Berlin Art Week. He's currently launching a new offshoot of Positions every other week, all over Germany and abroad, or at least it feels as if he did. During Gallery Weekend, it was Paper Positions with a focus on drawings. Would be nice to get some insider information here - did he feel too busy for GWB and his proper gallery, or was he (more or less ceremoniously) shown the door? Different omissions, different reasons, Mehdi Chouakri is moving his gallery (again) so literally has no space to show in, but what is it about Max Hetzler, one of Berlin's most prominent dealers? Preparing his retirement, or unhappy with the event's latest editions?

Enough for the buildup here, lest this report on a weekend that was long and full of terrors, feel rather short and disappointing (yes, indeed, I'm writing these lines on a cold and rainy morning after not only GWB'19 but also that episode of GoT...).

Everything started on Friday afternoon around Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz, which with some (make that a lot) goodwill may count for Eastern Mitte still. Dittrich&Schlechtriem Gallery hosts one of GWB19's most atmospheric shows by Julien Charrière. There's only one photo left from his recent museum show that, as you will remember, focused on Pacific land- and seascapes in nuclear wastewaters. Or maybe that wooden sea cucumber next to it is another leftover, but in any case both are only the prelude - you did not turn around immediately, but realized you had to squeeze through between the gallery employees and their desk, then dive down into the cellar, right? Down there, in the dark, visitors found themselves deep under sea level again, the average collector feeling lucky to have chosen the Deepsea over the ordinary Submariner today, as a central glass plate or screen on the floor reflects blurry lights, emanates gurgling sounds, and overall provides the background for a series of photographs of tiny naked divers jumping into the sea. Had to suppress a giggle, when a salesman (or one of the gallerists himself?) led a collector couple through and, as the client started rambling on the subconscious and primeval fears, “deep psychology” and “the blackness underwater”, not even nodded, only led him away in silence, to follow his companion who had already rushed on. Yet, there is also a lounger you'd stereotypically expect to find at your shrink's, together with a diver's mask and an oxygen bottle to turn it into a biomorphic sculpture.

Skip BQ Gallery's one space (unless you're into uninspired paintings of naked little boys) and head straight to their other show, Raphaela Vogel: Vogelspinne. “Vogel” is “bird”, “Spinne” is “spider” and the composite means... “tarantula”. Don't worry: there's none around, not that I noticed, unless those itchy little bite marks on my neck... no, really not. Vogelspinne is an installation shaped like a giant butterfly, or kaleidoscope, the “wings” being windsurf sails that emanate a distinct rubber smell which will Proust-ically send you back to childhood and unwrapping action figures. The central “body” forms a video of a tiny person and her descent into the maelstrom.

With my special gift to get lost even, and especially, with a map, in cities I should definitely know by now, it then took me more than half an hour to arrive at Sprüth Magers, by tram and feet. Somewhere in the surroundings of Rosenthaler Platz, I discovered an outpost of Museum Barberini, or maybe it was only the Berlin headquarters of SAP.

Sprüth Magers is arguably the best known (German) gallery in Berlin, and naturally not everything they show can live up to their - and their artists' - reputation. This time, Fischli&Weiss have built an apartment complex for pygmies into the central space, almost like the manifestation of a Thomas Struth photo, impressive but also a little bit meaningless.

Andrea Robbins&Max Becher's portrait photographs of white red Indians, er: adult Europeans playing at Cowboy and Indian don't seem much less absurd, yet better. John Wayne would shoot first, and not even ask later. Is this even acceptable anymore?!?1 Maybe Exotism is the expression of a desperate inner longing for diversity, for other lifestyles, a way out, people who dress different because they are different and not dissolved in “equality”. We should always defend the right to dream of alienness. Gallery Weekend is one of the rare occasions, when SM admits the common rabble onto their back lawn - we need to talk about the weather here: It was hot, and sticky. Friday temperatures reached 27°C, that's 80.6F, before a fierce thunderstorm soaked Gallery Weekend party hoppers at around midnight, whereas two days later, on Sunday, nobody would have wanted to stay in that garden for any extended period of time, at 12°C (53.6F) and below. Some permanent installations here and the gallery building only really reveals its historical splendour from this, the back-, side (like certain people not only in art, who you prefer to see from behind, which of course can be for a variety of reasons).

While the 2019 vintage of Gallery Weekend left visitors generally thirsty, with hardly a chance to get drunk for free on anything other than art, SM belonged to the exceptions offering if not wine then at least “crémant” (I'd preferred no bubbles, but hey, who would complain).

In the surroundings of Sprüth Magers, you might have stumbled over an outdoor pop up Thai restaurant on a crossing, which was the first time you suspected an interactive installation of Rirkrit Tiravanija. Alas, it wasn't, just a regular restaurant seizing the sunshine. That said, Tiravanija does show, and receive, in Berlin these days: neugerriemschneider "we're still too posh for a website" Gallery offers a collection of pottery vessels to have them filled with tea or gin. The larger carafes on that shelf were already full of water (at least I hope that is what it was), restricting the visitor's choice and guiding the greedy, to mostly tiny Asian saucers.

The ideas behind Tiravanija's symposiums once dealt with communication and conviviality, but now, and in the absence of the artist!, it feels like a stale pose. The gallery's second space has (wall) paintings by Thomas Bayrle that, once you get closer, turn out to be composed of iPhone shapes. Let's hope for them that at least one Apple executive found his way to Berlin, and to neugerriemscheider. Maybe the European headquarters are in need of some new conference room deco...?

Paintings that skilfully balance on the borders of kitsch, leaving you forever undecided whether to love them or loathe them, seemed like a trend on Gallery Weekend. Martin Eder at Eigen&Art definitely belongs into this category. On first look it feels like having accidentally stepped into one of those second market galleries for tourists in no matter what metropolis, with big fat neon letters outside advertising “Pop Art, Warhol, Banksy, Koons, Liechtenstein, Chagall”, but also showing Dogs Playing Poker poster prints and hobby artists who were asked to “participate in the expenses for their exhibition”. On second look, there is something different here indeed, something setting those kitsch-not-quite-kitsch shows apart, even if it's hard to pin down. Irritating, intriguing, interesting, inviting to spend more, much more, time with the images. By the way: Thank you for inviting me to your super secret celebrity VIP party, E&A, and already the second time after last year - Seriously: that was awfully nice of you, if only more galleries could follow your example! Eigen&Art is my favourite gallery in all of Berlin. Also seriously: the show in their second space, only a kilometre or two away, is nice, and not quite as dirty as you might think it at first. Distorted photos/paintings/projections/whatever it is by Signe Pierce that seemingly follow in the spirit of Thomas Ruff's blurry porn series, but much more softcore. A mirror/film projection whose multiplying effects only really appear on the photos you take of it, looks great, too.

One annoying phenomenon that Friday night were guided groups. They were just everywhere, worse than in an Old Master's museum on a Sunday afternoon, in a tourist city. Blocking the views and always standing in the way. Lots of regular visitors too, the more the later it got.

Potsdamer Strasse, which is still one of Berlin's biggest gallery clusters, got more crowded by the minute. In best GWB tradition, first was grabbing a beer from the buckets on the boardwalk outside Tanya Leighton Gallery. Inside, many held the show for an incentive of Black&White blended whisky - there are two freaking dog sculptures in lifesize: a Westie and a Scottie! Maybe, Math Bass' paintings would have attracted me more, had there been whisky.

Next stop Vincenz Sala, or not: Klosterfelde Editions for forever unknown reasons still hasn't removed that other gallery's sign over the entrance door. Jorinde Voigt now does furniture. Large and low kidney tables as if teleported here right from the 1950s. The serious collector will buy them AND several prints of her familiar musical score-drawings (also on show) then staple the latter together and pose this album on the former. Klosterfelde and sales sounds like coffee table and book.

Björn Dahlem at Baudach Gallery probably counts among the most photographed shows this year: A wonderful honeycomb world with various objects inside, definitely looks great.

Blain Southern offers sculptures and drawings of such by a certain Monsieur Bernard Venet - do I need to say more? The most surprising part are monochrome paintings, simple forms, musical notes, hockey/golf clubs or spermatozoids. Maybe just pure form.

In their attic, BS still keeps Esther Schipper, they've now even granted her a lift. Sometimes, I confess, I'm a bit slow of mind: Arriving up there out of breath, having taken the stairs obviously, I half-noticed some guy in a wheelchair squatting opposite the reception desk, and passed him by to admire very reduced drawings of candles on crumbled A4 sheets, then entered the main space with a confusing, and huge, installation of various more or less (pseudo-)technical parts. The most figurative element being an animated toy mouse peeking out of a hole in the wall. Later I learned she's supposed to start a (nonsensical) speech, in the voice of the artist's child daughter but apparently that just happens every quarter of an hour or so. It looked like something Maurizio Cattalan would have done ten years ago (a rodent to use that lift at Perrotin perhaps). Then, several things happened simultaneously: I finally read the artist's name, remembered to have learned of him showing at GWB beforehand, and saw that handicapped guy again. Ryan Gander. Of course, I nodded very knowingly, and approvingly, at him, then left without further ado.

As mentioned above, this opening night was a sober one, much unlike a regular Thursday night at Potsdamer some weeks ago, of which I personally don't remember... never mind. There was that same curator - who could find a new job doubling for Pep Guardiola every day - again supervising proceedings at a German-Chinese gallery. Back then, I liked the art better than this time. Those Chinese are among the last to hold out in a building (maybe they own it - you can never be sure with the Chinese these days) that once hosted a lot more galleries, now on the move or having failed. Reiter Gallery is still here, too, and Claus Georg Stabe's mysterious multi-coloured ballpoint drawings can count for something like a insider tip, comparably cheap, too!

On the other end of this former factory compound, a fashion store hosted a show on their top floor. It looked like another pseudo Taranajiva event: people dining, and others circling around them, trying to catch a look at paintings and photographs on the wall. The dinner was invitation only, the drinks in theory for all, but massively overprized.

Further on, down by the river, Isabella Bortolozzi Gallery shows sculptures and installations by Veit Laurent Kurz that transport you into an absinth fuelled dream, green fairy galore. Skeletons like props to an eighties gore horror gore flic acting like apothecaries between desks and shelves with all kinds of bottles. Enigmatic powers of nature, man-plants and fawn, the overall impression: green.

Upstairs at PSM Gallery, really really red paintings by Daniel Lergon are waiting. In case you suffer from red-green blindness, it might be the other way round, or both galleries just the same. Clearly not accessible art.

Cut to Mitte. Chances are, you've never heard of Kewenig. It's not the best-known of Berlin galleries, not the flashiest, not the most glamorous, no SM, BS, or cfa. But one of the finest. Old money, (almost) noble, (money) aristocracy; solid and reliable. They reside on Museum island, in Berlin's second oldest surviving manor (what's the oldest?). The gallery's name does not appear on the door, and you certainly feel disappointed when no butler appears to show you in and take your coat.

The current show is of James Lee Byars, and if you explore all storeys of that palace, you discover casually placed Boltanskis and Sean Kellys on the office walls. Perusing Kewenig's artist list, they have a justified claim to the title of “Berlin's Gago” (no, bad comparison, make that a superstar gallery with a less self-made, hands-on, personality on top).

Maybe it's for that outpost of theirs in Palma de Mallorca, that Kewenig can rely on a strong Spanish client base. Whenever you visit, you hear Spanish screamed from three stairs above or below (seems utterly impossible to speak that language at a decent volume), by collectors and staff alike. They are really nice persons besides, who will prepare a cup of coffee for random art bloggers in shabby clothes, because it's still early in the morning, about 2 pm. Their garden is even more magnificent than Sprüth Magers', and the building beautiful from all angles. The family could have paid for it before even selling a single work of art ever, which is certainly a competitive advantage.

Konrad Fischer Gallery has moved spaces, and now owns a huge industrial site in central Berlin. Magnificent just like the works of Donald Judd currently exhibited! His photographic witnesses from walks he took over the past years carry some (seemingly) controversial messages.

Direction South Central Berlin, we'll keep it to four galleries: An already mentioned trend continues with in fact not orgy depicting paintings by Nigel Cooke at Buchmann Gallery: Heavily distorted and only remotely distinguishable human forms in whirling movement. At their other space, Buchmann Box (I think it was - really shameful when you neither note the gallery name, nor take a pic of it together with the art), it's Tony Cragg with the sculptures you know and love him for (“veiled Alien heads in motion blur”, or whatever association you find yourself). The legendary British artist also inspired Alice Aycock to her sculptures at Thomas Schulte Gallery, with added elements of gyroscope and tornadoes - the show's title is Twister for a reason. Would instantly buy that, if only I had a country home to put them in the winter garden in; copy that, Euromillions?

And, another highlight of the weekend, a two works only show of Dominik Lejman at Zak Branica: Seems, I like it blurry. From different angles, more, and other letters of a writing appears on a black canvas, and a projection in a painting.

In the west, Daniel Knorr's paintings at Meyer Rigger Gallery belong into that kitsch-no kitsch category. Beware: the highly minimalist water colours of Michael Krebber at Buchholz Gallery only look good en masse, and in an otherwise empty bourgeois apartment with stucco decor on every door. You'd need to buy a whole bunch of them, then add a property for them alone to dwell in (which could be a problem in Berlin where we currently witness a revival of GDR housing policies). Should you go for that investment, you get a place of silence, a place to relax and meditate in.

Similar could can be said about Abraham David Christian (slightly self-contradictory name, don't you think?) at Michael Haas Gallery. Some of the added sculptures again point to Cragg (via Alice Aycock, who of course is a much less experienced artist than both). But the best thing here is a Schwitters collage in the office!

I'm sure, they've discussed GWB's opening hours extensively, and more than once, but still there seems room for improvement. Now it's Friday 4-9 (then dinner, drinks, and orgies) and Saturday/Sunday 11am - 7pm (, dinner, drinks, and orgies). The nightly hours are obviously the best frequented, and the most fun for every visitor. - Why not turn the Saturday into a second Friday? Two successive “openings”, even 5-9, everybody would understand if in turn you'd stay closed the whole week after. Just a humble suggestion.

Please note: It cannot be guaranteed, that all above gallery shows are

in GWB's official selection, and no “unofficial”, “parasite”, participants. But seriously: who cares (apart from the guys financing the whole event, of course)?

Gallery Weekend Berlin 2019

World of Arts Magazine - Contemporary Art Criticism




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