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  • Christian Hain

Who says “a” must say “B” - That’s a Strong Position. Thou Art Fair, BAW’18

(Berlin.) Art Berlin still is not the fiac, or Frieze, or – ok, we’ll stop. It is what it is, the best art fair you can reasonably expect in a city with many artists but no market. The exhibitor list reads the same as every year, if anything it’s become even more Berlin (Germany) plus guests than before. But we wanted to focus on the good news, and there are some of those: First of all the new location at former airport Tempelhof, today a no man’s land in the heart of the city, with the same people who otherwise complain of ever rising rents fervently defending the undeveloped status quo. A Berlin paradox but not our concern today. Suffice to say, while nothing happens with Tempelhof, now at least something is happening at Tempelhof. The imposing architecture shares styles with the Berlin Olympic stadium, both having been built in the same era. Say what you want, but there is something to Nazi architecture... no, stop, it’s a slippery slope.

Not only art Berlin has moved, but its sidekick (/competitor) Positions also did. Notwithstanding the new proximity, both cling on to the same old and bitter rivalry, as amusing and annoying as it can seem to an outside observer. People in charge of aB are to thank for the necessity to take a – Positions paid - shuttle service between hangars where a seamless passage from one event to the other would have been feasible, too. They prefer to let the airport’s main entrance lie idle. At least, that shuttle service is operated with an oldtimer fire engine which is way more fun than comfortable.

There are reasons, of course, for the wish for distinction on behalf of aB, namely the poor quality of past Positions. Quite understandably, they don’t want to associate with the poor relations, lest anyone confuse the (unofficial) off with the real show.

This said, something has changed. These are in fact the best Positions, I’ve ever seen. ... Ok, let me rephrase this, the singular and the word “fair” are of uttermost importance here: this year’s edition is arguably the best Positions art fair of recent years.

Granted, there still are moments, when you approach an artwork that feels familiar, only to realize, “that’s not Francis Bacon, that’s ‘Justine Otter’”, “this is not Bernard Buffet, it’s ‘Klaus Süß’”, “not Giacometti, but ‘Tina Heuter’”, &ct. You might even wonder, whether it's an original Balkenhol at the booth of a charity auction (edit: it's not!), or another f̶a̶k̶e̶ “in-the-style-of”. But then again, in the case of Julian Opie for example, you can find both, the originals at DavisKlemmGallery (thespacebarisforlosers).

There are many discoveries to make, artists like Martha Pohlmann Kryszkiewicz (spelt that right?) at Drei Ringe gallery: digital photo collages/paintings, Daniel Poller at Poll gallery: remixes of historic prints, or the obligatory Chinese with Li Trieb at Commeter gallery: magnificent pencil drawings of water and snow, or something seen under a microscope. Even the wooden, head-like, sculpture of Lars Zech, also at Commeter – the smell of it alone, so fresh! 100 Kubik gallery once more shows Ignacio Llamas, the same works we’ve seen here last year already, and the one before. They are still nice, and now even joined by bigger formats. I seriously hope, somebody will finally buy them. Yes, indeed: I’m looking at you! They are worth it.

There’s been a lot of talk in Berlin these past days, weeks, and months, about “Erdogan coming to town”, bringing most annoying road barriers, and even more police than haters. This is absolutely nothing to do with artist Gökhtan Erdogan at Heike Strelow gallery. He’s ok.

Maus Contemporary shows Spaniard Irene Grau. Starting from the observation – and monochrome photograph of a quality that in the best way possible reminds of a drawing – of a rift in a cliff, she’s created a series of abstract paintings by immersing half the canvas in colour. For other works, Grau used the ashes of a devastating forest fire, or let a white square interact with hotel interiors, these same photographs being available in two versions, either with or without the blank presence. Only when she's introducing red, blue and yellow forms into architecture, you could feel (too much) reminded of George Rousse. An artist to keep in mind.

Some absurdities belong to everything art and art business, like hearing a gallerist passionately assert, both fairs followed fairly different concepts: Positions pushing the first market and aB taking care of the after market. Then discover Chagall, Pechstein, Baumeister, Liebermann, Ury, Miro, Dix, Grosz, even Pablo at Kunsthandel Draheim and Kunkel Fine Art galleries, or Lüpertz and Polke at Osper gallery. All still at Positions, mind.

Changing for aB, there’s more of the good and less of the... less good. Interestingly, they formulate the goal to “strengthen the German art market”, which might be just that bit too much regional thinking. If you want to matter, you need to play with the big boys from abroad, they will bring their buyer friends and in the end everybody wins. Only that the big boys won’t even open your invitation letters... that’s awkward.

Some galleries at aB still apply the old abc concept of single artist shows, while, extraordinary for a trade fair, there are also national selections with several Brazilian and Austrian galleries sharing a booth respectively, and no, you won’t find Ropac there, or anywhere else near Berlin. Nächst St Stephan Schwarzwälder and Mendes Wood neither (Basel regular Luisa Strina gallery is in that booth, though - congratulations!).

At aB, you never have to worry about “fanboy or the real deal” - what looks like Fred Sandbaek and George Condo at Ikeda gallery is indeed Fred Sandbaek and George Condo at Ikeda gallery. They even got the lighting right, to lend several more dimensions to Sandbaek's space dividing threads. Axel Anklam’s deformed, oversized, kitchen strainer at Alexander Ochs Private (is there also an “Alexander Ochs Public"?) is nice, so’s Art N More (Paul Bowler&Georg Weißbach)'s solo at Sperling gallery with childish dinosaurs in colour confronting Latin bonmots black on white. Even pink, head bumping, triceratopses know: “Pecunia non Olet”! Very peculiar juxtapositions, and speaking Latin is at least as useless as a degree in natural history. You could imagine a link to Fabian Knecht’s photo work “Genitiv” at Alexander Levy gallery, a man falling, or jumping, from a historic building. The genitive is/was a grammatical case not merely in Latin, but also in German and other languages - until recently as we witness its falling victim to contemporary rationalisation processes.

More accidentally, a huge monochrome drawing by Karin Sander at Esther Schipper gallery confronts Tacita Dean’s hardly less monumental septych at Niels Borch Jensen gallery vis-a-vis. The latter’s size beats even Christoph Ruckhäberle‘s colourful sextych (Mexican murals in Euro style) at Kleindienst gallery by a panel.

Collages are great, everyone likes collages, or should. Proof: Olaf Metzel and Ioan Grosu at Jahn und Jahn gallery.

Hesitating at Société gallery, is this kitsch, or - well, it is kitsch. But well done kitsch, colourful and 3D. The question returns at Samuelis Baumgarte gallery and, to a lesser extent, at Michael Schultz gallery, in digital. These works by a collective called SEO proudly carried some of the few, almost inexistent, red dots at art Berlin 2018.

That other question, again... These are not photographs of Hans Bellmer dolls at Dittrich&Schlechtriem, but a cooperation of Roger Ballen and Asger Carlson. The overall excellent gallery also offered photos by Julien Charrière relating to his show at Berlinische Galerie (more about it soon).

If you were looking for the second market, it is here too, but actually less present than at Positions; Warhol, Wesselmann, Lichtenstein at Klaus Benden gallery for example.

A special mention must go to Taschen, inventors of the the coffeetable book and now also a gallery, apparently. Rising from humble beginnings with a comic book store in Cologne, Benedikt Taschen has perfected the art of making money from everything that could possibly be put on paper. Books have always been both, content and physical object, and with Taschen, ... well, the content doesn’t matter most. It’s the art of packaging. The empire now publishes photographs of Tibetan temple murals and Ferrari cars, both books being shown side by side at art Berlin. Only one of them has been approved and signed by the Dalai Lama.

The Tibetan collection is apparently “one of the largest and most luxurious” books ever printed (also one of the most expensive), yet when you leave it through, it feels a little underwhelming. More like the paper quality of home printed posters. Are they taking a risk here, or could marketing research reassure: there are not that many art book collectors in mainland China who could be really p----d off now? The Ferrari compendium's engine shaped presentation stand is an eye catcher. The volume depicts every Ferrari in history apart from destroyed single pieces, race cars, and prototypes. Just in time for Christmas. To use as gift coupons for the art collector’s household, of course.

You don’t want to talk money, do you? Fine, Tibet is ten thousand for an edition of a hundred, Ferrari €25,000, you decide which one will influence your karma for the better. You can start economizing already with not buying the overprized food from aB’s caterer but a curry wurst for €3 at Positions, outside with views of the airfield. Ferrari’s waiting lists infamously equal those of leading New York galleries, but nobody knows if this applies here too and how many Taschen books you must own already to qualify for a purchase.

The booth of Eigen and Art is a highlight, with mathematical drawings of Carsten Nicolai they've already shown at the gallery this summer. The gallerist needs to be praised, being at Tempelhof even on Saturday afternoon and talking with the weekend visitors. You just could not imagine his colleagues from the neighbouring booths doing the same.

That weekeend audience by the way was probably most awed by a Tony Oursler solo at Hans Meyer gallery. Just saying. Two more booths to praise: Jo van de Loo (...) with an ensemble of drawings, violent toys and wall reliefs by Andreas Chwatal, all very grey, all very great, the topic – the installation appears very narrative – could be something like hominus homini lupus est, with biographical notes. It’s not even that expensive (ha! left your list on the desk!). And Tabari Art Space from Dubai with strict and sober photos, paintings, and collages by Hazem Harb.

For the VIPs among you, BMW took care of the limousine-with-chauffeur service, just like Audi drives the Berlinale. (Not so) Strange: Daimler Art Fundation shuns everything Berlin Art Week, theirs must be the only art space in Berlin not opening a show this week.

A foundation not called Oddset but Outset expressed its thanks for special rates to acquire two works upfront and hang them in a German museum, the MMK Frankfurt. For the innocent art lovers among you: Nothing better can happen to a gallery than placing a work in a museum of renown.

There were again parallel openings of the participating “at home”, making it again hard to draw the line between BAW and GWB. In the city, a worrying trend continued: Art Week Berlin 2018 did not feel exactly overrun with visitors. Already on Wednesday night you would search in vain for the familiar queue at KW, that usually reaches down all Auguststraße. The same is true for Friday night openings in Potsdamer Straße: nobody came, well: no more than on a regular Thursday night outside BAW or GWB or whatever other festival. Leaves you worried indeed.

As you’re starting to tire, two last bits of information: The (imaginary) award for the most photographed work in show goes to Marjetica Potrč’s sculpture at Nordenhake gallery, circular and made from road signs. And there’s also an outside area, which could have been magnificently used for a aB(-asel) Unlimited like show with magnificent views on the former hangars, airways and meadows. Could. Three or four sculptures lost behind coffee tables are nothing more than a half-hearted try.

Art Berlin and Positions, 27-30 September 2018

World of Arts Magazine – Contemporary Art Criticism



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