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Past weekend it was held the 14th iteration of the Gallery Weekend Berlin (GWB, 27-29 April), one of the leading events for contemporary art in Germany that attracts art fans and collectors from all over the world. Berlin is a city of artists more than a city of collectors. There are around two hundred commercial galleries and about the same number of project spaces and non-commercial art places. Gallerist realized that they only meet collectors and curators at art fairs and never in their galleries, that is why in 2004 a group of Berlin gallerists founded the Gallery Weekend Berlin. A weekend where collectors are brought by the organization to visit the galleries without moving from its own location.
The model was so successful that it was copied in various other cities from Amsterdam to Bogota. The event and its concept fit Berlin very well and any other contemporary art destinations which are not financial capitals and do not host big auctions like London or New York. It is also cheaper —for the galleriest— and nicer for attendees walk through the city than visit a booth in a monstrous “art shopping moll”.
For two days and nights, 47 galleries throughout Berlin opened their doors. Beside well-known galleries many new and experimental working galleries participate in the event. The presented artists are well selected, all focusing on contemporary art. Even museum supporting associations like Tate London and the Centre Pompidou Paris take part.
Historically the gallery has been an exhibition and social space. They discover artists and maintain relationships with them and promote and disseminate their work worldwide. Galleries are a meeting point for curators, critics, collectors and art lovers as not only a salesroom as it is seen lately.
Changes in Berlin Art Scene
As the city is still not overflowing with collectors, GWB fills the city with a great number of art collectors especially from China, USA or Russia. It seems that an economic opportunity in Berlin has grown in a visible way. In this first part, we show eleven must-see shows opened during BGW and on view all spring.
Since last year and after merging with Johnen Gallerie, Esther Schipper new 600 square-meter gallery space in Potsdamer Strasse —in the former warehouse of Der Tagesspiegel, one of most popular Berlin newspapers— shows also a side of the change of Berlin art scene. It is not only tripling the exhibition space but also it serves as a mark of quality to Schippers valuable program over the past decade which launched artists like Philippe Parreno or Gonzalez Foerster. This year Schipper presented works by the collective General Idea from the late 1960s to mid 1990s. Myths, Aids, counterculture and mass media, are all in the multimedia group General Idea. Coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the collective, Schipper also shows most recent works of AA Bronson —its only living member— set up in a kind of timeline. Parallel to the exhibition, there is a pop-up Krishtalka Books store, featuring catalogs, rare books, editions, and zines. Bronson also had a five-day show at KW Institute for Contemporary Art inspired by Bosch infamous painting The Garden of Earthly Delights. The artist set up a hybrid installation with artworks plus his “healing tents” and rituals were performed.
Same building, stairs down on the floor that faces the yard, BlainSouthern, hosts Frank Thiel latest body of work returning to portrait photography for the first time in over 20 years. Quinceañeras examines the Cuban tradition of lavish coming-of-age celebrations around a girl’s 15th birthday. Known for intensively researched projects that document temporary states and places in transmutation, Thiel uses the quince tradition as a metaphor for the shifting social and economic climate of Havana.
Speaking about transformations in Cuba —it seems a trend— KOW presented the Havana/Madrid based artist duo Los Carpinteros —Marco Castillo Valdés and Dagoberto Rodríguez Sánchez. Los Carpinteros are known for reflecting on the social transformations taking place in Cuba by probing the relationship between form and function. The exhibition has a big sculpture, drawings, and two films dated this year: Casa Social focus on the interiors of Cuban domestic spaces, featuring the wealthy, the modest and the poor, weakening the theoretical Cuban classless society. Rétractil examines an episode of Cuban history in which a poet is forced to publicly denounce his criticisms of the Cuban government. These recent films are accompanied by a set of Los Carpinteros’s films.
Going to Galleries Still the Best Way to Experience Art
Mariana Castillo Deball, the Mexico-born and Berlin-based artist who won the National Gallery Prize for Young Art in 2013 has a solo show at Barbara Wien. The exhibition focus on the relationship of the body to space and time. The point of departure for the works is a 260-day Aztec calendar, tonalpohualli, and one of its characters, the deity Xipe Totec.
Few steps away, at Isabella Bortolozzi, Danny McDonald has created a new series of sculptures, constructed of dream-like narratives whose scenarios engage characters reflected in types of what we search for. The works are assemblies of found objects as masks, toys, statues, and figures from popular culture.
New Artists on Board
Many galleries use the occasion to announce new artists to their roster, for example, Sprüth Magers, one of Berlin’s most prominent galleries with presence also in London and Los Angeles, is holding its first shows with US artists Kara Walker and Senga Nengudi. Walker presents a movie with shadow puppets, Fall Frum Grace, Miss Pipi’s Blue Tale, dealing with the oppression of African-American women in United States history. Nengudi, a member of the African American avant-garde in Los Angeles and New York in the 1970s and 1980s features four recent sculptures from R.S.V.P series, which the artist began in the late 1970s, using nylon stockings, sand, and metal objects generate forms that stretch across walls and floor. Both ladies are accompanied by Andro Wekua in the third and bigger gallery room.
At Contemporary Fine Art (CFA), Huma Bhabha is showing with the gallery for the first time. The artist who has gained international recognition for her raw, sculptural forms, which evoke ritualistic personages or post-apocalyptic inhabitants, constructed from humble materials as air-dried clay or scavenged wood.
Downstairs, we can see Raymond Pettibon ninth solo exhibition at the gallery. Films, sports, sex, and the American way of life are subjects in Pettibon pieces; with a strong association with comics, his works oscillate between visual representation and textual elements.
Continuing With Big Names
Power players had statement shows during GWB: Favourite Hans-Peter Feldmann at Medhi Chouakri showing three new installations with nude life-size sex dolls staged into situations both innocent and familiar. The glorification of the female body has taken many forms throughout the history of humanity: ancient Venus statues, Renaissance nudes, and even contemporary pornography are illustrative connotations. The depiction of exposed bodies or body parts is a universally continuous theme within the field of art and this is also the case with Feldmann.
Thomas Struth at Galerie Max Hetzler. The show is formed by a new series developed during the last months at the Leibniz Institute for Zoological and Wildlife Research in Berlin. The examination of naturally deceased wildlife bodies marks an important part of the institute’s studies. In his works, Struth approaches these particular bodies in a sensitive and dignified manner. In these cautious portraits, despite the unnatural posture and occasional wounds, the almost seem to be asleep.
Berlin-based artist Thomas Zipp can be seen in its ninth solo show at Guido W. Baudach. Zipp is known for his narrative conceptualism in various media. His multipart installations, often containing combinations of drawing, painting, and sculpture, illustrate surreal or dreamlike inventions of something resisting exact definition, as in a vision. MOON GAS is a show revolving loosely around the subject of the namesake anesthetic.
The quality of the exhibitions on view the past weekend was powerful, not to miss next twelve exhibitions in part two. The art shows listed here are on view until June 2018.
Text and photos: María Muñoz, excepting those individually accredited in the caption