Wings of Desire

Harry Burke around Berlin Art Week 2019

Performance by Frieda Toranzo Jaeger at KW.

“THE LIGHT FROM THIS SCULPTURE IS PERFECT FOR SELFIES,” crooned Nicolas Endlicher, a DJ and cofounder of Herrensauna, a monthly queer techno party (its name translates to “male sauna”) at Tresor. It was the opening night of Berlin Art Week. We were at Julia Stoschek Collection, where WangShui debuted video installations intended to activate the “hallucinatory spaces” of transitional architectures. Around the corner at FRAGILE, I swapped notes with artist Dr. Lakra and dealer Ida Yang about the corporeal afterimage of techno—that midweek sensation of muscles still pulsing to the weekend’s BPM—as we stood in front of three Analisa Teachworth sculptures made of sugar crystals. These served as effective props for small talk that tiptoed around the colonialist structuring of addiction, consumption, and desire, all too relevant in a city at once excessive and empty, distracting and fortifying.  

The next day at the Art Berlin preview at Tempelhof, where people wandered out from the fair, dazed, to drink coffee on the sun-kissed tarmac, I ran into artist Zhou Siwei (in town for an exhibition at Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler) and Simon Wang, of Shanghai’s Antenna Space. “You’re looking skinny,” the latter smirked, alluding to Berlin’s arm aber sexy (“poor but sexy”) diet of dancing and diversions.

Artists Max Pitegoff and Calla Henkel.

TV was heaving on Friday evening. The brainchild of artists Max Pitegoff and Calla Henkel, the bar and “stage” for performance and moving images had conveniently opened in Schöneberg less than a fortnight earlier, complete with a Karl Holmqvist bathroom installation and a Klara Lidén chandelier. Many of us tumbled in after Anne Imhof’s opening at Galerie Buchholz, where my favorite Imhof gesture—the scratch—had imprinted minimal scars on lacquered painted surfaces, like car doors vandalized by a wayward Michael Krebber. Needles, empty beer cans, and ceramic bongs were scattered among these paintings, deflating the gallery of its pomp. Performers, including the magnetic Mickey Mahar, posed and vaped in different corners of the show, burning bouquets of roses on Buchholz’s balconies as uniformed security personnel stood guard.

“This is tragedy,” whispered writer Geoffrey Mak, referring to the installation’s minor-key affect, and that of the social tableau it (and we) fed into. “Why is tragedy such an enduring form?” Out on the sidewalk, gallerygoers clutched beer bottles and tattled about encounters at Folsom, the BDSM and leather street fair happening down the road—Berlin’s art scene is animated by the fact that there’s typically something more interesting to talk about than art.

Performers in Imhof’s performance at Buchholz.

As midnight faded into memory, I detoured north to Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz, where, in search of a redemption narrative, I caught Aviva Silverman’s storefront display at LVX, the pavilion that formerly housed Galerie Meerrettich. Illuminated by stage lighting, hand-blown glass cherubs were suspended, like bell jars masquerading as marionettes. Footage of activist Therese Patricia Okoumou scaling the Statue of Liberty last year, in protest of the Trump administration’s schismatic border policies, played on a small hanging television. Buoyed by the nocturnal air, I had the epiphany that angels are compassionate and nonjudgmental: They surveil out of duty.

The next evening, at Galerie Isabella Bortolozzi, I found more seraphim in the form of artists Precious Okoyomon and Richard Kennedy, and curators Claude Adjil and Quinn Harrelson. Precious was recounting a story about her poodle Rainbow eating dirty underwear, and, as we sat in Diamond Stingily’s installation of braids and chains, I giggled at the charming illogic of the conversation and our togetherness. Alas, minutes later, Art Week kidnapped my friends again, and they bundled into cabs to honor dinner invitations. I walked back into the Berlin night, once more ruminating on its relentless allure.

Artists Christopher Kulendran Thomas and curator Annika Kuhlmann.

Performers in Imhof’s performance at Buchholz.

Performers in Imhof’s performance at Buchholz.

Curator Annika Kuhlmann and artists Christopher Kulendran Thomas and Simon Denny.

Dealers Daniel Buchholz and Filippo Weck.

Editor Caroline Busta, artist Jan Vorisek, and writer Geoffrey Mak.

Artist Katja Novitskova and musician Ville Haimala.

Aviva Silverman at LVX.

Artist Aki Sasamoto with her installation at Gropius Bau.

Artist Richard Kennedy.

Artist Precious Okoyomon with Rainbow and curator Claude Adjil.