IF MOVIES ARE TO BE BELIEVED, each of life’s junctures deserves a sound track. So it seems worth noting that last week, during the various openings and affairs coinciding with Art Forum Berlin, I often found myself humming Blur’s “Out of Time.” (“To watch the world spinning gently out of time . . .”) Most of the events were oddly out of sync. Last Tuesday night, at the preview of the temporary kunsthalle, a “cube” on the Schlossplatz designed by Austrian architect Adolf Krischanitz, everyone kept asking whether they had been invited to the wrong event. Local hero Wolfgang Tillmans was there, normally a surefire sign that this was the place to be, but otherwise the building was oddly empty. The other burning question was why Candice Breitz had chosen to break her exhibition up into two parts, with the second half debuting at the end of November. (Perhaps she hadn’t finished the work in time?)
That same night, Vik Muniz opened his first German solo show at Arndt & Partner, exhibiting photographs of iconic artworks (such as Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Film Still #7 and John Baldessari’s What Is Painting?) re-created in unusual materials. Most compelling were his re-creations, from pure pigment, of works from seminal series like Lucio Fontana’s “Spatial Concepts” and Andy Warhol’s “Oxidation Paintings.” Muniz took a moment to note his most recent guilty pleasure: Looking at photos of dealers at art fairs to see if any were wearing the “McCain smile” (aka grinning while they’re losing).
The big opening on Wednesday night was Jeff Koons at Max Hetzler. The echt-American artist, who was also preparing an exhibition to open the following night at the Neue Nationalgalerie, appears to be storming the continent, and here he presented new works from his series of pastiche pixelation paintings. The mood was eerie and ominous—as though everyone was bracing for the crash that had not yet hit. It was a stark contrast with the exhilaration one felt everywhere just last spring during Berlin Gallery Weekend. No McCain grins here, though—just Obama pins.
Afterward, I set off for the BMW dealership across town on Kurfürstendamm, where the “Friends of the Nationalgalerie” were presenting the short list for their young artist prize. (To be sure, no cars were exhibited—not even an “art car.”) The most emotional moment of the night came not when Joachim Jäger, interim head of the Neue Nationalgalerie, read the names of the four artists (Annette Kelm, Keren Cytter, Omer Fast, and Danh Vo), but when he thanked the crowd for leaving the Mitte art center and coming out to “old” West Berlin. At this point, the crowd, which was actually largely made up of the sort of West Berlin lawyers and dentists who compose the “Friends,” fluttered with local patriotism.
On Thursday, the week hit its stride with the opening of the Art Forum fair and the Koons and Paul Klee shows at Neue Nationalgalerie. At Art Forum, it was business as usual. Eigen + Art’s Judy Lybke explained his ideal fair schedule: Sell out on the first day (he was just short of it, still offering a few smaller paintings when I passed), tell everybody about it on the second day, redecorate on the third, and then sell out again. At Contemporary Fine Arts’s booth, I spotted artist Markus Lüpertz, and everyone was atwitter over Georg Herold’s caviar paintings, which one passerby labeled “über-Deutsch.” CFA’s Philipp Haverkampf was in good spirits. He reported a decrease in phone calls for a few days after the Dow’s first major drop in September, but now, “Things are back to busy.” My favorite instance of color coordination had to be Oliver Koerner von Gustorf of September, who sported a purple jumper to contrast with his booth’s fluorescent yellow walls. No surprise he went on to win one of the fair’s two awards for “best stand.”
From there I headed to the Neue Nationalgalerie for the opening of “Der Kult des Künstlers: Koons and Klee”—a veritable exercise in alliteration. Peter-Klaus Schuster, retiring director of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin and the Nationalgalerie, has been staging a slate of exhibitions around the theme of the cult of the artist. The series—which has featured Beuys, Giacometti, Schinkel, Warhol, and now Klee and Koons—constituted something of a farewell gesture before he stepped down on October 31. (Perhaps “Cult of the Curator” would have been a more fitting title.) Sadly, the Koons show lacks the nerve of his exhibition at Versailles—and what is Koons sans controversy?
At the opening, Thaddaeus Ropac’s Arne Ehmann argued that, contra current wisdom, it was wise for collectors to buy art on credit. Ehmann advocated stocking up on Marc Brandenburg, but writer (and Koons expert) Rainald Goetz opted for a purple Koons egg instead. Time was running late, though (and the guards were getting nasty), so I set off for a dinner on behalf of the friendly arts organization Galerie im Regierungsviertel hosted by artist Tjorg Douglas Beer and Art Basel’s Maike Cruse. The pair had invited a lively mixture to their home. Beer cooked the meat himself, while I discussed the merits of anthroposophy and Rudolf Steiner with Kunst-Werke’s Gabriele Horn and artist Ylva Ogland. Artist Andreas Golder kept jumping up to get more wine, and the night kept up a warm and happy pace until someone finally broke out the Williams Christ brandy.
Friday night commenced with yet another string of must-see openings. At Julius Werner, Sigmar Polke presented his “Lens” paintings, delirious glops of paint over patchwork and “corrugated” surfaces; sadly, the eminent artist had canceled his attendance at the last minute. Across the street at Aurel Scheibler, Malcolm McLaren, who would never miss one of his own openings, could be found outside smoking a cigarette with artist Jim Lambie, while people crowded inside to see his “musical paintings”—slow-motion images sampled from ’60s amateur porn.
Farther east, on Karl-Marx-Allee, Gisela Capitain and Friedrich Petzel opened their joint venture, called, unsurprisingly, Capitain Petzel—a striking gallery located in a modernist complex built during the socialist era. For the inaugural exhibition, gallery artists were asked to react to both the era and the gallery’s premises. The place was packed, and it was almost impossible to see the art. Petzel kept murmuring that he didn’t know anyone and jokily threatened to lock himself in his office, but Capitain wouldn’t let him. The grandiose location seems almost from a different era, as it was so obviously designed before the crisis. The dinner filled the colonnaded French restaurant Borchardt. At my table, critic Noemi Smolik chatted with collector Udo Brandhorst, not about his forthcoming museum in Munich, but about soccer. Meanwhile, others compared the launches of über-galleries Sprüth Magers and Capitain Petzel. (Sprüth Magers, which debuted their Berlin branch a little over a week prior, features only one artist, Thomas Scheibitz, and is more in line with the classic architecture of the Museum Island.)
Afterward, I skipped Peres Projects’s Halloween bash and set off for the illegal club Ritter Butzke, where a throng of drunken artists, critics, and dealers had gathered for the launch of the latest issue of Monopol. For a moment, anyway, thoughts of the economy dissipated; no crisis here, neither at the bar, nor at the decks.