Working for the Weekend

Daniel Boese around Gallery Weekend Berlin


Left: Artist Carsten Höller, Neue Nationalgalerie director Udo Kittelmann, and Fondation Beyeler director Samuel Keller. Right: Musician Dirk von Lowtzow and artist Annette Kelm. (Except where noted, all photos: Daniel Boese)

AS IT SO HAPPENED, Berlin’s third Gallery Weekend coincided with the summit of the Hedonist International. This meant that the usual series of previews, dinners, openings, and parties went toe-to-toe with a slew of hedonistic Mayday protests. As visitors flocked to André Butzer’s opening at Max Hetzler, just around the corner, on Wilhelmstraße, the German finance ministry was being “beautified”: Self-professed hedonists (can one call them “card-carrying”?) hurled eggs filled with red, yellow, and blue paint at the building’s gray facade. In the resultant splats' strong hues and grisaille background, one couldn’t help but see an echo of the Butzers. Art lovers and protesters also came together in their thematization of the continuing financial crisis: While dealers and collectors worried about the economy’s failure to support their sybaritic lifestyle, the protesters called for a libertine response to the crisis. “Do what you like, not what you must!” reads their resonant manifesto.

That was a good (if uniquely paradoxical) injunction with which to begin my “weekend,” which in fact commenced on Wednesday with a preview of the other Butzer show, at Guido Baudach’s gallery in the Wedding district, and a tour with Yves Oppenheim of his abstract murals at Max Hetzler Temporary. “Images are an illusion,” Oppenheim sagely reminded us. True, but as any economist can tell you, illusion has power, too.

The seemingly never-ending series of openings and dinners really kicked off on Thursday with Johannes Wohnseifer’s show at Johann König, which links documents of Africa and German colonial history. Across town at Haunch of Venison, Mark Alexander showed a series of black sunflower paintings and his self-portrait as a child. We skipped Eric Fischl’s talk at the American Academy—Wannsee is just too far out of the way—and instead dropped by the Hotel de Rome for a cocktail reception in honor of Terence Koh. Out front, artist Ralf Ziervogel complained to Monopol editor Cornelius Tittel that there wasn’t a single person under sixty at the reception; he then proceeded to tag the hotel’s signs with a Hitler smiley face, one of his recent trademarks.

Left: Artist Ralf Ziervogel. Right: Collector Christian Boros dealer Johann König, and Kunsthalle Fridericianum artistic director Rein Wolfs.

“No previews” is usually the rule at KunstWerke, but we were able to catch a glimpse of the new shows during an outdoor dinner in honor of Annette Kelm. The highlight was when König did a series of stumbles from one beer-garden bench to another while trying to deliver a toast. It was an early spring night replete with a cloudless sky. Kelm was hanging with Tocotronic’s Dirk von Lowtzow; collector Christian Boros chatted with Haus der Kunst director Chris Dercon. MoMA curator Klaus Biesenbach congratulated media maven Christiane zu Salm on her pregnancy. The expectant father, artist Andreas Slominski, was not around, but the liaison proved to be one of the small-talk topics of the weekend. While local papers deemed it newsworthy, art-world insiders proclaimed it a “really old story. Everybody has known that for months now.” Guess that’s why they’re the insiders.

There was quite a bit to see by Friday afternoon. We began with Hanne Darboven at Klosterfelde, then moved next door for Ziervogel’s exhibition at Arndt & Partner (where the Hitler smiley face was in full effect). Ziervogel dilated on his grandiose plans for the Tempelhof landing strip, where he wants to build a hundred-meter black cube with the help of David Chipperfield. From there we set off for Carsten Höller at Esther Schipper, where Fondation Beyeler director Sam Keller and Angelika Taschen chatted under a mobile made of canaries in cages.

We missed Angela Merkel’s opening address for “60 Years, 60 Works” at Martin-Gropius-Bau and instead ventured toward the much-anticipated opening for Koh, unofficial mascot of the Hedonist International. Our cabbie tried to enter Kreuzberg from the northwest but found all bridges blocked by riot police on bikes and in minibuses—preparations for the evening’s demonstrations. We had to walk to Peres Projects, where we found a slightly underwhelming opening. (The limousine service apparently had difficulty at the roadblocks, too.) Koh was rather bored and jet-lagged, offering to trade the centerpiece of his show, a statue with bunny ears, for some excitement. Javier Peres vetoed the deal; we settled for some vodka instead. Only a little over a year ago, Koh anointed himself the “Naomi Campbell of the art world”; now, however, he was pronouncing that he would be the “Martha Stewart of the art world.” To drive the point home, he discussed his upcoming furniture line from a company in Munich, as well as his designs for Converse.

Left: Maxwell Zimmer and artist Terence Koh. Right: Artist Yves Oppenheim and David Ulrich.

Still on foot, we tried to sneak out of Kreuzberg. The May Day riots had moved to the U-Bahn station Kottbusser Tor, and black-clad youth were throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails at the police under the auspices of a “revolutionary” demonstration. Earlier, we had watched reenactments of historical battles in Artur Zmijewski’s show “Democracies” at DAAD Galerie, but as we skirted the riots and strode through the neighborhood’s empty streets, we realized that the most potent reenactment was the one going on in Kreuzberg.

By the time we got to Capitain Petzel, the opening was practically over, and only a few drunk young art lovers remained. We whizzed in to see some Kippenberger, but the staff was already turning off the lights. A dinner hosted by Carlier | Gebauer and Barbara Weiss was next, fancy German food at Lebensmittel in Mitte in honor of artists Rosa Barba, Amy Sillman, and Rebecca Morris. We chatted with Janneke de Vries, director of Bremen’s Gesellschaft für Aktuelle Kunst, and Morris, who explained her appreciation for German compliments. “They come up with great things like, ‘At first I really hated your work, but now I love it.’”

Left: Karen Boros with dealer Javier Peres. Right: Artist Katharina Sieverding and Art Basel's Maike Cruse.

More shows on Saturday: Saâdane Afif at Mehdi Chouakri, Simon Starling at Neugerriemschneider, and Carol Rama at Isabella Bortolozzi. In the evening, Udo Kittelmann hosted the big Gallery Weekend dinner at Neue Nationalgalerie, where he was recently appointed director. His speech was indecipherable due to the weird acoustics of the Mies van der Rohe building; it was way more suitable for the German marching band that opened the evening. “Crisis? What crisis?” seemed to be Kittelmann’s party line, despite the fact that Russian and American collectors had thus far been conspicuously absent from events. There was also lots of chatter about the never-ending saga around Art Forum Berlin. The participants for the fair’s 2009 edition had been announced several days earlier, and there were a few surprising omissions. Up-and-coming Berlin gallery September was denied, in spite of having won “best booth” last year. Even stranger was the refusal of Volker Diehl, one of the fair’s founders and a crucial player in securing funding during the early years.

Sunday’s theme was basic math. For “7x2,” hundreds of visitors showed up to see fourteen galleries—from Sommer & Kohl to Tanya Leighton—presenting artists in the staircases of collector Axel Haubrok’s building. The big hit with the toddler crowd was the 330 pounds of confetti in the area curated by Jonathan Monk. Amid the craziness, we missed the wedding for dealers (and lovebirds) Christian Haye and Semir Alschausky, which was conveniently set to coincide with the Gallery Weekend brouhaha. Later that night, we ended up at Möbel-Olfe, the Berlin headquarters for the Hedonist International. Artists Klara Liden and Wolfgang Tillmans were at the bar, Tillmans wearing shorts: “Why? It’s summer!” Early Monday morning, still at Möbel-Olfe, Aaron Moulton of Galerie Feinkost declared that art criticism had to own up to its role in the world: “We need reality-based criticism!” Couldn’t agree more; only wish he’d told us earlier. We knew then that the Hedonist International spirit had finally taken Berlin. New York is next.

Left: Dealer Martin Klosterfelde and critic Christina Weiss. Right: Collector Valeria Napoleone and artist Rebecca Morris.

Left: Curators Anette Hüsch and Angela Rosenberg. Right: Yuko Alexander with artist Mark Alexander.

Left: Artist Tjorg Douglas Beer. Right: Catherine de Montferrand and Alexandra Oetker. (Photo: André Hercher)