Long Weekend

Left: Outside neugerriemschneider gallery. (Except where noted, all photos: David Velasco) Right: Udo Kittelmann, director of Berlin's Nationalgalerie (center), with Gallery Weekend Berlin organizer Michael Neff. (Photo: Nick Ash)

AI WEIWEI WAS NOT at the dinner held in his honor Friday night at Tim Raue, the Michelin-star restaurant around the corner from that old-school symbol of the old-school cold war, Checkpoint Charlie. Nor was he amid the convocation of concerned Germans attending Sunday morning’s panel, “Why We Urgently Need Ai Weiwei,” at Martin-Gropius-Bau. He wasn’t at Wednesday’s buoyant but intimate opening for Anna Ostoya at Silberkuppe or Thursday’s launch for Esther Schipper’s bright new space or Saturday’s world premiere screening of Sarah Morris’s film Chicago at Babylon Berlin Mitte or any of the other events where one seemed to run into people.

But although Ai himself was not present he also very much was, with signs of him popping up everywhere over the course of the fifth Gallery Weekend Berlin (a “weekend” now in title alone). His name appeared on solidarity buttons and petitions and (rather optimistically) on VIP check-in lists. WHERE IS AI WEIWEI read the massive banner made by Rirkrit Tiravanija, which hung from neugerriemschneider at the opening of Ai’s show there on Friday. FREIHEIT FÜR AI WEIWEI read the one hanging from the entrance of M-G-B. I heard (and said) the artist’s name so much it began to seem like a dada speech exercise. If the Chinese government really wanted to keep Ai out of the conversation, they’re doing an awfully bad job of it.

Left: Curator Hans Ulrich Obrist with dealer Johann König. Right: Dealer Esther Schipper, curator Cay Sophie Rabinowitz, and dealer Marie-Blanche Carlier.

“People tell me that I shouldn’t travel to China now, or even Hong Kong for the fair,” said curator-without-borders Hans Ulrich Obrist. “One has to at least think about this.” Obrist, like thousands of others, was in Berlin to take inventory of the city’s cultural happenings in one fell swoop. I saw him the first time (of many) on Friday at the opening of Helen Marten’s articulate sprawl of a show at Johann König. From the general mishmash of events, Obrist and colleague Stéphanie Moisdon pinpointed the Rainer Fetting retrospective at the Berlinische Galerie as a must-see.

Though satellite events, like Konstantin Grcic’s reception at 032c Workshop, began as early as Tuesday, the official openings for Gallery Weekend ran Friday from 2 to 9 PM—making for a delirious seven-hour social binge (this before dinners and afterparties). The first faces I recognized, at Daniel Buchholz for Nairy Baghramian’s standout show of haunting viscera, were fellow out-of-towners Shaun Caley Regen and Elizabeth Peyton. Alex Logsdail of Lisson Gallery, which is opening its own Ai show next week, popped up everywhere. At Tanya Leighton gallery for Gianni Jetzer’s “The Confidence-Man,” I spotted artist Gabriel Kuri and avuncular dealer Darren Flook, the latter “just doing the whole German thing—eating sausages for breakfast, staying in flats four times the size of what I’ve got in London.” I didn’t see any natives (besides dealers) until late afternoon. “Berliners don’t know how to get up in the morning—it’s totally foreign to them,” a friend advised.

“Germans are impregnated with angst,” artist Monica Bonvicini argued between cigarettes at a massive dinner that night at decadent art-world headquarters Grill Royal. She should know better than most, having moved here from Italy in 1986. But angst is for the idle: Who has time to indulge ennui when you have two or three days to hit forty-four “official” shows and a dozen or so other exhibitions (Susan Philipsz at Isabella Bortolozzi, Meredyth Sparks at VW, Berta Fischer at Giti Nourbakhsch, for instance) not on the “list”? “Survival mode” was how Art Basel codirector Annette Schönholzer characterized it, and with her job, that’s hardly an exaggeration.

Left: Artist Olaf Nicolai with dealer Gerd Harry Lybke. Right: Dealer Daniel Buchholz.

The consensus seemed to be that while Gallery Weekend was drawing greater and greater non-art-world crowds, the shows were also becoming more institutional. “It took me twenty years to build a waitlist. You have one in just three?” an incredulous Daniel Buchholz asked Silberkuppe’s Dominic Eichler. Suits were de rigueur, even at some of the parties. For all the sprawl and the occasional riffraff it all felt a bit professional, a bit clean-cut. A bit . . . New York?

On Saturday night, GWB’s monster finale of a dinner was like a battle royale of art-world dignitaries. The crowd—somewhere around a thousand, someone speculated—mingled raucously in the industrial “foyer” of Station-Berlin. Someone gave a short speech that no one could hear, and a giant curtain behind the stage fell away, revealing another room three times the size of the one we were already in. “It’s like Harry Potter,” Helen Marten said, looking out at the rows of banquet tables stacked end to end to fill the stretch of the grand former train depot. “I expect to see Prince William arrive at any moment.” Leap founder-editor Phil Tinari and I took seats—everyone’s napkins were decorated with a single sunflower seed—across from a pair of middle-aged Germans who looked dourly at anyone who lit up a cigarette. (Turns out that one of them was a bigwig in the German Green party.) “I’m having a David Shrigley moment,” my droll neighbor intoned. The night wore on much as one would expect, and we found ourselves at the center of a seemingly endless expanse of art-world “names”: Gilbert & George and Peter Saville and Angela Bulloch and Ingar Dragset and Marc Spiegler (“the Bismarck of the art world,” a friend observed) and Gerwald Rockenschaub and Martin Klosterfelde and pretty much everyone, except, of course, for Ai.

Left: Artists Gilbert & George. (Photo: Nick Ash) Right: Artist Gabriel Kuri.

Left: Artist Helen Marten. Right: Dealers Monika Sprüth and Philomene Magers.

Left: Artist Monica Bonvicini. (Photo: Nick Ash) Right: Dealer Martin Klosterfelde (left)

Left: Dealer Burkhard Riemschneider. Right: Dealer Alexandra Alexopoulou of Galerie Mehdi Chouakri with artist Gerwald Rockenschaub.

Left: Artist John Kleckner. Right: Dealer Javier Peres.

Left: Dealer Darren Flook. Right: Writer and frieze d/e editor Jennifer Allen.

Left: Dealer Tanya Leighton. Right: Art Cologne director Daniel Hug. (Photo: Nick Ash)

Left: Dealer Gisela Capitain. Right: Art Basel codirector Annette Schönholzer with Leap editor Philip Tinari.

Left: Dealer Paul Maenz. (Photo: Nick Ash) Right: Artist Sarah Morris.