Stocked Market


Left: Autocenter director Joep van Liefland. Right: Zegar Cools with some customers. (All photos: Jennifer Allen)

Expansion is the new name of the game for Berlin galleries. From Contemporary Fine Arts (CFA) to Galerie Nordenhake to Isabella Bortolozzi, many have recently upgraded to bigger and better digs. Never one to miss out on the action, nonprofit platform Autocenter has followed suit, setting a new agenda in the process. “Location is key,” mused Joep van Liefland, who has codirected the gallery—originally located in a former auto-repair shop at the deepest, darkest edge of the eastern district Friedrichshain—with Maik Schierloh since 2001. “We were looking for greater visibility and a larger public,“ explained van Liefland. ”Of course, high-profile neighbors always help.”

Indeed, CFA set up shop in a David Chipperfield–designed building near Museum Island, where swarms of tourists stream in and out of the Pergamon Museum, while Nordenhake moved to a larger location in the Lindenhaus, just down the street from Daniel Libeskind’s landmark Jewish Museum. Now Autocenter—after sharing its garage with the insider nightclub Lovelite—has moved into the floor above discount supermarket Lidl. A quick stroll from the Storkowerstraße station on the S-Bahn, this particular link in the popular chain is one of several big-box stores that have recently sprung up in a no-man's land between Lichtenberg and Friedrichshain. Making my way through the parking lots last Friday, I was greeted by a host of signs announcing BRUTAL BILLIG (“brutally cheap”) and SCONTO SOFORT (“cash-payment discounts”). Good luck finding such promises at Art Basel Miami Beach.

One of Lidl’s holiday-season slogans—LUXUS FÜR ALLE! (“Luxury for all!”)—was so promising that I decided to make a detour to investigate before checking out the Autocenter's grand reopening upstairs. “I'm looking for some art,” I told Lidl Service Team member Frau Herrmann, who smoothly directed me to a DIY craft kit packed with glue, paint, and little seashells (all the way from Florida!). Instead of some long-winded critical-theory spiel, Herrmann gave me the straight talk—“It costs €4.99”—and walked away. The high euro might deter American collectors, but I was ready for some major Christmas shopping.

Left: Artists Jeroen Jacobs and Lucio Auri. Right: Artist Deborah Ligorio and curator Fanny Gonella.

With some dismay, I soon realized that Lidl is undercutting prices for the official avant-garde and threatening to destabilize the entire art market by shamelessly mass-marketing fakes—however fabulous-looking. If Tobias Meyer were here, he'd be banging his hammer in protest! Along with the seashell craft kit, I picked up three Duchampian snow shovels (€14.99 each), a Candice Breitz–friendly karaoke machine (€99.99), a Richard Prince–like fan kit for Rapunzel, Barbie’s German cousin (€4.99), and Thomas Hirschhorn's signature brown masking tape (a five-roll pack for a mere €0.99).

Overloaded with luxury, I ran into some families in the parking lot and convinced them to join me for the opening. “Will we be on TV?” the father asked. “Not quite,” I explained, leading them toward the exhibition: a retrospective featuring artists, from Liu Anping to Suse Weber, who exhibited at the Autocenter’s old location over the last seven years. My personal fave: curator Caroline Eggel's re-creation of her own 2002 group show, “Tomorrow’s Fish & Chips,” as a rickety shelf decked out with works (or photocopies of works) by Pae White, Matthew Monahan, Olafur Eliasson, and Lucio Auri.

But the real showstopper was the new Autocenter Mobile Bar, a 360-degree rotating tap on wheels. “No more lineups!” proclaimed Zegar Cools, a member of the four-man-strong bartender team, who served guests with a speed and cheer that recalled ’50s full-service gas-station attendants. But do all these fancy-schmancy features, however pleasing, spell sellout? “When Autocenter showed at the fake Gagosian Gallery at the last Berlin Biennial,” whispered one guest, who wanted to remain anonymous, “it could only go more mainstream . . . ” But van Liefland enjoys mixing the popular with the peripheral. “We are looking for ‘friends,’ sort of like museum patrons,” he explained. “Instead of getting a wing, Friends of the Autocenter can drink for free at all the openings.”

With my token friendship beer, I wandered out onto the expansive balcony—two thousand square feet with an unobstructed view of the Fernsehturm television tower—and dreamed of future summer barbecues. The gallery will definitely be the place to enjoy both art and sunsets, stretching over the empty skyline before it fills up with the Gagosians, Joplings, and Jablonkas, all trying to catch up with the Autocenter trendsetting machine.

Left: Artists Mai Gunnes and Hester Oerlemans. Right: The Autocenter bar team.