Exile on Main St.


Left: Gallery Weekend Berlin organizer Michael Neff with AXA ART's Stefan Horsthemke. Right: Artist Ken Okiishi, dealer Alex Zachary, and artist Nick Mauss in line for the Bode Museum. (Photos: Trevor Good)

IN A CITY that seems to eat, breathe––nay, live art year-round, the idea of a Gallery Weekend seems conspicuously commercial, if not clunkily redundant. (As a friend put it, “Isn’t every weekend a ‘gallery weekend’?”) Granted, it does have the civic advantage of luring the rest of the art world to town, thus concretizing an abstract place-name typically preceded by “lives and works in”––at least for a few nights. And, for those who actually do live and work here, it serves as a reminder that, while Berlin may well be historicized one day as having been the capital of artistic production in the early twenty-first century, it remains at some remove from being the capital of the art market.

Of course, those aware of this are also likely to be cognizant of the numerous openings and events taking place outside of the official program of openings at forty of Berlin’s powerhouse galleries. For us, the weekend began on Thursday night at the mysteriously titled group show “33 115 68” at Exile, the space run by the charismatic artist Christian Siekmeier. The exhibition consisted of an eclectic collection of objects and drawings by Carola Deye, Haris Epaminonda, Nschotschi Haslinger, Adrian Hermanides, Katharina Marszewski, and Stefanie Popp, and it posed the question (according to the press release) of “how much we really have to know in order to approach and decipher a piece of art.” This privileging of intuition and aestheticism over the conceptual would set the tone for the weekend, and it also seemed to fit the practices of many members of the Berlin artistic elite who turned out at the opening, such as expat musicians Joel Gibb, front man of the Hidden Cameras, and Snax, who were seen discussing an upcoming collaboration. “I’m going to play keyboards at a few Hidden Cameras shows,” Snax said, when pressed for details. “Joel wants an all-gay touring band for Europe.”

The official weekend kicked off on Friday, with so many openings and parties crammed into one night that even the most ambitious spectator couldn’t hope to attend but half. Indeed, given Berlin’s sprawling geography and lack of a centralized gallery district, one suspects that the greatest beneficiaries of Gallery Weekend were the city’s taxi drivers. I did much better than I thought—and even managed most of it by foot, to take advantage of the pleasant weather—making it to at least a dozen openings before having to rejuvenate with Vietnamese soup in Mitte. Standouts included the massive Cecily Brown show at Contemporary Fine Arts, Nick Mauss at Galerie Neu, Andreas Gursky at Sprüth Magers, Matthias Dornfeld at Galerie Ben Kaufmann, and Jitka Hanzlová at Kicken Berlin.

Left: Artbar71 proprietor Nathan Köstlin. (Photo: Mario Dzurila) Right: Samuel and critic and curator Stéphanie Moisdon. (Photo: Nicolas Trembley)

Of course, if there’s one thing that Berliners love more than art, it’s partying, and one suspects that the late-night festivities were the real cause of the weekend. After dinner, we had a pick-me-up cocktail at Artbar71, probably Berlin’s most exclusive watering hole, which had opted to forgo Gallery Weekend hype and only open its doors for personal friends of proprietor Nathan Köstlin. I asked artist Raul de Nieves, who played Ramada Omar in Ryan Trecartin’s I-BE Area, whether his voice had been digitally altered in the hysterical epic. “No way!” he replied. “I begged Ryan not to change my voice, and in the end, he agreed.” I admired the Stefanie Schneider prints adorning the walls before accompanying de Nieves and musician Susanne Oberbeck (better known as No Bra) to the afterparty at Dice Club for “Self-Consciousness,” the excellent group show at VeneKlasen/Werner curated by Hilton Als and Peter Doig.

The drinks did flow at the open bar, distracting the crowd from Spencer Sweeney’s DJ set, which meant we had the dance floor all to ourselves until pop star Marc Almond took the stage with a guitarist to perform a short set of cheesy pop covers, such as, uhh, “Dream Lover.” After, I confessed to critic Michčle Faguet that it hadn’t been quite what I was expecting. “Did you really think he was going to do ‘Tainted Love’?” she quipped.

Soon thereafter the crowd began to thin, so de Nieves and I opted to journey forth to the Andreas Gursky afterparty beneath Rodeo Berlin’s massive chapel-like dome, where I was pleased to bump into old friends Ken Okiishi and Nick Mauss, as well as curator Michael Rade. Several of us ended up at a less-known bar around the corner, jam-packed with well-dressed and well-intoxicated Bright Young Things determined to dance in spite of the near-hazardous lack of space.

Left: Artist Paul Pfeiffer. Right: Art Basel's Maike Cruse, MoMA PS1 director Klaus Biesenbach, and artist Nina Pohl. (Photos: Trevor Good)

Saturday was May Day, traditionally an all-out anarchist street party–cum-demonstration culminating in overturned burning cars, smashed bank windows, and violent confrontations with riot police in the Kreuzberg district. I played hooky from the proceedings by going back to school––“L’école de Stéphanie,” to be exact. For the project, curator Stéphanie Moisdon brought a number of artists and thinkers to the attic of the Kunst-Werke, which had been outfitted like a barn with hay and caged bunnies, for sixty-minute pedagogical sessions, each strictly demarcated by the ringing of a school bell on the hour. I caught Nathaniel Mellors’s talk on absurdist humor in British popular culture, which was interesting enough. The subsequent session, by Andrea Viliani, on the implications of institutional critique’s cynical subsumation by art institutions in recent years, riffed on David Robbins’s assertion that, in the contemporary art museum, “the history of art should matter less than the history of desires.” Unfortunately, it ended up being too vast a topic for the flustered curator to fully address in the allotted span.

Sunday involved more gallery-hopping, the highlight of which was a stop at STYX Project Space in Friedrichshain for Daniel Turner’s solo exhibition. The show consists of just four pieces, including two “paintings”––actually, tar encased in “canvases” made of transparent vinyl––and two installations: soot-covered ferns sticking out of five glass bottles containing toxic iodine, arranged in a line across the floor, and a wall piece with five US flagpoles holding burned-out road flares. After all the flashy displays of excess I had witnessed in the preceding days, Turner’s show reminded me that sometimes less really is more.

Travis Jeppesen

Left: Artist Raul de Nieves and musician Susanne Oberbeck (No Bra). Right: Curator Michael Rade. (Photos: Mario Dzurila)

Left: Art Basel co-directors Annette Schönholzer and Marc Spiegler. Right: Artist Sturtevant. (Photos: Trevor Good)

Left: Dealer Suzy Shammah, Manfred Hermann, and dealer Claes Nordenhake. (Photo: Trevor Good) Right: Musician Snax. (Photo: Mario Dzurila)