Invitations to gallery openings are a dime a dozen, but how often are you asked to celebrate what can only be described as a freak astrological alignment of the art stars? Last Wednesday, January 23, two artists—supernova Georg Baselitz and meteor Jonathan Meese—celebrated their birthdays with a double opening at Contemporary Fine Arts (CFA) in the gallery’s new digs across from Museum Island. Meese, who turned thirty-eight, filled the ground floor with big bronze sculptures and even bigger paintings in vampire shades of red, black, and white. Baselitz, celebrating his grand seventieth, took up the second floor with fresh “remixes” of his own paintings from 1966, which were also on display thanks to loans from the Berlinische Galerie and private collectors.
But could the shared birth date with a German Painting Meister be a mere coincidence? After all, if Meese had been born just one day earlier, he’d be sharing his birthday with Picabia instead of Baselitz. One day later, and we’d all be celebrating with Vito Acconci. I decided to go to the source: Brigitte Meese herself (aka Mummi). Was Frau Meese in on some cosmic plan? “Oh, no, it’s just a coincidence, which the gallery discovered only last fall,” she said, fresh from her interviews with several German television stations. “Our family never had anything to do with art until Jonathan came along.”
It seems that there were no signs—celestial or otherwise—of a budding talent in baby Johnny. “He was never interested in art,” said Frau Meese. “Then, when he turned twenty-two, he wanted a drawing block for his birthday. I was not at all amused. Back then, a drawing block cost sixty deutsche marks.” Since then, I suppose that the initial investment had paid off—and not just in hard cash. “When Jonathan rewards himself after finishing a major project, it’s by eating and buying books,“ she said, adding in a discreet whisper, “One can see that a little bit on his figure . . .”
Speaking of bibliophilia, CFA produced two gigantic catalogues, which guests were snapping up as mementos for fifty euros apiece. Well-wishers, carrying gifts in all shapes and sizes, had come from near and far: Sir Norman Rosenthal, who organized the Baselitz retrospective at the Royal Academy in London; curator Christophe Joachimides, who co-organized the “Zeitgeist” project in 1982; and German museum directors Max Hollein, of the Schirn Kunsthalle and the Städelmuseum in Frankfurt, and Peter-Klaus Schuster, general director of the Berlin museums. Artists—painters and otherwise—seemed to transform the gallery into a living pantheon: Neo Rauch, Albert Oehlen, Peter Doig, Marc Brandenburg, Katja Strunz, Andreas Slominski, Robert Lucander, Daniel Richter, and Eberhard Havekost, who gave Baselitz a few homemade compilation CDs featuring hip-hop from LA (the Meister had once given him jazz LPs).
There was more music—and merriment—at the Clärchen’s Ballhaus, where three hundred guests gathered for the birthday party with a sit-down dinner followed by dancing to a live band. Bruno Brunnet, taking the stage with CFA owners Philipp Haverkampf and Nicole Hackert (once again wearing the hottest high heels!), announced: “It’s art’s birthday today!” Another guest had also just turned a year older: Baden Baden museum director Karola Grässlin, while ninety-eight-year-old Rudolf Springer, Baselitz’s first dealer, decided to symbolically celebrate his hundredth. For fame and longevity—or for astrological harmony between German artists, museums, and dealers—Aquarius is the sign, and January 23 is the date. Coincidentally, it was also the anniversary of the death of Joseph Beuys.
And what did the birthday boys think of the evening? “Everyone is pretty crazy, especially in Berlin,” said Baselitz, decked out in a snappy black suit and a white tie. “There is no ground, and the sky’s the limit.” I wanted to talk with Meese, but a waiter’s seemingly bottomless bottle of bubbly was too great a distraction, so I gave Meese my pen and my notebook. The next morning, when I could read again, I found the following message written in his scrawling script: “Art is sweetsweetsweet. Mummy is art. Art is bossbaby. The boss is coming, Dr. No, art’s baby.”