Scene & Herd

Dinner Reservations


Left: Kirsty Bell and Ali Subotnick. Right: Silke Hohmann and Brigitte Werneburg.

Just how elite can you get? The invitation for a pre-press conference dinner from the 4th Berlin Biennale (BB4) promised the company of a “small, exclusive circle” of guests and curators Maurizio Cattelan, Massimiliano Gioni, and Ali Subotnick. The rarefied group that assembled last week at Kunst-Werke's Dan Graham-designed Café Bravo turned out to be the usual suspects from Berlin's critical establishment—from Süddeutsche Zeitung arts editor Holger Liebs to Frieze scribe Kirsty Bell. As we “lucky few” listened to welcoming speeches by our hosts—Gioni, along with Hortensia Völckers, the formidable director of the Kulturstiftung des Bundes (the main state backer for BB4) and Markus Müller, the BB4 press director and Documenta XI's PR wizard, it began to dawn upon me: This evening, however well-intentioned, might be too elite to be interesting, let alone fun.

After all, what is exclusivity if you can't flaunt it? I tried to imagine throngs outside the café, enviously pressing their noses against the glass. But there was next to no one: One quick glance around the room and you could catalog every guest in attendance. At the dinner table, I sat beside Cattelan, who fed me a string of “exclusive” quotes. What is it like curating the Berlin biennial, titled 'Of Mice and Men?'“ I asked him. ”Exciting . . . challenging . . . rewarding!“ Could this biennial be considered a work of art, like the Sixth Caribbean Biennial? ”Oh no, it's a job."

Left: Maurizio Cattelan. Middle: Sebastian Preuß. Right: Massimiliano Gioni and Hortensia Völckers.

And what a job: After interviewing over 300 Berlin-based artists, Cattelan and company had not only settled on a list of participants—from Tomma Abts to Cathy Wilkes—but also published another edition of Charley (the 700-plus page “Checkpoint” issue). More, it seems, is more: The team also produced a column in the local weekly Zitty, a diary in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung and a fake branch of Gagosian Gallery, opened in September. Did you have a problem with the real Gagosian? “Well, the gallery always wanted to work with me,” explained Cattelan. “So I thought this would be a good way to do it.” Gagosian never answered a request for permission, but “I took their silence as a yes.” Cattelan then insisted on asking me a question: “So . . . where do you come from?”

It was up to superconnector Gioni to incite a more serious mid-meal discussion. His threat—either we ask a question or we don't get the next course—did not deter anyone from remaining silent. But by dessert, the division of labor in the curatorial team was plain to see: Gioni handles statements, Cattelan provides comic relief, and Subotnick is the brains behind this operation. Consider the trio's answers to the sole question, posed by the Tageszeitung's arts editor Brigitte Werneburg. Why open the Berlin Gagosian with a show featuring works by Dorothy Iannone? Gioni went on about how biennials today can present older artists alongside younger ones. Cattelan: “Because she's sexy!” Subotnick: “She has a great apartment!” See what I mean? Everyone knows that real estate trumps sex appeal and curatorial manifestos.