Scene & Herd

Routine Pleasures

Left: Kim Gordon. Right: Artist Corinne Wasmuht and Gallery Weekend Berlin organizer Michael Neff. (All photos: Kito Nedo)

IT’S FRIDAY AFTER MIDNIGHT, and we’re standing on the stairs overseeing the dancing crowd at Times Bar. A DJ team plays Smurf techno and the go-getter, post-Net-art faction of Neukölln’s expat community throws their arms into the air. Times Bar is part of what was, until recently, a well-oiled system of artist dives along the north-south route of the U8 subway, including the now defunct Atlas at Kottbusser Tor and Smaragd in Pankstraße. Tonight at Times it’s a special occasion: Artist Marlie Mul has hung one of her disturbing, cute silk paintings riffing on tobacco culture and pregnancy behind the bar. Next to us, in a moment of drunken Situationist revelation, artist Britta Thie asks the weekend’s fundamental question: “What do we do with this city?” Pure rhetoric, of course, but it felt fitting. The feedback that Kim Gordon and her niece, dancer Elle Erdman, let out at Harlekin in Schöneberg, next to Mathew Gallery, still echoed in our heads.

As usual, it’s hard to remember where this year’s Gallery Weekend Berlin actually began: Maybe on Tuesday night, when the 032c socialites gathered on the third floor of the Brandlhuber building at Brunnenstraße to celebrate a presentation of dealer Alexander Schröder’s private collection. The evening, which was not officially part of the Weekend, offered more evidence that, like his role model Andy Warhol, 032c inventor and German Interview editor in chief Jörg Koch loves to be around beautiful people: models, artists, architects, heirs, soigné creative types.

Left: Dealer Bruno Brunnet of Contemporary Fine Arts. Right: Dealer Alexander Koch, artist Alice Creischer, and architect Arno Brandlhuber.

The air was stale and the iPod delivered a crude mix of electro-post-punk. In a twenty-six-foot-long Konstantin Grcic–designed display cabinet, Schröder presented a mélange of Asian antiques and contemporary art: rolled-up Persian carpets, Chinese and Japanese tea sets, and Mao’s Little Red Book, as well as art by Danh Vo and lunch-box objects by Rirkrit Tiravanija. Schröder spurned the chance to “show off,” flaunting instead his disregard for the pervasive imperative for transparency. Nevertheless, this evening the drama felt a little habitual, a vibe matched by the worn carpets on display. We came back to the first floor of the same premises on Saturday morning, when artist Alice Creischer and her dealer, Galerie KOW’s Alexander Koch, performed a reading from Creischer’s new play. The subject? The illusion that scientific knowledge is unbiased by ideological power (prominently featuring a bunch of lab mice, of course).

In one way or another, most of the things that happened during the latest iteration of Gallery Weekend thematized the very idea of routine and, subsequently, offered lessons on how to cope with bad habits. The Weekend, now in its eighth year, opened alongside the Seventh Berlin Biennale. The novelty and excitement of each has attenuated. Both are professionalized affairs, but each has different strategies for dealing with this. The biennial—cocurated by Polish artist Artur Żmijewski and Joanna Warsza and associate curators Voina—felt like a case of auto-aggression. Instead of artists showing their work, Żmijewski invited Occupy activists to camp inside the ground floor of the Kunst-Werke during the biennial’s two-month tenure. But the revivification of social sculptor Joseph Beuys as globalization protester (sponsored by 2.5 million euros from the German Federal Cultural Foundation) came off thin. The motto was: “What can art do for real politics?” But in reality it looked like politics only; the art seemed lost on the way. An exemplary statement by Voina, distributed on Wednesday during the biennial press conference, read: “Exhibitions are harmful to contemporary art. Artists only think about what and where they can exhibit. So, the less exhibits at the biennial, the better.” For Ingo Arend, the critic of the leftish-liberal daily Tageszeitung, the biennial succeeded in discrediting political art. Its failure proved to be just another sad example of the “disturbed relationship to aesthetics of many leftists.”

Left: Magician Freddie Rutz and dealer Isabella Bortolozzi. Right: Dealer Johann König (left).

Accordingly, there was a schism between the opening of the biennial and the Gallery Weekend: Although the two events took place in venues throughout the city, one felt one had to make an either/or decision. (Additionally, of course, there were many alternatives to both, such as the excellent Tarkovsky-inspired, post-Fukushima group show “La Zona” at Kreuzberg’s NGBK.) The only moment of intersection between Gallery Weekend and the biennial came early Thursday evening. On one side of the Augustraße, in the backyard of the former Jewish School for Girls (now a clone of the restaurant Grill Royal), there was the inaugural Gallery Weekend cocktail. Across the street, at the Kunst-Werke, the biennial’s opening commenced. “Here are the 1 percent—over there the 99 percent,” the critic Dominikus Müller joked. Was it really that easy? Probably not. Shortly after the opening, the group Rosa Perutz published a strong critique of the biennial’s radical-chic impetus: “In their appeal, the biennial reproduces the usual appeals to God, nation, and state as safe factors of collectivization and recalls reactionary stereotypes of repressive mass art, which seeks to ensure a community cohesion of their audience by emotional overwhelming.”

As for Gallery Weekend, well, that’s a different matter. The event that began in 2005 with twenty-one participants has come of age (and then some). With fifty-one participating galleries this year, it feels saturated. Big, waterproof exhibitions with Julian Schnabel (Contemporary Fine Arts), Jenny Holzer (Sprüth Magers), and Robert Longo (Capitain Petzel) were symptomatic of the event’s glossy, fail-safe side. The more progressive, adventurous shows were to be found at Bortolozzi (a group exhibition that included local magicians who share the gallery’s building), Croy Nielsen (Andy Boot), and Supportico Lopez (Gino De Dominicis). On Saturday, 1,300 dealers, collectors, artists, and critics attended the now traditional gala dinner, which this year took place in the grand foyer and staircase of a Jugendstil courthouse near Alexanderplatz. It was a casual, buffet affair, and the whole thing buzzed like a beehive. We enjoyed the mundane setting. But somehow we couldn’t resist asking the sponsor’s shuttle service to take us to the Smaragd Bar for our last drink.

Left: Nationalgalerie director Udo Kittelmann, dealer Esther Schipper, collector Charlotte von Koerber, and Christina Weiss of the Verein der Freunde der Nationalgalerie. Right: Artist Robert Longo (right) signs books.

Left: Artist Martin Eder and dealer Kerstin Wahala of Eigen + Art. Right: Artist Corinne Wasmuht with Kunstraum Innsbruck curator Veit Loers and Kunst-Werke curator Susanne Pfeffer.

Left: Critic Tobias Timm and artist Olaf Nicolai. Right: Artist Peter Saville.

Left: Artists Marlie Mul and Anne de Vries. Right: Dealer Lars Friedrich and artist Peter Wächtler.