Rave New World

Kristian Vistrup Madsen on Berlin Art Week and Gallery Weekend

Rirkrit Tiravanija, Morgen Ist die Frage (Tomorrow Is the Question) at Berghain. All photos: Kristian Vistrup Madsen.

“THE DANCE FLOOR is so much smaller than I remember.” This is the main feedback you’ll hear from visitors to the recently opened Boros x Berghain exhibition that fills Berlin’s old power plant–cum–legendary nightclub until it’s safe for techno-heads and leather-gays to return to their natural habitat. It used to take hours to get from one end to the other, or so it seemed. Now a small, wonderful Andro Wekua painting lends the space an almost domestic atmosphere. One of Anna Uddenberg’s mannequin sculptures humps the counter in the upstairs Panorama Bar; Sandra Mujinga’s tall hooded figures lurk under a staircase; Willem de Rooij contributed a classy white bouquet (naturally); and Raphaela Vogel, always the size queen, brought a village of massive replicas of architectural landmarks to the equally humongous Halle space, where you’ll also meet the rest of Taschen’s Art Now. But strictly no selfies in the Olafur Eliasson mirrors! Per usual Berghain policy, you get stickers over your phone cameras. 

Wolfgang Tillmans’s solemn pop number, playing in the orange glow of the downstairs dance floor over a slideshow of vegetables and assholes, couldn’t help but sound to me like a swan song. But the farewell is not to Berghain—they own their building and, thanks to nearly $300,000 from the Berlin Senate, can welcome countless paying visitors on countless tiny guided tours. No, it’s to the next tier of clubs. The ones that closed before the pandemic (RIP Griesmühle and KitKat) and the ones that will first give it a go in far-out Schöneweide or Reinickendorf before finally disappearing into the forests of Brandenburg. Of course, this is about not just Covid but the spirit of the times, or rather, times de-spirited. Let’s remember that the Boros Collection’s bunker address was also once a club.

“Berghain is freedom,” said Christian Boros at the press conference. But what is art? The image of freedom? The representation of an idea of freedom? In a nod to happier times, the writer Dorian Batycka had brought his own beer. But even in his iconic look—bleached bob under a Gucci bucket hat—he could not transcend circumstances: a banal walkthrough he’d signed up for by mistake. You’re not allowed to stray from your guided group of five. No one dances. Party’s over. The experience of Berghain is now an extension of the experience of queuing for it. I didn’t go to the Positions Art Fair at the Tempelhof hangar, but word is it was the same: Two-thirds of the event was waiting to get in. 

Freedom, then, is not art itself but the things we do around it. Or this is what I took from Bruno Brunnet’s speech at Tobias Spichtig’s CFA opening the week before. In suspenders and sunglasses and with both hands forked into peace signs, he chanted “Freedom!” thrice, as if casting a spell. No one sat down for the rest of the dinner, but almost everyone pulsed manically on newly outlawed menthol cigarettes. We all do our best in the face of the restrictions, but in glimpses, you sense the unrest stirring below the surface. After all, people don’t come to Berlin to play by the rules.

Simon Mullan, Alles Wird Gut (Everything Will Be Alright) at Dittrich & Schlechtriem.

Meanwhile, brunch has returned with a vengeance, as a presumably more socially distant alternative to dinner. But starting out hungry, tired, and un-drunk, you’ll find yourself much less able to deal with the challenges of socializing, and the open end is its own kind of claustrophobia. The first of these drawn-out meals was in Reinickendorf, of all places, in precisely one of those dilapidated factories enjoying a poor-but-sexy moment as an art venue before the start-ups move in. Zalando was already shooting its look book next door. The future, as we know, is not art but e-commerce. Art, ever grateful, will make a home out of any old pile of bricks while we wait for the future to arrive. It’s a familiar story, but not necessarily an all-bad one. Here, seven galleries—alexander levy, BQ, ChertLüdde, Klemm’s, Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler, PSM, and Plan B—have come together to stage a fair-slash-exhibition that carried a whiff of the city’s old DIY-communitarianism. I was met with another Uddenberg right at the door. Apparently, this is what happens when art cannot be shipped in so easily anymore—we have horny, thonged mannequins crawling all over Gallery Weekend. Yelp!

The next morning, we were brunching again, this time on the HKW’s oversize terrace. Juice came in brown pill jars, leaving guests to wonder if this was indeed a reference to apothecary aesthetics or to the favorite target of the Kreuzberg anti-gentrification brigade—Aesop. (One also wonders: How cute is such a theme in the middle of a medical emergency?) The crowd consisted mostly of dealers and museum workers, since few artists managed to fly in for their own exhibitions this week. In the absence of Ambera Wellmann, D’Ette Nogle, Hadi Fallahpisheh, and others unable to leave, or afraid they wouldn’t be able to return to their various locations, these daytime openings left me feeling slightly bereft.

Galerie Barbara Weiss invited me to dinner at Sale e Tabacchi, perhaps the most well-proportioned room in the city, where I had a long conversation with the intern about earning his high school diploma via Zoom and spending his gap year within the Ringbahn. Feeling weathered and wise, I recommended he study chemistry. To my other side was Steven Cairns of London’s ICA, whom I’d greeted spontaneously as an old pal, though I’ve actually only ever seen him give talks when I was a student years ago. It was around the same time I first went to Berghain. I remember that my friend and I wore matching sailor outfits. “How times have changed,” I moaned. “How we’ve aged.” “Speak for yourself,” said Cairns as he puffed his Juul.

I hope now that the whole world is kind of over, Berlin can stop being over in its own annoying way. When does a place just get to be what it is? Most of us are still here. I hope in the future more people from the outside will come to visit again. In the meantime, I’ll take a lesson from Berlin resident Adrian Piper’s 1973 film The Mythic Being, included in the John Miller–curated exhibition at NBK. In it, she talks about playing Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” in her head while performing a dance routine in the street. This strikes me as a viable option. When clubs turn into galleries, we have to learn to dance to our own tune.

Artist Alexandra Leykauf and dealer Nina Mentrup.

Artist Elif Saydam.

Artists Adam Fearon and Billy Bultheel.

Artists Luzie Meyer, Rosa Aiello, Beth Collar, and Laura Langer.

Berlin culture minister Klaus Lederer, Karen Boros, Juliet Kothe, and Christian Boros of the Boros Foundation.

Curator Steven Cairns and dealer Bärbel Trautwein.

Curator Tenzing Barshee, Frieze editor Andrew Durbin, Mousse editor Isabella Zamboni, writer and cofounder of Art for Black Lives Camila McHugh.

Curators Anna Gritz and Krist Gruijthuijsen and artist Sarah Sejin Chang.

Dealer Gregor Hose, artist Christian Falsnaes, dealer Sabine Schmidt, and curator Daniela Brunand.

Dealers Lucas Casso and Marie-Christine Molitor and editor Pablo Larios.

Katharina Hausladen, Silvia Koch, and Nadja Abt of Texte zur Kunst.

Outgoing director of the Salzburg Summer Academy Hildegund Amanshauser and writer Kimberly Bradley.

Writer Theresa Patzschke and artist Tobias Spichtig.