First Time’s a Charm

Left: Art Cologne director Daniel Hug with dealer Jochen Meyer and artist Julia Müller. Right: Art Berlin director Maike Cruse.

BERLIN IS IN THE MIDST OF CHANGE, both seasonal and structural. Seasonal because a summer of torrential rain has finally given way to the blue skies and orange hues of autumn, and structural because, as Forbes said earlier this year, Berlin has “turned into a thriving global capital that draws investors.”

One of said investors is the respected fair Art Cologne, which has now merged with art berlin contemporary (abc) to create Art Berlin. This event was inaugurated last week and, as most of Berlin’s art world succumbed to the flu, sales soared for art and Ibuprofen alike.

The city’s exponential development seems motored by the merging art, techno, and startup scenes, as successful DJs become collectors and investors. Two openings in reappropriated (that is, gentrified) buildings marked an early start to Berlin Art Week: Haegue Yang’s towering venetian-blind installation at Neukölln’s KINDL Centre for Contemporary Art (a former brewery) and the Volksbühne’s contemporary dance festival, mounted by new artistic director Chris Dercon and French choreographer Boris Charmatz, at one of Tempelhof Airport’s defunct hangars. As the sun set across the vast horizontal park, a pink glow was cast upon hip-hop, house, and vogue dancers, who moved into the darkness.

Left: KW director Krist Gruijthuijsen. Right: Curator Octavio Zaya, dealer Barbara Thumm, and artist Dread Scott.

Tuesday was marked by the late Brazilian designer Bea Feitler’s exhibition at Wolfgang Tillmans’s project space, Between Bridges. Following his anti-Brexit campaign, Tillmans is again engaged in politics, encouraging young left-wing German voters to turn up for the September 24th general election.

Wednesday saw Willem de Rooij’s opening at KW Institute. My own cold brought me down, but I was determined to make it out to Potsdam’s historic Villa Schöningen, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where British artist and poet Billy Childish is showing paintings. His haunting, introspective works depict figures and landscapes inspired by Edvard Munch and Egon Schiele. Performing a cappella music and poetry for the first time in more than a year, he thrilled audience members, including Berlin stalwarts Eva & Adele—“I’m meant to read some poems, that’ll get rid of ya!”—while his dedicated dealer, Tim Neuger, told me about his first-ever meeting with Childish, traveling hundreds of miles to find the artist seated at a grand piano. The museum’s founder is the charismatic Mathias Döpfner, CEO of publishing company Axel Springer, who talked of his passion for the building—which was designed for a Prussian King and later abandoned by a fleeing Jewish family. Cocktail revelers returned to Berlin for a party bathed in red light at BRICKS, while I went home for a hot lemon-and-ginger.

The next day, Art Berlin’s opening was marked by an energy that has been lacking from the fair’s prior iterations. One hundred and ten galleries from sixteen countries came together to expand the former output by presenting contemporary and modern art, attracting collectors including Harald Falckenberg (who claimed it was the best fair he had been to in years), Uli Sigg, and the Boroses. Booths ranged from Sprüth Magers’s chaotic John Bock extravaganza, complete with acid-green walls, to Gillmeier Rech, participating in a Berlin fair for the first time, and Norway’s Galerie Opdahl, which showed the dreamily corporeal sculptures of British artist Rebecca Ackroyd. OUTSET’s award went to Julian Charrière and Julius von Bismarck, whose work Objects in Mirror Might Be Closer Than They Appear, 2016–17, will join the Sprengel Museum’s collection in Hannover.

Left: Artist Geoffry Farmer, Schinkel Pavillon director Nina Pohl, and Maria Eve Lafontaine. Right: Dealers Amadeo Kraupa-Tuskany and Nadine Zeidler.

The evening’s opening took place at the Hamburger Bahnhof, where the surreal “Festival of Future Nows 2017” mixed performances featuring an indoor forest, drones, interactive screens, and walking doors. Highlights included Fabian Knecht’s The Falling Man—Knecht is known for setting fire to the roof of the Neue Nationalgalerie—and the festival’s founding director Olafur Eliasson could be seen wandering the cavernous hall.

A multitude of gallery openings took place the following evening, in the former East and West alike. Esteemed visitors, including Hito Steyerl, perused the videos at Harun Farocki’s exhibition at Galerie Barbara Weiss. (Farocki, who made more than ninety experimental films, died in 2014 and also has a retrospective at the Neuer Berliner Kunstverein.) Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler launched a new gallery just next door, an exciting step for this interesting pair, and is currently showing Andreas Crespo’s videos and drawings.

Cycling down the road, I popped into Monica Bonvicini’s show at the Berlinische Galerie, where her giant scaffold and wall divide the space in two, and nearby, ChertLüdde is showing the archive of Ruth Wof-Rehfeldt, an East German artist now in her mid-eighties who stopped working when the wall fell in 1989 and who was included in this year’s Documenta 14. In Schöneberg, there was British sculptor Holly Hendry at Arratia Beer, whose strata of rose marble, jesmonite, and oak are intestinal in appearance, and Michael Simpson at Blain|Southern, an octogenarian painter whose elegant renderings of stairways were presented by the gallery’s Craig Burnett and Jess Fletcher.

Performance at BRICKS by Isabella Fürnkäs for Berlin Art Week launch party. (Photo: Camila McHugh)

I went onto Sprüth Magers’s dinner at Le Petit Royal, where artist Jon Rafman’s charming mother, Sandra (a pediatric psychologist), greeted visitors in a whirl of excitement about her son’s brilliant gallery show. I chatted with artist Simon Denny, Future Gallery dealer Mike Ruiz, and Feuerle director Daniele Maruca, who kindly invited me to visit the collection of Asian art the next day, housed in a World War II bunker—an offer I gleefully accepted, despite staying out until the early hours of the morning partying with Julia Stoschek at Kudamm Karre, a smoky knieper in a shopping center.

Despite being ready to collapse into a heap of tissues by the weekend, I found time to visit the Schinkel Pavillon on Saturday, where Geoffrey Farmer’s show of sculptural reproductions from antiquity to modern times perfectly complemented my experience of the Feuerle Collection. During the institution’s dinner at the Kronprinzenpalais (Crown Prince’s Palace), I sat with Stoschek Collection director Monica Kerkmann while Schinkel director Nina Pohl heaped rightful praise on Farmer.

The week came to a fitting end on Sunday as I met with Art Berlin director Maike Cruse, who had just returned from giving a tour to supercurator Hans Ulrich Obrist. Though ever cool, she had caught the—now infamous—Berlin cold. She was happily ready to fall into fall, hot off the heels of a successful fair that has seen her signing another three-year lease at the venue, Station Berlin. I just hope a year is enough time to recover before round two.

Left: Dealer Florian Lüdde, artist Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt, and dealer Jennifer Chert. Right: Villa Schöningen museum founder Mathias Döpfner, artist Billy Childish, and Villa Schöningen curator Ina Grätz.

Left: Dealers Deborah Schamoni, Alex Freedman, and Fiona Bate. Right: Curators Lauryn Youden and Kate Brown of Ashley.