Quarter Pounder

Left: Kunst-Werke director Krist Gruijthuijsen and artist Hito Steyerl. Right: Artist Monica Bonvinici, Berlin Biennale director Gabriele Horn, MoMA PS1 director Klaus Biesenbach, and artists Katharina Sieverding and Tobias Rehberger. (All photos: Louisa Elderton)

YOU WOULD BE HARD-PRESSED to find anyone who dresses up in Berlin—a heel over two inches, a shade that isn’t some variation of black. So the fundraiser gala a fortnight back to mark twenty-five years of Berlin’s Kunst-Werke Institute for Contemporary Art was the perfect excuse for me, a Londoner away from home, to don a dress and soak up the glamour.

How to make an entrance? Upon arriving, each guest was passed a lapis lazuli helium-filled balloon emblazoned with the letters KW. Moving through the candlelit courtyard (home to so many artist interventions through the years) most of these either escaped into the night sky or made it into the gallery only to float to the ceiling, forming a blanket of blue as the night progressed. I immediately bumped into curator Kasper König, who is busily preparing 2017’s iteration of the decennial Skulptur Projekte Münster; KW’s founding director Klaus Biesenbach, who had flown in for the night and was talking with collectors Karen and Christian Boros; and artist Donata Wenders, who too had just returned to Berlin following a grueling travel schedule.

The real entrance of the night, however, went to KW’s new director, Krist Gruijthuijsen, who was accompanied by a fanfare of bagpipes as he descended the staircase dressed in exquisite drag—a Marilyn Monroe–style wig and a floor-length sequin dress shimmering under the spotlight. “This is the future, Donald Trump,” he uttered, before describing the evening’s program as “a variety show of people from the past and people from the future” and asking for a round of applause for the next curator of the Berlin Biennale 2018, Gabi Ngcobo, who was present in the audience.

Left: Klaus Biesenbach and artist Olafur Eliasson. Right: Artist Adam Christensen.

Dinner was served in the gallery’s main exhibition space, long tables laced with silver glitter surrounding a stage where talks, music, and performances were offered up to more than three hundred guests. With a Jeremy Deller–initiated menu card colorfully drawn by a child, we feasted on soup with a beetroot lollipop, mushroom risotto, and tagliatelle ragout, followed by panna cotta served in a whisky tumbler. The degree to which the cocktail-and-champagne-soaked crowd listened to the night’s events was debatable, as artists who took to the stage struggled to be heard over the din—a little disrespectful amid a supposedly art-loving audience. Nora Turato pointed this out during her pseudo-rap performance, quieting the masses only momentarily.

Others to take to the stage included KW board member Julia Stoschek—whose Düsseldorf-based collection has just opened a branch in Berlin in a building that formerly housed the Czech Cultural Centre in East Germany—and artists Monica Bonvicini, Karl Holmqvist, Tobias Rehberger, and Katharina Sieverding, all of whom expressed their support for the institution. Nils Bech serenaded the audience with an a capella song.

Celebrating the 6,200 artists who have shown at KW over the past twenty-five years, Olafur Eliasson (another member of the board) promoted an artist portfolio of works by Andrea Büttner, Omer Fast, Carsten Höller, Adam Pendleton, and Santiago Sierra, saying, “We don’t want corporations to fund KW. . . We are the pebbles on the beach,” and imploring the crowd to help finance the exhibitions program. Each limited edition was hung around the edge of the room to further tempt collectors.

Left: Artist Kerstin Cmelka. Right: Gabriele Horn with collectors Julia Stoschek, Christian Boros, and Karen Boros.

I sat across from one of the very first artists to ever exhibit at KW, in the 1990s, Milovan Destil Marković, who organized a football match of artist versus curators—apparently they “let” the curators win, probably wise. His father had survived a concentration camp during World War II, and the recent rise of right-wing political agendas was all we could talk about. To my right was Hito Steyerl and architect Matthias Böttger, whose current exercise regime sees him dancing as animals: lions, lizards, hedgehogs, hippos. And in the name of dancing, to my left was David Regehr, owner of Berlin’s Clärchens Ballhaus, a former ballroom built in 1895 just down the road from KW on Auguststraße. True to its tradition, his wife, Lisa Regehr, continues to teach tango, salsa, and cha-cha to budding dancers amid the historic building’s antique mirrors.

The evening’s highlights were saved until last, as the mesmerizing Adam Christensen sang the blues and played the accordion, his gravelly, poetic voice full of passion and emotion. He was followed by Dorit Chrysler, who played the theremin—an early electronic instrument that remains hypnotic and bewitching. As empty tables displayed the remnants of chili-pepper-spiced cocktails and discarded desserts slopped on their sides, we all made our way to the dance floor, where beats drew people into the early hours, silver disco balls spinning above, heels off.