Scene & Herd

My So-Called Weekend

Left: Artist Christian Jankowski (left). Right: Dealer Daniel Wichelhaus and artist Petra Cortright. (Except where noted, all photos: Paige K. Bradley)

I WAS EXPECTING A WARM WELCOME in Berlin. But instead, the schizophrenic weather beckoned me into more of a winter formal for the city’s twelfth annual Gallery Weekend. Carly Fiorina was announced as Ted Cruz’s running mate for the GOP nomination—meanwhile I entered into the running for Most Precocious Chickadee on the Berlin art-world circuit.

Run by Maike Cruse, formerly of the Art Basel Circus Circus Incorporated, Gallery Weekend is meant to promote the vitality and diversity of Berlin’s gallery scene, with openings and happenings across the city’s best Bergs “bringing people back into the gallery spaces.” Ballooning to about fifty participating galleries this year, the weekend seems to have reached the point where it’s trying to strike the balance between exciting and overwhelming, to say nothing of the redefinition of the word “weekend,” considering that the weekend began as early as last Tuesday.

Being a working girl myself, my weekend started on Thursday with a stop at Johnen Galerie for an exhibition by German sculptor Martin Honert, whose softly luminous Schlafsaal, Modell 1:5, a wooden diorama of glowing electric lights hidden behind models of radiators and wardrobes was, as senior director Cornelia Tischmacher explained, based on a dormitory from a boarding school the artist attended as a young Honert. Lovely as it was, one couldn’t dawdle here with a reminder of precious rest—soldier on, young art worker! Next was Tomás Saraceno at Esther Schipper, soon to be merging with Johnen, where an Arachno Concert dangled a live spider at the center of a web for a “chamber performance where wave frequencies extend from the vibratory world of the spider throughout the cosmos.” And you thought Berlin artists were lazy. Even the dead can muster something up for a Gallery Weekend—Michel Majerus’s estate hosted a group exhibition in far-flung Prenzlauer Berg, where his own work in video and painting came together with memorable art by Ida Ekblad and Karl Holmqvist.

Left: Artist Anri Sala. Right: Critic Kolja Reichert and artist Angela Bulloch.

The totally bipolar skies complemented the mood of Isa Genzken’s retrospective at Martin-Gropius-Bau, a terrific spritzer prior to the official opening reception at the Hebbel am Ufer. Chatting with KOW’s Raphael Oberhuber outside the lobby of that awkward mixer, we compared notes on New York versus Berlin and the relative quality of artists in LA. Us toilers in the field of culture adore discussing everywhere we aren’t, but we agreed that, as far as Berlin goes, “you can drift here.” Dealer Guido W. Baudach popped up to enthuse endearingly on the vulgarity of Princess Gloria von Thurn und Taxis’s show of portraits, as curated by Jeff Koons, opening at a “concept store” called The Corner, just around the corner. “She’s the new Elizabeth Peyton!”

Uber-ing to Société for a book launch by Kaspar Müller, I was also treated to a preview of Petra Cortright’s latest paintings and videos, with one of the former merging the two into something between a screensaver and a real-time finger-painting session. Cortright expounded on her “mother files” of Photoshop layers used to make her pieces, while a clipped and collaged video of herself dressed in Stella McCartney threads parallel the artist’s own chic, mesh Stella-embroidered jacket.

Later at the Esther Schipper and Johnen dinner at Crackers—formerly known as Cookies in the 1990s, how taste buds change—Neue Nationalgalerie director Udo Kittelmann gave me a teaser of its upcoming George Condo exhibition, which includes Picasso and Matisse—“not a dialogue, but a confrontation.” Haus der Kulturen der Welt’s Anselm Franke occupied the wall nearest the bar with Tomás Saraceno, who made an invite to his studio—filled with tanks of spiders—sound more like a Fear Factor contest than an aesthetic investigation.

Left: Johnen Galerie’s Cornelia Tischmacher, artist Martin Honert and Berlin Nationalgalerie director Udo Kittelmann. Right: Artist Tomás Saraceno and dealer Esther Schipper.

A couple artists from Esther Schipper’s stable seemed (mistakenly) under the impression that I was a representative from Getty Images sent to immortalize their bad fashion sense in high resolution. Leapfrogging over their heads to the König Galerie afterparty, the local Drift became more of a March of the Aggro Penguins, as DJs spun something repetitive and Manifesta curator Christian Jankowski swayed in time alternating between nodding in affirmation and shaking his head in cheerful denial. Oh, and there was free roaming around the exhibitions of Annette Kelm and Claudia Comte. The vibe was dark through and through—why couldn’t we just twitch to Aphex Twin or grind to Beyoncé instead of this simulacra of a party? I scooted to await the daybreak from the safety of my own artisanally-reclaimed-whatever hotel room.

Friday morning I peeled off to Anne Collier at Galerie Neu, where selections from her “Women Crying” series felt relevant to this sleep-deprived lady. Neugerriemschneider staged an exhibition by Tobias Rehberger comprising works from such esteemed figures as Andreas Gursky, Isa Genzken, and Wolfgang Tillmans, among others, but the suffocating installation made everything look generic, flat, and uninspired—plus I was hungry. Thankfully, Tanya Leighton’s lunch at the legendary Paris Bar came just in time to soothe my pain, and assuage my offended sensibilities. Thrown in honor of Aleksandra Domanović’s latest show for the gallery, Belgian collectors Mimi Dusselier and Bernard Soens slid in and I took a seat with Matt Moravec from New York and Düsseldorf’s Off Vendome, Karen Roth from NPR Berlin, and Tanya’s right-hand man and good luck charm Patrick Armstrong.

Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler’s Rachel Harrison show in the Berliner Zeitung office building featured a conference table of colorful wood, polystyrene, and cement sculptures in a bland, gray room—as if convening to discuss their own projected profit margins. Some resembled fitness bells, deformed by their casting, with one sporting a pencil stabbed into the top. Harsh. A crew of rubber gym balls congregated below the tables, all hemmed in by black office chairs and a sterile atmosphere. Some people even live like this. The German culture minister Monika Grütters, she of the controversial push for a law to curtail exports of art and antiquities from the country, stopped by to have a gander with an accompanying entourage of officious looking peeps. Collectors Karen and Christian Boros seemed charmed by the install as well.

Left: Texte zur Kunst editor in chief Carly Busta. Right: DIS's Marco Roso and Lauren Boyle.

Twilight! Mathew Gallery opened an exhibition of new paintings by Richard Phillips that engage the legacy of Gerhard Richter, and while women still haunt the pictures, now they’ve been pushed into the background, drifting underneath a highly complex over-layer that takes on “a veil of valuation about an artistic language.” I bounced to Isabella Bortolozzi for Oscar Murillo’s latest diegesis, where a major queue had already formed for his boot-camp menagerie with a pungent environmental aroma surrounding bare metal bunk frames, shoving the beds we don’t have to sleep on into our faces. I walked a few blocks to Ed Fornieles’s show at Arratia Beer, where I found a video—which also watches you via a surveillance camera—a vegetable cart, and backlit, 3-D-printed figurines in glass cases. The vegetables will be replaced throughout the show and the old ones will be made into new works, as he told me later over a glass of still water at the spa. I went to Buchholz, where Wolfgang Tillmans was showing photos based on his own studio, only to discover that my own battery was kaput. Sometimes the soul wants to party but the body just screams and dies anyway.

Saturday morning: Alive but just barely, I slouched to KW Institute as I heard there was to be a performance. Finding none, I took time to be entranced by Lawrence Lek’s video and accompanying video game installation, Berlin Mirror (2042 Retrospective). Down the road, Hiwa K’s show at KOW featured videos of the artist dancing flamenco on the grounds of a former Iraqi prison used by Saddam Hussein as a base for torture. Dealer Raphael Oberhuber gave us the backstory: The artist emigrated to Germany via the same route refugees are taking today through Greece, and a pair working for the Red Cross happened to come into the gallery a few days prior and recognize the man who filmed the second video in the gallery of the last day of Iraq’s own protest movement during the Arab Spring. That man was since captured by ISIS, and now is forced to do photography and propaganda for them, but the gallerygoers have vowed to try and find and rescue him.

Back around KW and the galleries on Mitte’s Linienstraße, the ambling crowds blended in well with the al fresco diners. I was surrounded by leisure—terrifying. But on to dinner! Waiting to ascend the boat that would take a motley assortment of artists, dealers, and collectors to the Altes Kraftwerk on the outskirts of town for the annual Gala, Société’s Daniel Wichelhaus handed down from on high a Petra Cortright x Société energy drink—or prosecco, who can tell the difference?—which held me through the normally triggering experience of boating.

Left: Chateau Shatto's Nelson Harmon and artist Hayal Pozanti. Right: Silberkuppe's Michel Ziegler and Dominic Eichler.

After disembarking and securing passage through several checkpoints, Cruse gave a welcome speech applauding this year as “the strongest edition yet,” saying “we’re here to celebrate the artists” in a place abandoned for twenty years. Plunking into a seat across from Texte zur Kunst’s editor in chief Carly Busta and nearby DIS’s Marco Roso, and Lauren Boyle—who recently had twins!—I learned that the upcoming Berlin Biennale—or simply BB9—would be titled “The Present in Drag.” Charming, and we were certainly all in our best adult professional drag that night. As the night wore on, though, it started to feel a little heavy, too creasy and oily, so I shucked mine and ran off with DIS’s Ada O’Higgins and Ed Fornieles to the afterparty next door.

Partying in Berlin, like dying, is an art, and Berliners do it especially well. One doesn’t fuck around here. Instead one must stride forward with purpose and fortitude and find out who your man’s going to be—this is the First Quarter. After you’ve had your fill of a current setting’s social potential, to say nothing of dessert, you roundly denounce the scene into which you’ve been cast and decamp for higher—or lower, depending on how you roll— ground. A site of historical trauma and betrayed ideology works well for the latter, as in the case of Bortolozzi and Galerie NEU’s afterparty at Funkhaus, which used to be the very unfunky GDR communications headquarters. The lobbies were fantastic—those Reds had a way with interior design—and the music was DJ WOF.

I wandered out to the back and powwowed with some locals and their campfire. Not up to fetch another dried Christmas tree from the nearby dark, leafy grove to stoke the fire, I slunk back to the shindig which had not more than a few similarities to an open-studio night at a grim but highly conceptual art school. We were in the waxing gibbous phase, that time of night when one simply affirms, you’ll say yes to anything. At dawn, the remainders sashayed away with the confidence that only comes to those who have spent the entire night making merry, or Schadenfreude, all over a grave marker to a totalitarian regime.

Now it was that time of a night (and morning) when you enter denial. It was also May Day. I taxied to Hans Ulrich Obrist’s 6:30 AM Brutally Early Club meeting down the block from Gorlitzer park in Kreuzberg. I arrived (too) early. Fornieles wouldn’t shut up about duvets, and eventually it seemed too brutal to stay, so I left only a token of global capitalism’s hegemony behind for the woke to contemplate. Workers of the world unite and take over.

Left: Artist Richard Phillips and Mathew Gallery's David Lieske. Right: Texte zur Kunst publisher Isabelle Graw with architect Jakob Lehrecke. (Photo: David Lieske)

Left: Artist Hiwa K. Right: Gallery Weekend Berlin's Gudrun Landl and dealer Raphael Oberhuber.

Left: Dealer Berta Fischer and artist Alice Channer. Right: Artist Edith Dekyndt with dealer Bernd Reiß and publisher Kirsa Geiser. (Photos: Bitsy Knox)

Left: Curators Karen Archey and Lennart Wolf. (Photo: Bitsy Knox) Right: DIS's Ada O'Higgins and artist Ed Fornieles.

Left: Maike Cruse at Gallery Weekend Gala dinner. Right: Gallery Weekend Gala dinner.

Left: The boat on Media Spree. Right: Spread at Hans Ulrich Obrist’s Brutally Early Club. (Photo: Ed Fornieles)

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