Sexy Back


Left: Collector Axel Haubrock with dealer and Gallery Weekend manager Michael Neff. Right: Curator Daniela Palazzoli, Isabella Bortolozzi, and artist Danh Vo. (All photos: Saskia Draxler)

Berlin’s mayor, Klaus Wowereit, has described his city as “poor but sexy.” Cheap, safe, and social, Berlin offers haven to all kinds of creative freelancers. Although it may be laid-back, however, it is not particularly cosmopolitan. Thus the annual Berlin Gallery Weekend, initiated in 2005 by a number of established Berlin galleries as an attempt to glamorize and internationalize the local art world, has in the past seemed more hopeful than realistic.

This year’s edition opened last Thursday with a VIP tour of the private homes of select dealers. Collectors and journalists were driven through Berlin’s thin traffic in black Audi limousines. What we saw, basically, was a variety of interior-decorating styles. Guido Baudach’s place, for example, had a vintage, flea-market look, while Markus Lüttgen and Thomas Flessenkemper’s apartment high up in one of the Soviet-style towers at Straussberger Platz—where a new showroom for Axel and Barbara Haubrock’s collection and the new Texte Zur Kunst office have recently opened—had a slicker aesthetic. The latter’s interiors were designed by architect Etienne Descloux, who has been hired by many dealers (to design both their homes and galleries), including Giti Nourbakhsch, Isabella Bortolozzi, and Jörg Johnen. Lüttgen pointed out his living-room window to the opposite tower, where David Adjaye is renovating collectors Gaby and Wilhelm Schürmann’s apartment and where Adamski Gallery is located. Straussberger Platz, it seems, is shaping up as something of a hot spot. Many of the hosts seemed a bit reserved (some might say “German”), except for Baudach, whose house has a natural openness and has probably seen many jovial get-togethers.

In the evening, the caravan moved on to the new five-star Hotel de Rome for Gallery Weekend’s opening reception, sponsored by Axa Art. The atmosphere was professional yet stylish. Lively conversations went on between collectors—among them the Haubrocks, Kasia and Pawel Prokesz, and August von Joest—and dealers. “Independent collectors” were also present, an Internet-based organization formed by Wilhelm Schürmann and others who think that not only artists but also collectors have to group together to strengthen their position vis-à-vis the multiheaded monster called the art market.

Left: Artist Carroll Dunham. Right: Collectors Kasia and Pawel Prokesz with dealer Giti Nourbakhsch.

Many of us reconvened at 1 PM the next day for a Felliniesque event: the laying of the cornerstone for an avant-garde condo building at Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz, designed by architect Roger Bundschuh in cooperation with artist Cosima von Bonin, that will be inhabited mostly by art-world players like Munich collector Peter Wiese and Chinese artist Zhao Gang. Sunglasses were needed, perhaps because, in the bright sunlight, the guests’ morning-after faces looked just a bit too real.

Some of the openings that night were sparsely attended, leading us to wonder whether the whole event was a bit overambitious, given the actual size of the local audience. Bortolozzi had her hip, youngish crowd, while the “serious” people went to David Claerbout’s brilliant show at Galerie Johnen. Carlier Gebauer was exhibiting many Erik Schmidt paintings in their giant new gallery in Markgrafenstrasse. It seemed, however, to be just a regular night of openings—except, of course, for the black limos. Eigen + Art, which was opening a Carsten Nicolai exhibition, was full as usual, as was Contemporary Fine Arts, exhibiting work by Tal R. Both galleries held their dinners, which were somewhat rowdy affairs, at Clärchens Ballhaus, an old GDR dancehall that has been turned into a kind of touristy pizza place. Everybody was there: Gerd Harry Lybke’s male artists (Martin Eder, Jörg Herold, et al.) made a powerful impression, while August von Joest told anecdotes about his first Neo Rauch purchases and about the neighborhood complaints regarding the penthouse swimming pool he shares with Corinna Hoffman.

Left: Artist Erik Schmidt. Right: Artist Kirsten Ortwed with dealer Aurel Scheibler.

Saturday had two events titled “The Opening” by British artist Merlin Carpenter, who is represented by my partner, Christian Nagel. The first took place at the Mercedes headquarters—the largest auto showroom in the world—where Carpenter made guests wait about an hour until he finally drove by in his own polished 1980s Mercedes. Leaning out the open window, he painted four white hanging canvases with a comically oversize brush, leaving only a few hasty marks. A similar performance took place two hours later at the Cornershop, a clothing store in Mitte. Both were attended by what Diedrich Diederichsen once called “hipster intellectuals”—some Texte zur Kunst writers, Volksbühne music booker Christoph Gurk, curator and Frieze editor Jörg Heiser, Diederichsen himself, and artists Michael Beutler, Sarah Staton, and Josephine Pryde, all of whom mixed amicably with Gallery Weekend VIPs like Jeane Freifrau von Oppenheim and her friend Ingeborg Baronin von Maltzahn. Cay Sophie Rabinowitz, who had just left her position as Art Basel codirector, made a surprise appearance.

The weekend’s main event was meant to be Saturday’s grand gala dinner at the Berlin Convention Center. Following Thursday’s luxurious kickoff at the Hotel du Rome, however, the gathering seemed anticlimactic. The party just never took off. Gregorio Napoleone was dying for a hamburger and begged his gorgeous wife, Valeria, a ravenous art collector, to leave early. Freda and Izak Uziyel, opting for kindness, made no comment. Christian Boros seemed still to be riding high on the opening of his collection’s showroom during the Berlin Biennial. Still, everybody tried to be as cheerful and entertaining as possible, toasting to Berlin’s great future—a future that we have been anticipating for more than a decade. But if you really want “sexy,” better drinks and cozier spaces would do the trick.

Left: Collector Christian Boros. Right: Artist Katja Barth with dealer Guido W. Baudach.

Left: Artists Merlin Carpenter and Josephine Pryde. Right: Artist Martin Eder.

Left: Beyeler Foundation director Samuel Keller. Right: Architect Etienne Descloux.

Left: Artist Cosima von Bonin. Right: Architect Roger Bundschuh.

Left: Eigen + Art's Gerd Harry Lybke. Right: Producer Hanno Huth.

Left: Cay Sophie Rabinowitz. Right: Artist Christian Jankowski (on right).

Left: August von Joest. Right: Dealer Markus Lütgen and Tobias Flessenkemper.