Critics’ Picks

Abraham Cruzvillegas, The Self-Builders’ Groove, 2011. Performance view, Preussenpark, Berlin.

Abraham Cruzvillegas, The Self-Builders’ Groove, 2011. Performance view, Preussenpark, Berlin.

Phil Collins, Boris Mikhailov, Abraham Cruzvillegas

Disclaimer: After a decade of far too many address changes and long-haul flights (all for the sake of art), 2011 was the year I finally decided to just stay home and write, only venturing out on rare occasions to destinations of reasonable proximity. The year started off exceptionally well with Phil Collins’s London premiere of marxism today (prologue) and use! value! exchange!, both 2010, at the BFI Gallery. Sadly, this was the gallery’s last exhibition before its permanent closure due to budget cuts brought on by the financial crisis, though the space’s termination provided an appropriate historical impetus for Collins’s examination of the lives of three former teachers of Marxism-Leninism who were summarily dismissed following the dismantling of the GDR. More than just a portrait of those vanquished by the triumph of the West, the films allude to the demise of Marxism as an intellectual paradigm that influenced many of us growing up on the other side of the Iron Curtain.

Back in Berlin, Galerie Barbara Weiss joined the mass exodus of galleries from gentrified Mitte but, unlike the others, settled in the Turkish-hipster neighborhood of Kreuzberg. Boris Mikhailov inaugurated the new space with two series of photographic works documenting contrasting epochs in the cultural history of his native Ukraine. “Black Archive,” 1968–79, portrays the stable-but-bland period of developed socialism with images of lonely streets and bleak Soviet architecture. The second group of works, “Tea Coffee Cappuccino,” 2000–10, documents the country’s unsuccessful economic transition to neoliberalism by depicting an impoverished, grotesque urban landscape whose cast of characters includes homeless elderly people (and dogs), women in tacky fur coats, drunk teenagers, and chubby men in bathing suits hovering around a frozen lake.

Toward the end of the summer (or the beginning of what was to be an Indian summer much celebrated by cranky, sun-starved locals), Abraham Cruzvillegas presented a three-part outdoor musical performance series, “The Self-Builders’ Groove,” in collaboration with Gabriel Acevedo Velarde, Sebastian Gräfe, Valentina Jager, and Maureen Tsakiris. What looked like an informal gathering of close friends improvising a set—including a homemade sound system; an eclectic array of genres and samples; and quirky, conceptual lyrics provided by Cruzvillegas—was clearly rooted in the artist’s interest in the transformation and recontextualization of everyday, found objects and elements as demonstrated in his ongoing project Autoconstrucción. (That, along with his until now latent desire to sing in public.) With this, the artist concluded his DAAD residence in Berlin in one of the best farewells I’ve seen in a long time.

Michèle Faguet is a writer based in Berlin.