PRINT December 2020

Krist Gruijthuijsen’s top ten highlights of 2020

Krist Gruijthuijsen is a curator and director of KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin.

Krist Gruijthuijsen’s apartment, Berlin, 2020. Photo: Krist Gruijthuijsen.


Compiling a Top Ten out of one of the most bizarre years in recent history is a mind-bending task. However, this year brought a certain essence back to my life. As someone who has moved around a lot, I’ve never managed to pour my heart and soul into the places I’ve inhabited. But being stuck at home, I managed, finally, to settle in, and what began as a forced marriage became a full-on love affair.

Ian Wilson, A Discussion in Context of an Exhibition, March 8, 9 and 10, 1978, Galerie Rüdiger Schöttle, Opening Hours: Tuesday–Friday 2–7 p.m., Saturday 11 a.m.–2 p.m., Organizer: Rüdiger Schöttle, Collection: Galerie Rüdiger Schöttle, Munich, DE, 1978, records of individual and group discussions. Installation view, KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin, 2017. Photo: Frank Sperling.


Speaking of a love affair, one could say that I have been writing a love letter to Ian Wilson ever since we started working together back in 2009. Ian’s work embodies everything I believe art should—a radical dematerialization that arrives at the essential conditions of life. Ian was a spiritual man, so his death on April 16, during a year of pauses and resets, can’t be a coincidence. Thus far, at each institution I’ve directed (Kunstverein, Amsterdam; Grazer Kunstverein, Graz, Austria; and KW), I have inaugurated my programming with Ian, and I plan to continue doing so, contracting, for the rest of my life, to make art from conversation, just the way Ian would have liked it. Every day, when going up to the office, I stare at the certification from one of Ian’s last discussions held at KW, in May 2017, and I bless him.

Berghain nightclub, Berlin, 2020. Photo: Krist Gruijthuijsen.


One of the biggest assets of Berlin is its nightlife, so when I moved here in 2016, I remarried my youthful rebellious self and rediscovered the club, a place where loneliness gives over to bliss and where bodies and time merge. Berlin is one of the few world capitals left with an actual nightlife, and this year has been difficult for both the clubs and the people who normally inhabit them. It’s like when the lights go on after a night of ecstasy. Berlin isn’t Berlin without its hedonism, and it’s moving to witness collaborative attempts, like the one between Berghain and the Boros Foundation, to keep spaces alive. There’s a risk, though, to venerating “The Club” as a relic, which is exactly what we don’t want. We just want to dance.

Jeremy Shaw, Phase Shifting Index, 2020, seven-channel HD video, black-and-white and color, sound, 35 minutes 19 seconds.


One of the last shows I saw before lockdown was Shaw’s epic, immersive installation Phase Shifting Index, 2020. Art rarely gives me goose bumps, but this certainly did. Index documents communal experiments with spirituality, movement, and meditation. At first, the seven-channel installation appears disjointed, with each screen displaying interviews and depictions of transcendence across different time periods, but once the soundtrack takes over and each group adopts the same choreography, Index transforms into one big enchanted experience.

Co-organized with the Swiss Institute, New York, and the Museum of Old and New Art, Hobart, Australia.

Black Lives Matter protest, Toronto, June 19, 2020. Photo: Jason Hargrove/Flickr.


The Black Lives Matter movement, initiated in 2013 in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the murder of seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin, grew in global reach and intensity this year in the wake of the May 25 killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. In a year when we were forced to distance ourselves from one another, we unified. At least, some of us did. The road to a real, deep understanding of oppression, in a world that is completely built on exploitation, is a long one to follow. But it’s worth it, and Black lives matter.

Cover of Hervé Guibert’s To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life (Semiotext[e], 2020).


The late French wunderkind Guibert led me through corona times with his stark, intense prose. He rose to fame with his 1990 novel, To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life—republished this year by Semiotext(e)—which describes his battle with AIDS and his friendship with Michel Foucault. “My body, due to the effects of lust and pain, has entered a state of theatricality, of climax, that I would like to reproduce in any manner possible: by photo, by video, by audio recording.” Guibert was a photographer at heart, but he used language to document the time and space around him. Photography only operates with emotion, he said. Otherwise it has no purpose.

Claude Cahun, Self-Portrait (I am in Training . . . Don’t Kiss Me), ca. 1927, gelatin silver print, 4 5/8 × 3 1/2".


I love books that simply give a snapshot of things overlooked, ignored, or pigeonholed. How many Surrealist women can you name? Fantastic Women, coedited by L. Kirstin Degel and Ingrid Pfeiffer, attempts an overview of radicals such as Dora Maar, Claude Cahun, and Leonora Carrington, who made the world a more special place. The catalogue is a real contribution to art history (if only the eponymous show had done more to expand on the book’s research).

Andrés Pereira Paz, EGO FVLCIO COLLVMNAS EIVS [I FORTIFY YOUR COLUMNS], 2020, mixed media. Installation view, Gropius Bau, Berlin. Photo: Mathias Völzke.


More relevant than ever, the Berlin Biennale was one of the few biennials that actually took place this year. Addressing solidarity across social, political, and economic lines, it was also a unique opportunity to experience new work by artists who are rarely shown outside their home countries. With its focus on the marginalized body and questions of health and fragility, empowerment and collectivity, this exhibition was a beautiful and emotional portrait of our times.

Genesis P-Orridge, Ridgewood, New York, February 1, 2008. Photo: Perou/Camera Press/Redux.


The first day of lockdown marked the death of the legendary Genesis Breyer P-Orridge. So far ahead of he/r time, P-Orridge was an icon who deserves to be celebrated beyond the underground. “I am at war with the status quo of society and I am at war with those in control and power,” s/he said in 1989. Mostly known for he/r work with the bands Throbbing Gristle (featuring, among others, Cosey Fanni Tutti) and Psychic TV, P-Orridge wrote songs about everything from the occult to mass murder. Later in life, s/he commenced the “Pandrogeny Project,” blending he/r identity—often through serious surgical intervention—with that of he/r life-partner, Lady Jaye.

Rosemary Mayer, Hroswitha, 1973, flannel, rayon, nylon netting, fiberglass rayon, ribbon, dyes, wood, acrylic paint. Installation view, ChertLüdde, Berlin, 2020. Photo: Andrea Rossetti and Trevor Lloyd.


American artist Rosemary Mayer (1943–2014) finally got her long-overdue first European entry with a small but tight exhibition at the wonderful ChertLüdde gallery. Mayer was one of the founders, in 1972, of the cooperative A.I.R. Gallery, the first space for women artists in the United States, a project that underlined her fascination with women’s history. Opposed to the mostly male-dominated Minimalism of the time, Mayer favored the employment of draped, layered, and suspended fabric. A highlight of the show was the 1973 work Hroswitha, named after the tenth-century German poet and dramatist. Through a simple use of translucent swaths of colorful fabrics, a medieval tableau unfolds in front of our eyes. Absolutely magical!