“62 Days, 58 Shows, 212 Artists”

The Forgotten Bar

A crowd was assembled on the sidewalk outside the bar, drinking beer out of bottles. Around the corner, a few young Turkish men had set up a grill right in the street. Inside the long, narrow, gray space known as the Forgotten Bar, you had to squeeze past loudly vociferating artists to find the television screen hidden behind a refrigerator: Onscreen, a man enters a sparsely furnished hotel room, lights a fuse, and then fireworks explode until nothing is left but black smoke. Somehow the video, Room 113 (Royal Monceau), 2008, is reminiscent of those on YouTube in which guys slip Mentos into Coke bottles for the pleasure of seeing the fountains of fizz. Except that here this juvenile enthusiasm for fireworks was supposed to have something to do with art. People were glancing about nonchalantly, and I couldn’t help wondering if I was the only one who didn’t get the joke. The artist, Gregor Hildebrandt, drew our attention to his second work, which we’d overlooked: He’d removed the magnetic tape from a cassette and hung it on the wall of the bar: “all down the wall,” as the band Einstürzende Neubauten sings in “ZNS,” a song recorded on the tape, its subject the central nervous system, its intoxication and madness.

The evening reminded me of Berlin Mitte gallery openings in the late 1990s, when you could never know for sure if you’d wandered into a louche party or a flea market. At the Forgotten Bar, this atmosphere was reenacted for “62 Days, 58 Shows, 212 Artists”: Each evening in July and August, a new show was on display, with an opening every night, too much art not to lose track of it; absurdities like a bust of Hitler with a filter cigarette (Dionisis Kavallieratos’s Heil Filter, 2008) or what may be the only Soviet postapocalyptic sci-fi film, Letters from a Dead Man (1986) by Konstantin Lopushansky.

The artist Tjorg Beer started the bar this summer with Maike Cruse, who until recently was in charge of publicity at the Kunst-Werke, Berlin. Previously, they had banded together with a few others as the Galerie im Regierungsviertel (Gallery in the Government District) to put on guerrilla exhibitions next to the Berlin Parliament, or in Venice during the opening of the Biennale—short-notice events thrown together without the usual weeks of contract negotiations and shipping insurance. Now they were inviting friends and acquaintances to exhibit here, a new artist each day.

Their nostalgia for DIY art shows didn’t just provide the basis for the most exciting art event of the summer; the Forgetten Bar was a sort of Berlin art-world Disneyland. Critic Niklas Maak of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung asked, quite reasonably, “Who needs a Kunsthalle when there are bars like this?” Evening after evening, one was reminded that Berlin remains a city where art is made. Harun Farocki screened uncut material about construction projects in Africa and Asia. Amie Dicke simply transferred a wall covered with notes and materials from her studio to the bar. Dean Sameshima showed a collage of lo-res gay porn images. Aaron Moulton took pictures of influential art-world figures used to train the receptionists at Gagosian and patched them together to make a video to screen at the bar. Outside, one often saw junkies on their way back from meeting their dealers at Kottbusser Tor, high as kites and lost in a daze of happy abstraction. Inside, the images and videos and the steady murmur of conversation sufficed to make the visitors just as intoxicated. Or almost.

Daniel Boese

Translated from German by Oliver E. Dryfuss.