Gallery Weekend Berlin is back with some 47 participating galleries, putting their best foot forward, and presenting emerging and established artists throughout the city. Berlin becomes a magnet for international collectors, curators and museum professionals, affording its visitors room to explore and discover new art across its districts. Not dictated by the fast pace of art fairs but having time to view large-scale gallery exhibitions, is very much in line with Berlin as a city of artists. Over decades many have flocked here to explore their creative outlook and this year’s special focus is on artists living in Berlin, who have helped shape the city as an art metropolis.
Late at night, emerging from the cavernous studio on 46 rue Hippolyte-Maindron, a lonesome figure would inhabit the streets of postwar Paris. In this famously chaotic space, consumed by inner doubts and obsessions, Alberto Giacometti worked relentlessly, with feverish urge to forge a new human; walking away from the rubble of destruction. In London, on the other side of Channel, the younger artist Francis Bacon admired Giacometti from afar, fascinated by the famous sculptor’s aura of intensity and compulsion. In the following years the two went to develop a personal relationship punctuated by both friendship and rivalry. The artist Isabel Rawsthorne was one such connection, a close friend, muse and model to both artists, whose stark portraits feature on several works on display. Special focus, at this exhibition at Fondation Beyeler, is given to investigating their distinct isolation of space; subjects enclosed by means of cage-like entities, foregrounded in key works such as Giacometti’s La Cage (1949-1950) and Bacon’s Study ofa Nude (1952). Like Giacometti, Bacon’s arrival to the ‘truth of his subject’ was rooted in failure and frequent moments of crisis; the artistic act an outcome of frenzied and conflicting struggle between artist and his creation. Beyond their obvious differences in terms of style and iconography, both absorbed so much of l’air du temps through which they lived, rendered in the immediacy and emotional charge of their work. Encompassing circa 100 works and numerous original plaster figures from Giacometti that have never been seen before, the exhibition seeks to untangle the complex layers of their relationship. Formulated across four main thematic sections, it reveals new strands of thought connecting the two masters of modern art.
Certain works of art are important historically but no longer offer us experiential quality. Louise Bourgeois, whose life spanned nearly the entire 20th century, used art as a way of understanding herself, inventing a distinctive visual world containing raw self-expression and emotion. Much like the maze-like structures of her famous Cells, which she invoked as visual expressions of memory, her mind was a complex puzzle. Schinkel Pavillon invites us to enter the last two decades of her life, through focussed selection of works in diverse media featuring the sack form. They first appeared in her writings and later sculptures, as empty and hollow structures, which she often confined with other personal objects inside the intensely psychological space of Cells. Spanning the entire octagonal room of Schinkel Pavillon the visitors encounter Peaux des lapins, chiffons ferrailles à vendre (2006), one of her largest Cells. Where surrealists focused on the more fantastic elements of the subconscious, Bourgeois played with more subtle ideas of the uncanny. Like other remarkable sculptures she created using fabrics, the sacks are made of delicate chiffon in various tones of pink, pushing the borders between seduction and repulsion. Inside her highly symbolic microcosm their incomplete anthropomorphic form suggests a dysfunctional architectural unit, an empty house, or an infertile woman’s body.
Jordan Wolfson, Riverboat Song, 2017 (video still)
Employing digital imaging and animatronic sculpture, Jordan Wolfson’s practice is centred on ideas of literal and virtual reality, especially the projection of inner impulses – desire, violence or guilt – into constructed scenarios. At Schinkel Pavillon, Wolfson’s Riverboat Song reveals a surreal nightmare drawn from the banalities and horrors of contemporary life and its online extension. Combining animation and found clips, pop soundtracks and voiceover, the filmic piece revolves around a Huckleberry Finn-style character delivering deadpan statements. Formulaic elements of the internet, such as avatars, memes, clips and mash-ups, coalesce into a dark psychodrama that’s both disturbing and enthralling. Through a splicing of images and a disconnect between image and script, Riverboat Song erases the line between the perverse and the gleeful. The fictive world of animation, which grows more lurid as the video progresses, is contrasted by the found reality of YouTube footage. Throughout his latest work, Wolfson exploits the distortions of cartoon to render the reality of human acts and behaviours without moralizing. The power of Wolfson’s work owes equally to the visceral impact of its complex representations – which slide seamlessly from banal to violent, and from vividly imaginary to scarily real.
Pin-up girls, comic book figures and supermarket products collide upon one another – a diverse mix rendered in brash colors that was soon to make history as Pop Art. Collage became Eduardo Paolozzi’s primary artistic strategy as he employed it in his search for a new visual language and iconography for mass culture and industrialized society. In his glued pictorial worlds, man and machine constantly intersect — an element that derives from the artist’s particular interest in science and technology. Essentially, Paolozzi’s aim was to eradicate the boundaries between high culture and popular art, merging them into one entity. This exhibition is based on Whitechapel Gallery’s 2017 Eduardo Paolozzi retrospective in London which showed the complete works ofthe artist. In contrast to the London show, the Berlinische Galerie focuses on his idiosyncratic and experimental work of the 1940s to the 1970s with which the artist attracted much international acclaim. Additionally, one of the key chapters of the exhibition centres around the artist’s productive year in Berlin (1975/75) and the work he developed inspired by the city, out of his Kreuzberg studio around Kottbusser Damm.
Alexander Schröder began building his own art collection fuelled by his personal experiences and interactions with artists. After studying art in the early ‘90s in Berlin, he soon realised that he was more interested in the work of his contemporaries. Together with Thilo Wermke, he founded Galerie Neu in Mitte while developing a particular understanding of art and the connections between different movements. His intimate knowledge of the art spectrum meant that he was able to formulate collecting as an activity that made buying artworks into a form of intricate dialogue with the artists, an intellectual game celebrating shifting roles within the established system. Twelve years after its first public appearance, a representative selection of his private collection returns in the form of the exhibition Optik Schröder II at Mumok in Vienna. The works on show illustrate some of the key conceptual trends in the development of Western art in the past three decades, and therefore offers a rich artistic spectrum of the critical questions that arose during that time. References to social issues, queer lifestyles, critical investigation of public space and architecture, as well as poetry come together through positions by Bernadette Corporation, Anne Imhof, Kai Althoff and Isa Genzken, to name but a few. This comprehensive overview shows a collection built up consistently since the mid-1990s and based on close proximity to the artists, and sensitivity for new developments. An essential element that’s influenced Schröder’s approach was his encounter and later friendship with the legendary New York gallerist Colin de Land. De Land’s selfless treatment of the artists he represented, as well as his patient, long-term thinking revealed how one can act with increased finesse within the art world. Optik Schröder II illustrates an exemplary philosophy of collecting, focusing on the nature of the contemporary, on curiosity, expertise, and humour. “I let myself be guided through many intimate conversations with artists. If you look more closely at the collection, you’ll see different ramifications, and suddenly it all fits together. I am always looking for a story behind the art.”
Frozen tent for the Antarctic-Biennale 2017, Work + Photo: Gustav Düsing
For most people, Antarctica, the earth’s sixth continent, is so far away that it can be perceived as common heritage, as an agile archive and laboratory, in which a new era of ecological consciousness is being fostered. Antarctica is a geographic end of the world yet central to global debates about climate change. But what are the intellectual and practical coordinates of commissioning art in such a location? Can we even talk about an ‘antarctic imaginary’ beyond scientific discourse? Starting with a screening of Pierre Huyghes’ film A Journey That Wasn’t, the event “Expeditions / Exhibitions” investigates the topic of travels and their presentation. What follows is a discussion between Antarctic Biennale participant Gustav Düsing, author and expert in Huyghe’s work Marie-France Rafael, and co-curator of the Antarctic Biennale Nadim Samman addressing the larger questions at hand. As part of the event, Düsing will reveal his architectural contribution to the biennial: a tent made of frozen fabric as a reference to the most prominent typology that has been used for Arctic expeditions since the 19th century. This event is part of Stop making sense, it’s as good as it gets., an ongoing program developed by Ludwig Engel and Joanna Kamm, derived from a close reading of Tom McCarthy’s novel Satin Island. Artists, writers, architects, theorists and scientists are invited to discuss their interpretations of time through different formats.
A visual voyage reveals the rarely seen inner universe of the religious schools of Shi’ite Islam over hundreds of years, through an harmonious coalition of both recent photographs and historic records. When Naser al-Din Shah travelled to Iraq in the late 1800s, he brought back a fascinating collection of photos depicting not only the Shi’ite holy places, but also antiquities and scenes from contemporary life. Hitherto unpublished, these photographs reveal a cultural wealth that today seems more threatened than ever before. “Insight” seeks to create an awareness for the cultural diversity of the region. These photographs document the continuity of Shi’ite Islam as well as the losses and dramatic changes that have taken place since. Alongside those, Hans Georg Berger’s recent photographs bring a different look on the topic. Intimate portraits and discrete observations of sacred ritual are borne from a stance of respect and curiosity. No other western photographer has delved as deeply into this enigmatic world. Years of listening and trying to comprehend have established the necessary mutual trust to capture the many layers of faith and daily life. The accompanying book published by Kehrer Verlag extends the focus of the exhibition with written contributions on Berger’s approach, on teaching methods at the religious academies, and on the calligraphy which was added to some of the photographs.
If an artwork is damaged, does it continue to be regarded as art? Apparently not. At least not within the gallery and museum system. All marred art inevitably falls into oblivion, but its lack of monetary worth doesn’t preclude its aesthetic and social values. Salvage art—a term borrowed from the art insurance lexicon—refers to work removed from art circulation due to accidental damage. Founded by artist Elka Krajewska, the Salvage Art Institute rescues said objects from the invisibility of perpetual storage by insurance companies, in order to highlight their survival past their total devaluation. The exhibition No Longer Art – which is part of the program Stop making sense, it’s as good as it gets – exposes a fragile contingency at the heart of art’s identity, beyond the capitalist world it was born into. Its castaway pieces are subject to a peculiar and transformative logic, as they are thrown into art’s nether world but are often still relatively intact. Their identity is discarded and, in theory, they emerge as something entirely different.
After the Second World War, the battle of the systems also involved the arts and culture in a symbolic arms race. One prominent example was the Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF), an organization founded in West Berlin to consolidate an “anti-totalitarian” intellectual community. The CCF subsidized countless cultural programs from Latin America to Africa and Southeast Asia, developing a network of journals, conferences, and exhibitions that advanced a “universal” language of modernism in literature, art, and music. By 1967, a major scandal erupted: the CCF was secretly bankrolled by the CIA as a form of propaganda to support an anti-Communist consensus in favor of U.S. hegemony. The exhibition Parapolitics: Cultural Freedom and the Cold War is devoted to the global dimension of cultural politics in that era and to the changing meanings attributed to modernism. The artworks and archival materials on show explore the friction between the political instrumentalization of art and artists’ struggle for autonomy. It’s thoroughly illustrated how modernism became a signifier for individual freedom and was tantamount to establishing Western cultural hegemony in the 20th century. Thus, the CCF is in a way returning to its 10-year-anniversary location, Berlin’s former Congress Hall, today’s Haus der Kulturen der Welt.