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|Berlin Art Diary
by April Lamm
|I'm sniffly, stuffy, achy and getting naked on the third floor of the city-funded art space Kunst-Werke. Usually, I reserve public nudity for the lakes in the countryside surrounding Berlin. But it's the middle of January and, well, I just can't resist taking a dip in one of the exhibits in "Sanitorium," a show by the young German art star Carsten Höller.
Peeling off my many layers of clothing, I start to feel like my old self again. After all, winter apparel can make a girl feel about as attractive as a barrel of Berliner Pilsner -- turn me on my side and watch me roll down the street. But in Kunst-Werke, a former margarine factory in Berlin's Mitte district, it's hot, hot, hotter than Miami and I'm getting naked and feeling free! Or am I just feverish?
What in heaven's name is this wild exhibitionist up to, you might ask? I'm playing my part in Höller's participatory art -- voyeurism included. The Giant Psycho Tank is a milky white box (about 4 x 6 x 3 meters) made of polyethylene and filled with about a foot of salty water, just enough to float in. Those who shy away from floating in the buff can get their kicks by watching the shadows of those who do.
"Sanitorium" had its beginnings in a "diary of doubts" Höller kept while preparing for the Istanbul Biennial last fall. The pieces are designed to provoke a state of uncertainty in the viewer, to engender a feeling of helplessness as a cure for what Höller calls the "disease of certainty." Holler's work is both scientific and logical -- and a departure from their restraints.
And this exhibition excites the sense of embarrassment in many ways. Slide down the spiral slides, Valerio I and II -- installed for the 1998 Berlin Biennale -- and if you're wearing velvet like I was, you'll slide perilously quick and land flat on your face. If you're wearing something sensible, say lederhosen, you'll just get a childish thrill out of taking the slide instead of taking the stairs like an adult.
Then there's Roundabout, the world's slowest carousel -- old, creaky, with mini-aeroplane seats -- that goes sluggishly round and around. Holler's Sphere is a hollow ball made of ivory colored polyurethane that looks designed for some kind of full-body acrobatics -- but for some reason we aren't allowed to participate in this piece. Hmph! We've missed our chance to run like hamsters in a plastic cage! The Steam Hut in the courtyard outside is less affecting... the steam never seems to fill the metal shed like it should. The mysterious cloud of unknowing doesn't seem to be working.
In the dark basement of K-W is a fabulous group show with the theme of "Waiting" that opened last fall and runs to the end of February. On opening night all eyes gazed intently at the naked Marina Abramovic sitting on a bicycle seat mounted about four meters high on the wall with her arms stretched out as if she were being crucified by the intense light cast by the spotlight. In the end it became so strong that her features were nearly whited-out. A pot of what looked like red beans was cooking on a small burner underneath her, filling the room with the scent of incense used in the Catholic church and giving the performance -- called Spirit House Luminosity -- a mystical appeal.
Thirteen other artists did their part in the play of waiting. Especially notable was Jeff Wall's lightbox called A Partial Account (of Events Taking Place between the Hours of 9:35 a.m. and 3:22 p.m. Tuesday, 21 January 1997) displaying a series of photographs documenting the life of a brown paper bag as it slyly passes through the hands of several people.
Gary Hill's wall-sized video installation, Viewer, projects the gaze of several day laborers in our direction, but not threateningly or lasciviously as construction workers will often do. Instead, they seem to be innocently "waiting" for us to do something -- give them a job?
"Waiting" also includes recent works by Annette Begerow, Monica Bonvicini, Roland Brus, Tirtza Even, Ceal Floyer, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Tamara Grcic, Igor & Svetlana Kopystiansky, Gabriel Orozco, Tony Oursler and Sandra Voets.
Martin Gropius Bau
No longer "waiting" to wake up is the usually sleepy museum, the Martin Gropius Bau. Last fall, the collector Hans Grothe put over 300 works of German art from 1960 to 2000 into the hands of curators Jörn Merkert, Dieter Ronte and Walter Smerling for a show called "Collected Rooms, Collected Dreams." This show presented many works from just a handful of artists -- several mini-retrospectives of work by a few German heavyweights, including Georg Baselitz, Rebecca Horn, Jörg Immendorff, Anselm Kiefer, Imi Knoebel, Markus Lüpertz, Gerhard Richter, Katharina Sieverding and Rosemarie Trockel.
The beginnings of Grothe's collection were "safe" -- he invested only in German Expressionist art. But then in 1973, he took a daring move: he bought up the entirety of Sigmar Polke's show "Original + Fälschung." This purchase was what we could call his sorbet intermezzo, thereafter his voracious appetite would seek out only contemporary flavors.
Anselm Kiefer's untitled self-portrait in the "Sieg Heil" position standing on rocks at the seashore remains one of the more provocative pieces in the show. Disgusted with the burden of being a German post-Hitler era, Kiefer also took photographs of himself in the shocking pose while traveling through France, Italy and Switzerland in 1969.
Dan Flavin at the Deutsche Guggenheim
"Dan Flavin: The Architecture of Light," which recently closed at the Deutsche Guggenheim, is a wonderful exhibition that follows the many twists of the artist's critical development. Guggenheim curator J. Fiona Ragheb did a super job of transforming the usually staid space into a temple of mystical light. From the early white pieces such as The Nominal Three (to William of Ockham) (1963) and the "corner" pieces that followed such as Monument to the Survival of Mrs. Reppin (1966) to "barrier" works such as Greens Crossing Greens (to Piet Mondrian Who Lacked Green) and the "corridor" works such as the one illustrated here from the early '70s. A perfect cube, this corridor, ca. 2.5 meters overall, presents a trompe-l'oeil from both sides: the missing lamp from one side of the cube allows the color from the other side to peek through, creating the illusion of a bulb, but actually we see only its reflection.
Hybert & Hill at Eigen + Art
Indefatigable gallerist Gerd Harry Lybke of Galerie Eigen + Art brought his infectious energy into the "Berliner szene" with his two most recent shows featuring the Frenchman Fabrice Hybert and Berlin's sassiest American expatriate, Christine Hill. Hybert placed fluorescent, colored windmills into the hands of all the guests on opening night on Nov. 27. This touch of silliness helped foster the open-mindedness needed to enter the world of his wacky drawings, which were going for DM 3,000 apiece.
Christine Hill turned one side of the gallery into her gigantic personal bulletin board (Jan. 22-Feb. 26). Her postings -- each bearing a sticker of authenticity, "Public Notice: Back Catalog, Made in Berlin 1/2000" -- were a kind of "back catalog" her ideas for projects past and future. Funniest was the one with the plea in block letters: "When this art work is over, I would very much like to continue working in the realm of television. Ideally this would mean taking over Conan O'Brien's spot on Late Night when he moves up to Jay Leno's seat and Leno finally gives up the ghost. If you know any way of facilitating this career move, please contact me directly." She then lists her phone number and email address.
Hill wins the prize for pluck for her continuing effort to merge her "day job" with her "art job." (She gave funky walking tours of New York, setting up an office at Deitch Projects in the summer of '98; and ran a second-hand store, "Volksboutique," at the Documenta X in 1997.) DM 7,000 will get you a collection of ten posters.
APRIL LAMM writes on art from Berlin.