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  berlin art diary

by Dominic V. Eichler  

Daniela Brahm
(see below)
For Berliners seeking visual stimulation as 1998 got underway in earnest, the 48th Berlinale International Film Festival (Feb. 11-22, 1998) was the main event. The art world, for all its undeniable sex appeal, can't compete with Catherine Deneuve! New filmmaker Walter Salles won the Golden Bear award for best film with Central Do Brasil, a story that focuses on the journey of a motherless child. Film screenings took place in Kinos all around the city -- which in itself made for interesting viewing. Many of the cinemas are flamboyant concrete structures from the Cold War, places like Kino International on Karl Marx Allee. Even more glamorous were the Teddy Awards, presented as part of a gay and lesbian film festival that took place at the same time as the Berlinale.

By March, however, life runs back into the galleries and museums. Various artists this season have been making extreme physiological demands on their viewers. Monica Bonvicini, a local artist known for her hard-nosed installations, used two enormous industrial fans to create a near-hurricane force in a specially built room in the Mehdi Chouakri gallery. The work is titled A Violent, Tropical, Cyclonic Piece of Art Having Wind Speeds of or in Excess of 75 Miles per Hour (1998), based on a dictionary definition of a hurricane. This was her first solo show at Chouakri (she formerly showed at Galerie Neu), which she called "To Wall Up: Ecstasy." Other artists of the gallery include John Armleder and Sylvie Fleury.

At BüroFriedrich, which is sponsored by the Dutch government, it wasn't gale-force winds but rather blinding lights that had me running for cover. The installation by Joelle Tuerlinckx called Bildlicht weiss, Bildblind schwarz -- that is, "flash bulb white, flash blind black" -- used extremely bright flashing halogen spots, so annoying that homeowners across the river Spree called the police. Also exhibiting is Johan Grimonprez, whose book and video collection is presented as an installation called "Dorothy Doesn't Live Here Anymore..." Luckily for BüroFriedrich, it remains voguish for contemporary art to appropriate from office and corporate culture, since the space consists of five pokey offices off a skinny corridor.

Daniel Pflumm

Andy Warhol

Photos by Cay--
Sophie Rabinowitz
Demanding in another way was the third Film und Architectur Biennale (Mar. 13-18), mounted in cooperation with the organizers of the same event in Graz, Austria. Screenings took the dedicated viewer literally from one end of Berlin to another. One of the better events was held at the relatively new Deutsches Architectur Zentrum in Kreuzberg. Berlin-based curators Marc Glöde and Christian Rattemeyer organized a joint screening of Andy Warhol's Empire (1964) and new-generation Berlin artist Daniel Pflumm's video Elektro (1995). The latter is a four-hour videotape documenting the demolition of a building in which the artist and others ran a club (Elektro) formerly located off the now totally redeveloped and sterilized Friedrichstrasse. Instead of having a soundtrack of two radios set at different stations (as suggested by Warhol for Empire), Pflumm used two local DJs spinning records live. Perhaps not for the purists, but surely Warhol would have approved of the cool club ambiance.

If 1997 was the year many new galleries in the Mitte district opened, 1998 is shaping up to be the year to either move (Neugerriemschneider, Arndt & Partners, Wohnmaschine) or renovate (Kunst-Werke, Eigen+Art, Klosterfelde). The district's rapid and costly re-development is quickly overwhelming what is left of alternative life. Local squats have all been cleared out and the authorities seem to want to crack down on illegal clubs and bars as well. Those who spearheaded the development of the area as a cultural center are now being forced out -- sound familiar?

Gallery Arndt & Partners commenced the new year in a new premises on Auguststrasse (the main gallery drag) with a ready-to-go group show of gallery artists, titled "Resolution." Among the bric-a-brac, a canvas by French artist Fabrice Hybert provided a spot of color. 5 au tu - Anèmones (1998) is a crude depiction of an uncomfortably anatomical sea anemone in a state of both retraction and relaxation. There was also an illuminated sign by the German artist (and Documenta X participant) Peter Friedl that read Hotel Mama -- amusing for me because it is a common observation here that after a couple of drinks German men like to talk about their mothers.


Daniela Brahm

Gabrielle Jennings
from "Reverie"

Gabrielle Jennings
from "Reverie"

Katrina Mosegard
from "Nature Dreams"

Katrina Mosegard
from "Nature Dreams"
Gallerist Barbara Thumm (like other Mitte galleries) has begun showing young Berlin-based artists such as Daniela Brahm and Fernando Bryce, who have had their first shows there. Perhaps she is responding to complaints that our local dealers have been focusing too much on expensive imports. Curiously enough, many of these new-talent shows have featured painting, in particular a kind of "post-Pop" style that celebrates the fashion, music and decor from the '60s and '70s. The artist Daniela Brahm contributed to this trend with a group of seemingly light-hearted and fresh paintings of casually clothed figures in individual "re-entry capsules."

In contrast, Gabrielle Jennings' exhibition "Reverie" (she's an L.A.-based artist who was in Berlin on a residency) at Kunstlerhaus Bethanien used images of swans and romantic landscapes to create a surprisingly un-saccharine video environment. Three video projections -- my favorite showing a group of young swans feeding -- were accompanied by a small techno-swan -- a modified remote-control toy whose head doubled as a surveillance camera, which scanned the room. Swan-vision could be viewed on a black-and-white monitor.

Also at Bethanien on another night, London-based Internet artist Rachel Baker gave a presentation about her various projects, including one in which she abused "loyalty cards" from British supermarket chains, using them to create her own club rather than for bargain purchases. Her tactics include "stealing" visuals from other web sites and manipulating web search engines for maximum exposure. Both supermarket chains threatened to sue, luckily for Baker, as it only increased her notoriety. Her projects can be located on the web at

Danish artist Katrina Mosegard gave the title "Nature Dreams" to her first Berlin show, held at Galerie im Parkhaus. The gallery is on Puschkin Allee in the former East Berlin section, next to a huge park whose centerpiece is a Soviet war memorial -- one of Berlin's most impressive public sculptures, albeit in a creepy kind of way. It is a figurative work some stories high, depicting a warrior holding an infant and smashing a swastika with a massive sword. Tough competition.

Mosegard, who studied with Katherina Sieverding in Berlin, came up with an installation that used video projections of airplanes and swimming whales, hand-written texts on paper wall hangings, slides and soft dolphin sculptures. The opening had the feeling of a club sponsored by an under-funded environmental organization. Despite grandiose claims that the show was an exercise in reality simulation -- something about fictional nature replacing the real thing -- it was offbeat enough to be better than most. I'll leave you with one of Mosegard's most appealing images: dolphin-shaped cushions huddled on the floor in front of a picture of the Fernsehturn television tower, a structure they say was built to spy on the West and that still dominates Berlin's skyline.

DOMINIC V. EICHLER is an artist and writer living in Berlin.