"Kauft mehr kunst!" -- Buy more art! -- reads the slogan on the handy map of the exhibition halls at Art Forum Berlin 1999. Not a bad idea, especially at Europe's leading art fair dedicated to cutting-edge contemporary art.
The fourth installment of Art Forum Berlin includes 161 galleries from 22 countries. The gallery booths are all alphabetically arranged in four halls set in a square, with a cafe at each corner and a soaring, Eiffel-like radio tower in the center.
Art Forum Berlin is a largely German affair, with 87 participants from Germany, 11 from Austria and six from Switzerland. The 17 U.S. entries are mostly "younger" galleries, including DeChiara/Stewart, I-20, Casey Kaplan, Leo Koenig, Andrew Kreps, Xavier LaBoulbenne, Lombard-Freid, Bill Maynes and Greene Naftali from New York, Vedanta and the Chicago Project Room from Chicago, and Griffin Contemporary, Richard Heller and Patrick Painter from California.
A few dealers are from further afield -- three from Japan and one each from Australia, Brazil and Mexico. The fair is open Sept. 30 to Oct. 4, 1999, from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. each day with the exception of Friday, when it remains open until 10 p.m. -- the "nocturne." Tickets are DM 30 ($1 =DM 1.8).
After a quick survey, the verdict on the fair is resoundingly positive. The art looks fresh and new, with something for everyone. At least that's what the dealers say. A more jaundiced view was provided by a German art historian who shall remain nameless. "A lot of really bad, bad things," she said. "Repeats of old ideas, lots of bad photography, lots of bad painting. It's getting worse every year." Oh well. Some people are never satisfied.
Nicole Hackert, who runs Contemporary Fine Arts in Berlin, is presenting a multimedia installation by London artist Angus Fairhurst titled "Trouble with Comedy." Fairhurst's theme here is the various anatomical possibilities of joining two bottom halves, one male and one female, via drawings, Iris prints, Polaroid collages and an animated videotape. The simple, brightly colored video shows the four-legged phenomenon performing a kind of dance on a wheeled chair. Prints in a edition of 25 are £350; the video, in an edition of 10, is £950.
"What is the trouble with comedy?" I asked him. "Whether you get the joke, for one thing," he said. How did you meet Nicole?" I wondered. "Dropping my pants in the middle of the street," he said. Okay, I thought. It's not easy being funny at an art fair.
But you can count on artists to try. In the booth of Mehdi Chouakri of Berlin is a ten-foot-tall, grinning cartoon sculpture that is part person, part high-heeled pump. It's Europet, a giant, painted styrofoam version of a shoe chew-toy for dogs, made by everyone's favorite pop diva, Sylvie Fleury. The Geneva-based artist has an unfailing sense of chic glamour, though here she's gone the other way. "It's horrible enough to be interesting," said Chouakri. The exemplum of unfashionable footwear can be yours for DM 33,000.
Fleury has also taken over the stand of Philomena Magers of Munich with an installation devoted to auto racing. On view are several large hyper-color photos of hot-rod magazine covers, a group of silver Formula One racing jumpsuits designed with Hugo Boss and a neon sign reading "hot heels."
Standouts at other booths are more…architectural. The Berlin gallery Neugerriemschneider has installed a pavilion by Rirkrit Tiravanija, complete with a porch, seating areas and a working kitchen. Crowds were queuing for free curry at the vernissage. Perhaps the most impressive sculpture on view is Alison Gill's Transporter (1999), a 15-foot-tall spiraling "endless column" made of gold-painted cardboard at the booth of Sabine Wachters Fine Art of Brussels. It suggests a certain serenity, even divinity, and is priced at DM 95,000.
The animal kingdom comes in for a certain amount of grief. At Galleri Wang from Oslo, a giant stuffed polar bear rears up on its hind legs, held captive by satin ribbons attached to formica-covered cubes in a "landscape" of white shag carpet. It's by a group called Lustlux Worldwide.
Over at Entwistle from London, a black crocodile with the breasts of a C-cup human reclines on its back on a vinyl-covered plinth, courtesy of artist Edward Lipski. "The crocodile waiting for its lover," said Lance Entwistle. Touch her breasts, if you dare. Price: £14,000. Entwistle also represents Nicky Hoberman, whose large, expressive paintings of children are slated to appear at Feigen Contemporary in New York later this season; landscape painter Dan Hayes; New Yorker Nicole Eisenman; and black-and-white photorealist Jason Brooks, among others.
Lipski's poetic crocodile set me looking for other signs of what might be considered anti-women sentiment. Does it still infect contemporary art? Over at the booth of Düsseldorf dealer Wolfgang Gmyreck is a great painting from 1979 by K.H. Hödicke, one of the original German Neo-Expressionists, showing a bikini babe as knife-thrower's target. Could the subject matter have something to do with its appeal?
And Artcore Gallery from Toronto has Kill the Bitch cuff links by the Copenhagen artist Kristian Hornsleth. They were priced at DM 900, but every time a pair sells, the price goes up 20 percent! It can be costly to express your true feelings! The charming Hornsleth, who has his own website at www.hornsleth.com, also offers several things -- a silver dildo, a set of football pads and helmet -- inscribed with the dynamic anti-art slogan, "fuck you art lover!" Hmmm.
Besides all this, Berlin Art Forum is entertaining the notion that "painting is making a comeback," at least to the extent of blurbing the theme in its press kit. As for this writer, he defers to Olav Westphalen, who at Galleri Wallner from Malmö says it all in a drawing captioned "painting is back" from his 1998 "Design for Posters" series. Apparently, the restoration requires heavy armor.
A more serious argument for painting is found in the booth of Galerie Christian Nagel of Cologne. Vienna painter Barbara Mungenast's untitled abstraction, a large enamel whirlpool of blue, white, brown and ochre, is made by first pouring paint on a plastic mat on the floor, which is then peeled up and attached to a canvas. The price is a reasonable DM 10,000. Nagel said he met Mungenast at an opening, and the pair hit it off before either knew the vocation of the other. She's slated for her first show at the gallery later this season.
What else is in evidence at Berlin Art Forum, in addition to large-scale, showpiece projects and the return of painting? Cartoons are everywhere. Santa Monica dealer Richard Heller filled his booth with cartoons and cartoon-like drawings by Marcel Dzama, Leon Fuller, Drue Langlois and Cameron Shaw, selling about 20 drawings by the ever-popular Dzama during the opening festivities. Buyers included the dean of German dealers, Rudolph Zwirner, whose son David reps Dzama in New York.
When it comes to "manga," of course, no one can beat the Japanese. Tomio Koyama from Tokyo featured work by makers of cute, rather pedophiliac drawings. An utterly dear picture by Yositomo Nara, titled Kitty in the Puddle, shows a scowling little girl in a devil costume, complete with vampire fangs. Priced at a bargain DM 5,500, it was marked sold. A group of 58 small color-pencil drawings of a girl, done on the back of cash-register receipts by an artist who goes by the moniker "Mr.," were DM 4,000.
Well, gotta go now. The artnet.com booth opens at 11, and visitors to the fair are anxious to take a look at the many attractions of our site. In the meantime, how are sales at Berlin Art Forum? Hard to say this early in the game, but things look very promising. Word is that fair organizer Volker Diehl of Berlin sold a hole in the wall for DM 30,000 before the show even opened! Actually, it's a piece by Armand Grüntuch called Center Peep, an actual hole cut through the wall of the Kunst-Werke space in Berlin for last year's "Berlin Biennial." The peephole gave a view of a radio tower in the center of Berlin, and was just bought by a real estate developer to install in 20 apartments in his new project. At Art Forum Berlin, Grüntuch has Art Peep, a kind of porthole at eye level that connects to a periscope that reveals a view through the rafters.