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berlin art diary II
by Linda Yablonsky  

Paul Noble,
Mom's Family Wanking
at Maureen Paley

Maureen Paley in front of
Pear Tree
by Sarah Jones

Jonathan Monk
The Effect of Modern Art
on Circles

at Casey Kaplan

The Effect . . .

Marilyn Minter
at XL

Xavier LaBoulbenne
in his prize winning booth

Richard Tuttle
Canvas Red Violet
at Jürgen Becker

Jürgen Becker

Martin Klosterfelde

Artist John Bock at work
at Klosterfelde

Anton Kern
with works by Warhol
and Cadere
   October 3rd is a holiday here in Berlin (the anniversary of the city's reunification) and with the shops closed, the crowd of the curious, the curatorial, and the collecting for the Berlin Art Forum's third day of business seems to have swelled -- this despite the dreary, cold, even snowy weather.

Sales for London dealer Maureen Paley (Interim Art) have been strong from day one and continue apace. Photos by Gillian Wearing are selling out, while newcomer David Rayson's small paintings of quiet suburban homes and yards are also making a splash.

One of the standouts in Paley's booth, which also includes a large grey painting and several red monoprints by Mark Francis, is a small, somewhat cartoony canvas by Paul Noble. Titled Mom's Family Wanking (1996), it shows four male figures standing in a row in the living room with wonderful shit-eating grins. It remains unsold (collectors, here's your chance!). Maureen says most of her customers have been regional Germans and other Europeans with whom she has long-standing relationships; other interested visitors have been curators (Richard Flood, Jerry Saltz) and critics (like moi).

Casey Kaplan told me, under his breath, that he's noticed a definite streak of nationalism among art fair visitors. "The Germans won't even talk to American dealers," he reported. His sales have been to other Europeans (French, Italian, Swiss) and Americans. This morning he sold two works by Jonathan Monk. One was a photo after Daniel Buren (a picture of a Sunset Blvd. bus stop with striped bench), and the other is a large grid of 30 sheets of paper, each with its own grapefruit-sized green dot and a typewritten caption relating to various artists, titled The Effect of Modern Art on Circles. The whole thing is "framed" in clear vinyl. It's pretty nifty, as is a brand-new Amy Adler self-portrait -- a photographed grisaille drawing featuring the artist astride a motorcycle -- which has yet to fall into a collector's hands. Casey's been spending his evenings in quiet tête-à-têtes with potential clients at Cafe Einstein, one of the two popular art bars in town (the other is the Paris Cafe). He said he wished he could be out clubbing like Xavier LaBoulbenne and Carol Greene, who have been more wowed by the ravelike, decadent, underground techno-discos than any of the trade at the fair.

Xavier won the special prize for best done booth -- he gets a large one next year. But so far, his sales figures have been near disastrous, even though his eye-catching, true-blue new Marilyn Minter lips painting is lit-up in more ways than one. Greene says she's mostly been catering to the merely curious, though she remains touchingly optimistic.

Blue-chip Jürgen Becker of Hamburg has done well from the start of the fair, though he too says he has yet to meet a single Berliner there. Becker is featuring a vintage Richard Tuttle cloth piece from 1967, which the dealer regards as one of the most important works in his booth, though he claims no one remembers it. (It's also the most expensive -- at $90,000.) He's also got a few Richard Prince appropriations from the 1980s, a couple of small white canvases featuring New York Times TV listings, and a joke painting.

Bruce Nauman, Allan McCollum, and John Baldessari round out the group inside Becker's booth. On the exterior wall hangs a series of small, bright drawings by an interesting young artist from Hamburg named Martin Palm -- keep an eye on this one. Becker also sold out a number of peculiar, more-or-less realist landscapes and roller-coasters by Klaus Hartmann. Nicole Klagsbrun found the work lovely enough to bring to her gallery in New York, soon to open in Chelsea, but I found it merely unobjectionable.

Becker seemed generally ebullient over his stay at the fair, where he found it easy to bum cigarettes right and left. "I never buy cigarettes, only borrow," he confessed. Perhaps this ploy establishes the intimacy that can lead to successful art dealing?

Becker was among the dozen or so guests at an Artforum magazine-sponsored dinner Thursday night at an Italian restaurant in Mitte called Cantamaggio, another hip joint popular with the Berlin art set. Knight Landesmann, who had been pressing flesh at the fair all day long, gathered together a motley crew that included L.A. dealer Marc Foxx with a couple of his Berlin artists, Oliver and Maike Drescher, Artforum senior editor Eric Banks, Keith Sonnier (in town for meetings concerning his upcoming commission for the humongous new Sony building in Potsdamerplatz), Clarissa Dalrymple, and of course Tony Korner, who's taking advantage of his presence in Berlin to catch up with some long-lost local relatives. Herr Herbert Volkmann, an important Berlin collector who has his own foundation here, was also at the table, scarfing down an overdone beef dish.

Just about all the dealers at the art fair say Berliners are not collectors -- apparently, they just want to watch -- even though their city is filled with art and art-related events, at least for this week. What with the first Berlin Biennale, the "Sensation" show at the Hamburger Bahnhof (one of the more impressive art spaces in town), all-night performances at Congress 3000 (Berlin, unlike New York, is still a 24-hour party town), the opening tonight for Katharina Sieverding at the Berlin Guggenheim, and the many openings at galleries in Mitte (the Chelsea of Berlin), the art scene here looks to be a diamond in the rough -- a social network quickly developing into a solid international marketplace for contemporary art.

Or it will be, by the time Berlin becomes the new capital of Germany (next year). Contemporary dealers from Cologne have been streaming into new spaces in Mitte for the last year, and now Düsseldorf's Wolfgang Wittrock, a specialist in high modernism, is looking for space in Berlin too.

Gallerist Martin Klosterfelde, one of the area's young pioneers, established himself in Mitte back in 1996. An engaging, tall blond fellow in spectacles, Klosterfelde has reason to be excited about the attention now focused on Berlin, some of which has centered on his big up-and-comer, John Bock. Bock, 32, has been turning heads over at the Biennale, which was organized by Klaus Biesenbach (apparently, Nancy Spector and Klaus Ottman chickened out). For some reason, Biesenbach seems to be universally reviled, at least among dealers.

Bock is a former business-school major who turned to a slapstick-cerebral style of art and performance that falls very much in the tradition of Joseph Beuys, but with a more Dostoyevskian twist -- he can usually be found sticking his head up from a boxed construction containing myriad objects, both found and handmade, à la Jason Rhoades, and talking to visitors who want to know what he's all about. According to Klosterfelde, the general audience reaction to Bock's live performances veers from highly entertained to terribly irritated. I was completely intrigued, myself.

Anton Kern, whose booth is located next to Klosterfelde's, also seems happy with the results of his trip to Berlin, where he was born. Kern has the wonderfully resonant, multi-colored pole by the late Andre Cadere propped against one wall, looking awfully lonesome, however significant, even if collectors have not responded to it. (It should be in a museum -- it's $120,000.) One buyer did snap up one of Kern's Warhol abstractions (at $30,000), while the realist paintings of Berlin building facades by Everhard Havekost have sold out.

Another Berlin-based artist who's garnering attention over at the booth of Berlin dealer Mehdi Chouakri is Monica Bonvincini, whose terrific videos and installations are also well represented at the Biennale.

Contemporary Fine Arts, Bruno Brunnet's gallery in Mitte, is showing a wall-full of small pop-culture pinups by the energetic longhair, Jonathan Meese (whose presence on the local scene seems both tiresome and ubiquitous). Brunnet also has paintings by Daniel Richter that are one step from the locally revered Franz Akerman.

Invitations to Akerman's new show at Neugeriemschneider gallery are all over the chaotic Biennale, the central section of which is in a former post-office and stable that once also featured a private gym for the male deliverers. At the moment, the facility looks like a poor European cousin of P.S.1 in New York. At any rate, it's for there that I must gather my strength, my three words of German, and my quickly disappearing taxi money to beat a path to now.

LINDA YABLONSKY is a novelist who also writes art criticism.