During the first months of 1999, Berlin's better art venues were packed with idiosyncratic, sensual paintings. March alone saw shows of new work by Ellen Gallagher, Christa Näher, Peter Doig, Nikolaus Utermöhlen and Antje Majewski, among others.
Ellen Gallagher at Max Heztler
Ellen Gallagher showed a small group of large paintings -- three have high gloss black surfaces with scar-like reliefs, and a fourth with her tiny minstrel eyes and mouth motifs jotted down on partly smudged penmanship paper. There was also a thin black rod placed horizontally on the wall, painted with the same eye and mouth design. All of the works are apparently fresh from the studio. One with a relief of a tattooed head is particularly arresting in its conflation of paint surface and human skin.
Christa Näher at Galerie Barbara Weiss
At Galerie Barbara Weiss, Cologne artist Christa Näher recently showed a group of horse paintings -- a recurring theme in her oeuvre since the late 1960s. Resembling the equine of Old Master sketches, these animals kick and prance in the foreground of vaguely rendered baroque interiors. Some horses are partly unformed, like apparitions emerging from a fog -- a haunting national velvet for adults. Each work is about the size of a double bed and rendered in transparent black oil wash.
Peter Doig at Contemporary Fine Arts Berlin
"Country Rock," British artist Peter Doig's exhibition of forest and road side paintings at Contemporary Fine Arts Berlin, is also rather spooky. His combination of washes and impasto creates sensual, light-soaked, chemical colors. Pepto Bismol pink and acidic burnt orange are set off by electric greens. Best known for his paintings of skiers, Doig has moved to summer landscapes here. Some show a rock painted like a rainbow smack in the foreground of a field, viewed from the highway. Another shows a man, hooded like a monk, painting in the open air. He sits before fairy tale-like mountains, and paints a lurid little abstract canvas. The artist as magician?
Antje Majewski at Neugerriemschneider
Antje Majewski's second solo exhibition in Berlin, "The Mountain Climbers," consists of three large Photo Realist canvases showing sporty 30-something white males. Some fiddle with ropes, others sit around together. In the background are the gray granite boulders and skimpy pines of a park in southern Poland -- but it could be anywhere.
It's not really clear whether these detailed images of muscular male bodies have a homoerotic bent or not -- perhaps an intentional obfuscation of stereotypes on the part of the artist. Majewski makes her interest in gender issues apparent in a recently published article on three American feminist photo-realistic painters from the 1970s in the Berlin artzine Starship.
Nikolaus Utermöhlen at Haus am Kleistpark
The late Nikolaus Utermöhlen was by all accounts a local bohemian figure. He came to attention in the early 80s as a part of a performance group called the Tödliche Doris. The current exhibition, in cooperation with Zwinger Gallery in Berlin, focuses on his paintings made between 1987 and his death in 1996.
Principally working with fragmented, enlarged color photocopies glued to canvases and reworked, Utermöhlen depicted everything from elaborate baroque gates and dissected sabers to posed naked youths and a Technicolor version of William Blake's Last Judgment. A substantial catalogue available through Zwinger Gallery accompanies the exhibition.
Christine Borland at Eigen + Art
Every day is not canvas day, at least not at Galerie Eigen +Art, which is showing morbidly fascinating photographs by Glaswegian Christine Borland. The exhibition includes photos of labeled (murder?) weapons in storage cartons and two wooden head rests for the dead, and a video of a baby in the gallery cellar.
Andreas Slominski at Deutsche Guggenheim
Berlin's baby Guggenheim in the Deutsche Bank building has an exhibition of site-specific installations by Andreas Slominski. Among the works is a mechanism designed to transport a spoonful of cough syrup, titled Transportsystem für Hustensaft (1998). On view is the teaspoon and liquid, which is hooked up to a structure that holds the spoon in place. A device similar to that used in a compass absorbs the vibrations that occur with movement. The sculpture was encased in a Vibro-Shock-Safe and driven around Berlin, and supposedly none of the medicine spilled.
Eva & Adele at the Neuer Berliner Kunstverein
If you've been lucky enough to attend any of the major art events in Berlin over the last few years you will have seen Berlin performance artists Eva & Adele. Crossing the boundaries of gender, the pair appears dressed identically in a variety of smart knee-length skirts, pumps and frilly collared tops with shaven heads and fixed grins. They once asked me at an exhibition if I was "exposing" myself, too.
Their first static exhibition that I've seen at Neuer Berliner Kunstverein is called "Wherever we are is museum." A decidedly pink, personalized camper van driven into the exhibition room is surrounded with a mushroom ring of videos. Maybe they share the common opinion that the non-purpose-built space of the Neuer Berliner Kunsteverein makes a perfect car showroom. Each of the videos shows ordinary people dancing, riding motor cycles and hanging around the posed parasol-holding duo. A dippy harmonica tune accompanies the entire ensemble. In one video a figure in the background just can't stop giggling.
Douglas Gordon at the Neue Nationalgalerie
After receiving a DAAD scholarship last year, Glaswegian artist Douglas Gordon completed his funded excursion with a video installation in Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's Neue Nationalgalerie. The usually partitioned ground floor seemed startlingly empty from a distance without its walls -- a state that actually suits it best. Gordon installed in the gallery two of his large leaning cloth screens, which appeared somewhat diminutive in the expansive glass enclosure.
Warhol's Empire was screened last year in Berlin at the Deutsches Architecture Zentrum as a part of an art project by young independent curators Marc Glöde and Christian Rattemeyer. Gordon evidently attended too and made his Bootleg (Empire) there. Gordon replaced Warhol's static camera with a shaky hand-held one, so that the lights of the Empire State jump around the screen. People outside of the intended frame can occasionally be seen as the camera falters.
Its companion piece is a slowed-down bit of a John Ford movie titled Five Year Drive-by. Both are viewed better after night fall from outside the locked building. You'll see it if you happen to be in a car on the way to the over-hyped Potsdamerplatz. Unfortunately, Gordon's version comes off poorly. It seemed a glib, weak gesture to me, despite its grandiose quotations and prominent placement.
Next on the DAAD exhibitors list as far as I know is British artist Matt Collishaw. Downstairs at the Neue Nationalgalerie there's a retrospective of the works of Max Ernst. In January and February it was Gauguin, which brought long queues of hopefuls looking for a slice of paradise.
DOMINIC EICHLER is an artist and writer living in Berlin.