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Back to Reviews 97

Kim Novak

He Liu

Potsdamer Platz
under construction 

"...und ab die Post"

Polly Apfelbaum
Installation view 

Heide Specker

Heide Specker

Susan Turcot's
Storytellers, 1997

Katharina Sieverding

The Kienholz 

Edward and Nancy
The Bronze Pinball
Machine with Woman
Affixed Also, 

Our correspondent
at work

berlin diary 

by Mary Goldman

One wouldn't expect tourists to flock to Berlin in one of the grimmest months of the winter, but the city was humming during the famous Berlinale film festival, Feb. 13-28, which briefly drove thoughts of the visual arts from my mind. For Germans, the coveted film to see was The People vs. Larry Flynt, an experience made even more sacred if you could catch a real-life glimpse of Milos Foreman and Courtney Love, in town for the big event.

Spike Lee was here to screen Get On the Bus, his buddy film about the 1995 Million Man March. It did better here than it did in its U.S. release: despite its preachiness, the audience cheered as the lights came up. Lauren Bacall and Allain Delon were booed after the screening of Le Jour et la Nuit (Day and Night), to which Delon responded, "I get the impression that some of you didn't like the film," which was answered with loud applause. The Germans are not shy about expressing their opinions.

Over 500 films were screened during the 10-day event, ranging from a Kim Novak festival (I saw the film noir classic Pushover co-starring Fred McMurray) and Hollywood blockbusters to international entries and gay and lesbian films. I also enjoyed taking a tour of the different movie houses in Berlin, from a basement-like art house to a funky `70s-style DDR-era movie palace.

The Golden Bear, the top prize for the festival, went to Milos Foreman for Larry Flynt. Best Actor went to Leonardo DiCaprio for Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet and Best Actress was awarded to Juliette Binoche for The English Patient. A special jury prize was given to the Taiwanese director Tsai Ming-liang for He Liu (The River).

Keeping in the spirit of grand scale international projects, Johann Novak from the Aktionsgalerie organized a sprawling group show, "...und ab die Post!" (...and here we go!), a festival of young experimental art in Berlin Mitte done in co-operation with the Goethe Institute of Luxembourg in early Feb. The ten-day event was held at the Postfuhramt (a former post office designed in 1875 by Carl Schwalto), an impressive 2,000-square-meter building on Oranienburgerstrasse, the central street in Mitte just down the block from the famous Synagogue where "Crystal Night" ( the vandalism of Jewish establishments in 1939) took place. Unfortunately, the space is in need of major renovation, and the show's nightclub atmosphere seemed to act as rationale for the by-now familiar condemned-building esthetic, still prevalent from all the conversions of abandoned spaces done over the years by local artists.

The exhibition was inconsistent, but there was interesting pieces by Julia Diaz, a Brazilian artist living in Berlin, whose collage called Human Warmth, a scenic travel-agency-style poster of snow-covered mountains with irons affixed to the surface, which left a series of whited-out paths behind them. She and her partner Dietmar Starke also created The Hunter, an installation of a cooking stove with a pot boiling on the burner. Look into the pot and there was a projected video of different edible animals looking accusingly out at you, the chef. These works combine whimsy with ecological concerns. Also notable was a video installation by the Italian artist Paola Telesca, who built a wall-to-floor fabric ramp across the room from a VCR suspended from two ropes, playing a loop of a child on swing. When the VCR was pushed, it triggered the sound of a child laughing gleefully.

By the way, is the Guggenheim opening a satellite gallery in Berlin? There has been much discussion over the past three years, with the museum thought to have its sights set on the upper floor of the Martin Gropius Bau, one of the most attractive and well located museums in the city. At the moment the Berlinische Galerie occupies this space, but it is rumored that it would move to the Postfuhramt if the government would finance the necessary renovation. As Berlin has been drastically cutting back on cultural spending it is unlikely that the move will occur anytime soon, if at all.

Deeper into Mitte, the galleries have a pretty shabby showing, but there are the occasional finds. Fred Sandback was in town to install an ethereal corner piece at the Projektraum (Feb. 20-Mar. 19). His clever placement of three cords effectively compresses the intimate gallery under an invisible plane. New York artist Polly Apfelbaum visited Berlin for the first time to put together a show at the Realismus Studio of NGBK (Neue Gesellschaft für bilende Kunst, Feb. 15-Mar. 21). Her Floating Drawing, featuring her signature organic "spots" of black velvet floating on saturated rectangular backdrops of different solid colors, is the sole work in the show. The installation vacillates between being a purely conceptual abstract work and evoking literal pools or landscapes. It is surprisingly minimal, yet creates a magnetic atmosphere that is difficult to pull yourself away from. When we all finally decided it was time to celebrate over dinner, we sped out of the gallery in small clumps, and only realized when we were seated that Polly and her friends from New York had gotten left behind. Fortunately, there is only one restaurant in the surrounding maze of streets and they eventually found us, not as bitter as I would have been about the mishap.

At the Galerie Gebauer und Thumm, Berlin artist Heide Specker is exhibiting works that investigate `60s architecture (Feb. 22-Mar. 19). The images of buildings are digitally produced, then filtered, giving them an almost painterly appearance and producing warm tones that animate the cold subject matter. In Galerie Arndt & Partner, a small rectangular building in the Hackesche Höfe, American artist Susan Turcot has created a surreal tableau of skeletal characters out of wood, plastic, and rubber -- eerie, but it also might have been part of a gothic MTV video set (Feb. 1-Mar. 15). The Hackesche Höfe part of Mitte is a series of buildings and courtyards that had formerly been occupied by an affluent Jewish textile industry, which over the past five years has been meticulously renovated to its original multicolored, tiled splendor. This is perhaps the hottest spot in Berlin at the moment, as the trendiest clubs, galleries, upscale cafes and shops have opened here, but in contrast to the gentrified commercial areas, one can enter other Höfe (courtyards) and discover a sub-culture of illegal night clubs that elude the tourists around the corner.

In Charlottenberg, the gallery center in the west of Berlin, Galerie Franck und Schulte is presenting the photographic series Stauffenberg-Block I-XVI ( Feb. 7- Mar. 29) by Katharina Sieverding, a Czechoslovakia-born artist who was a long-time student of Joseph Beuys. The 16 large-scale photos produced in 1969 present closeup self portraits developed in contrasting red and black tones. These confrontational images deal with the theme of identity and gender. In a small side gallery, the kinetic light installations by German artists Jakob Mattner lend a nice contrast in their atmospheric levity. The pieces are similar in form to Russian Constructivist sculpture, but he uses transparent and reflective materials that are illuminated and cast shimmering aquatic reflections. Galerie Neugerriemschneider is exhibiting "a summer group show" with Rirkrit Tiravanija, Franz Ackermann and Antje Majewski about traveling. Dominated by photography, the subjects range from monks walking on a beach to a stepped valley in Thailand (Jan. 24-Mar. 15). The complimentary interaction of photos and geographic ambiguity prevents oversimplifying their reading as purely "vacation shots".

The Edward and Nancy Reddin Kienholz show that originated at the Whitney in New York and traveled to the L.A. County Museum is finishing its tour at the Martin Gropius Bau in Berlin (Feb. 7-Mar. 21). This phenomenal retrospective is augmented by pieces from the Berlinische Galerie and includes over 120 works. Edward Keinholz lived in Berlin during year-long DAAD (Deutshen Akademischen Austauschdienstes) scholarships in 1963 and '73, during which time he conceived of The Art Show (newly acquired by the Berlinische Galerie) as well as The Kienholz Women and the Volksemfängers series (based on the mass- market radio sets of the `30s). Infatuated by the special political atmosphere of the city, the Kienholzes continued to return to Berlin and kept an apartment here.

I felt fortunate to see the exhibition at the Martin Gropius Bau, as the scale of the museum's ground floor allowed ample space for the environments to be viewed independently. After four hours had flown by I was preparing to leave when a guard mischievously recommended that I go to the second floor. There was no other indication that the exhibition continued, but I followed his advice and found The Bronze Pinball Machine With Woman Affixed Also, a perverse piece constructed from a retro Playboy pinball machine with the attached spread open legs of a woman which beckons you to put money in the slot. I of course played a couple of games, but thought it strange that this piece was so blatantly quarantined from the rest of the show.

As March begins, Berlin is experiencing an early spring and the cafes have started putting their tables out on the sidewalk again. Perhaps it's not warm enough, but the skies have been cloudless. It is remarkable how the sun transforms the city and the mood of the people. I am looking forward to the Rundgang (walk around) on Mar. 22, when most of the Mitte galleries have openings on the same evening. From what I've heard there should be some interesting new work to see, hopefully it will be a balmy night.

MARY GOLDMAN is an American critic and curator based in Berlin.