Berlin boasts more than 400 art galleries, but apparently hasn’t yet reached maximum art density. In advance of ArtForum Berlin, Sept. 29-Oct. 3, 2007, new spaces are sprouting like mushrooms -- brand-new galleries, old ones under new names, international satellites, project spaces, co-ops and a few new edgy concepts to keep Berlin art-watchers on their toes.
First out of the gate is Galerie Birgit Ostermeier, which opened Sept. 1, 2007, at Brunnenstrasse 196, in the same space that previously held Diskus, a co-op launched two years ago by Dresden art academy grads -- and directed by the 30-year-old Ostermeier. For her debut show, Ostermeier has broadened her stable considerably, mounting an exhibition of art from Mexico City organized by artists Paulina Lasa and Yoshua Okón.
At Preview Berlin, Sept. 28-Oct. 1, 2007 -- a satellite fair to ArtForum Berlin -- Ostermeier is presenting Indonesian artist Yudi Noor, who creates sculptural "arrangements" and wall installations out of glass, wood, paper, photographs and textiles. He’s also a compelling performance artist who works with shamanistic rituals. A show he put on in May at Galerie Magnus Mueller in Berlin was positively spine-tingling.
Ostermeier is also working with painter Roman Lipski from Poland, though sculptor Stella Hamberg, a Diskus founder, is now represented by Eigen + Art.
Brunnenstrasse, Berlin’s famously ungentrifiable street, is hotter than ever [see "Fountain of Youth," Jan. 11, 2007 ]. A few doors down from Ostermeier is the new co-op Rakete Berlin, led by Denise Jänig. The gallery’s first show, titled "Zuendung" ("Ignition"), spans mediums yet focuses on the figurative, and features works by the project’s eight artists, who include Steffi Weigel and Thorsten Solin. Saturday night saw ten galleries on Brunnenstrasse throw an all-night, jam-packed fete at the St. Oberholz, a trendy two-story café. Full-time performance artists Eva and Adele joined the Berlin Mitte art crowd for beers and dancing.
On the other end of Berlin Mitte, Realace Fine Arts also launched on Sept. 1 an unusual conceptual mix of art and commerce. Edzard Brahms (who until recently directed Grisebach Gallery), along with architect Daniel Bormann and management consultant Niklas Rösemann are running Realace as an incorporated company that deals not only in art but also in . . . real-estate consulting. "Construction costs become artworks," says Brahms, not exactly explaining the unconventional idea.
The inaugural show at the Realace exhibition space, the second floor of an office building on Berlin’s Wilhelmstrasse, features works by Stephen Craig, whose colorful objects and surfaces interact with the gallery’s space, as well as wall paintings by Christine Rusche. The gallery’s overall roster includes artists whose work, generally speaking, deals with the confrontation with space. It’ll be interesting to see whether the fusion of gallery and company becomes the win-win situation the trio is hoping for.
On Sept. 7, Galerie Mikael Andersen from Copenhagen opens a satellite space in Berlin on Auguststrasse 50b, the dealer’s second international venture after DCA Gallery in New York, a space operated in cooperation with other Danish galleries and the Danish cultural ministry that closed two years ago. For the past 20 years, Andersen has represented top Danish artists as well as German stars like Isa Genzken, Albert Oehlen, Martin Kippenberger and Günther Förg, who’s in the current lineup. The inaugural show features Danish painter Kathrine Aertebjerg, whose works sway between surrealistic and symbolic references.ELIASSON AT THE OPERA
While his first U.S. museum retrospective opens in San Francisco, Icelandic weather artist Olafur Eliasson is also seeing the premiere of his first opera. Oliasson did sets for composer Hans Werner Henze’s new two-act Phaedra, with libretto by poet Christian Lehnert, which opened at the Staatsoper unter den Linden on Sept. 6, 2007. A pot-boiler from Greek mythology, the story typically includes infidelity, rape, suicide, curses and a sea monster. Lehnert’s version draws on sources ranging from Euripides and Ovid to Racine and the late English playwright Sarah Kane.
"Eliasson seems not to interpret the composer but rather confront the medium of opera itself," writes Gerrit Gohlke in artnet.de. The 40-year-old artist has devised a mix of modern theatrical gimmicks and edgy effects, Gohlke writes, like a light production that encompasses the space and absorbs the audience with reflections and space-disrupting projections. Eliasson not only uses his sophisticated light effects for the production, but brings his mirrored perceptual machines right on stage as part of the set.
BALTHUS IN MUSEUM LUDWIG
"In 1934, Balthus’ first solo exhibition led to a minor scandal," writes Henrike Schulte in "Suspicion and Innocence" in artnet.de. Unanimously negative reviews mocked the French painter as a "passionate follower of nymphomania" and his technique as "simple" and "rough." Back then Gallery Pierre in Paris showed five large-scale works by the artist (born in Breslau in 1908 as Bathazar Klossowki). None were sold.
Now, 73 years later, "Balthus: Time Suspended. Paintings and Drawings 1932 to 1960," Aug. 18-Nov. 4, 2007, is on view at the Museum Ludwig in Cologne. The excellent exhibition features about two dozen paintings and numerous drawings that span the artist’s long career -- and today, the scandal is that the show is the first major Balthus solo exhibition in Germany.
Despite his German roots and personal connections to important German critics and curators, Balthus has no works to speak of in public collections in this country. Only the 1933 portrait Pierre et Betty Leyris is German-owned, by Berlin’s Ulla and Heiner Pietzsch Collection.
Most of the artists’ works are located in the U.S., thanks to the efforts of author and curator James Thrall Soby (1906-1967) and dealer Pierre Matisse (1901-1989), who was Balthus’ sole representative until his death. The Metropolitan Museum of Art lent four of the 26 paintings featured in the Cologne showcase.
Why so little German interest? Could it be Balthus’ subject matter? His detractors accuse him of being obsessed with pedophilia. But 20th-century German art history holds a wide range of shocking imagery, and in the exhibition catalogue, Met curator Sabine Rewald notes that nubile girls have lost their threat these days, in the face of almost omnipresent naked youth in advertising and art. The association of Balthus with Neue Sachlichkeit art, which was unfashionable after the war, is also less than convincing. The question remains open.
Schulte notes that "Balthus’ works. . . rarely appear on the market and when they do, tend to be from the artist’s later period." The Balthus auction record is held by the relatively chaste Three Sisters (1963-64), which sold for $6.7 million at Christie’s New York on Nov. 8, 2006 -- well below the presale high estimate of $10 million. In second place is Golden Afternoon (1957), which sold for $3.2 million (est. $4 million-$6 million) at Sotheby’s New York on May 6, 2004. The auction houses are apparently overenthusiastic in their price estimates when a work does appear for sale.
For Lelia Caetani (1936), the 27-year-old Balthus depicted a 22-year-old young woman strolling in a city park, pigeons at her feet. Purchased in 1991 at Christie’s New York for $165,000, the picture has since been donated to the Met by the Pierre and Maria-Gaetana Matisse Foundation. Its value is now substantually higher.
KIMBERLY BRADLEY is a critic and journalist based in Berlin.