The fall art season in Cologne got off to a rather contentious start. Cardinal Joachim Meisner in his sermon in the Cologne Cathedral on Sept. 16, 2007, inaugurating the archdioceseís new art museum, said, "Wherever culture is separated from the worship of God, the cult atrophies in ritualism and culture becomes degenerate. It loses its center."
His choice of words caused public uproar in a country thatís still sensitive about itís past. "Degenerate" was, of course, the Nazi term of choice for most modern art in the Third Reich, which "cleansed" German cultural collections of about 16,000 works, some of them later shown in Joseph Goebbelsí "Degenerate Art" exhibition in Munich in 1937.
According to the Central Committee for Jews in Germany, Meisner is a "notorious spiritual arsonist." Artist Gerhard Richter -- whose new window for the cathedral [see Artnet.de Digest, Aug. 27, 2007] was also criticized by Meisner as being "more suited to a mosque. . . than to a Catholic church" -- stated, "Hitler canít forbid us of all of our words, but using the term Ďdegenerateí in connection with art, as Cardinal Meisner has done, is a serious lapse."
In Düsseldorf, Hans Heinrich Grosse-Brockhoff, the North-Rhine-Westphalian secretary of culture, found the cardinalís word choice "appalling." The 73-year-old Cardinal originally defended his word choice, claiming that all he wanted to say is that when art and culture are separated, both suffer -- but his office later issued a statement expressing his regret.
Things have been quiet in Cologne since the cardinal error, but Grosse-Brockhoff claims that Meisnerís comments on Richterís window "prove that it doesnít make any sense to discuss art with him. And I donít just say that as a cultural minister but also as a Catholic."
Allís fair. . .
The timing seemed perfect. The anti-art-market Documenta 12 finally ended on Sept. 23, 2007, and less than a week later, the air positively rustled with the sound of money surrounding Art Forum Berlin, Sept. 29-Oct. 3, 2007, and all the off-fairs belonging to it, including Berliner Liste and Preview Berlin, the latter of which took place in a huge hangar of the nearly defunct Stalinist-style Tempelhof Airport. †
At Art Forum -- which this year was "About Beauty" with a brand-new pink-brushstroked corporate identity -- things were buzzing with 11,212 visitors making the Berlin fairgrounds into a mob scene on opening day. According to the fairís artistic director Sabrina van der Ley, attendance was up by about 1,000 people compared to last year. The fair is also becoming increasingly international and even feels more professional. This year, 57 percent of the galleries came from outside Germany, up from 51 percent last year. "We are international now," quipped Leipzig/Berlin gallerist (and Art Forum Berlin advisory board member) Gerd Harry Lybke.
Indeed. New York heavy-hitter Marianne Boesky Gallery made its first appearance at Art Forum this year, as did Dublinís Rubicon. While hardly reaching the hedge-fund frenzy of fairs in London or Miami Beach, sales in Berlin were brisker than ever. Wim Delvoyeís tattooed pigs -- that is, stuffed pigs tattooed at the artistís "art farm" in China -- sold well at both Genevaís Guy Bärtschi (where Benjamin sold for €85,000) and Berlin/Zurichís Arndt + Partner (where Donata went for €155,000).
Nicole Hackert of Contemporary Fine Art in Berlin said things were "better than expected" in the first days of the fair, in which notorious Berlin art star Jonathan Meeseís Lindwurm der Macht; Zahlantryrlys sold for €50,000. Prolific artist-architect Jürgen Meyer Hís chit.chat was purchased from Berlin-based Magnus Müller Galerie for €40,000 euros, and Susanne Kühnís paintings sold well at the New York gallery Goff + Rosenthal, among them Quiet Place (€45,000), which appeared in the fairís special exhibition, "House Trip."
Berlin gallery Jan Wentrup sold Gregor Hildebrandtís Kikiís Ring -- a dark and densely patterned work made of cassette tape on canvas -- to star photog Mario Testino, who also bought two paintings by Ulf Puder as well as a wooden Kleine Figurensšule (2007) by Stephan Balkenhol for €35,000 from Jochen Hempel of Dogenhaus, Leipzig. And Jonas Burgertís Schergen, an allegorical figure composition painted freshly for the fair, went for a healthy €120,000 at Produzentengalerie Hamburg.
Young art ruled at the co-op galleries, which also did well: Klemmís -- a co-op previously known as Amerika, now gone commercial under director Sebastian Klemm -- made a strong debut showing as Sven Johneís video Heimat sold twice for €7,000 (and won the fairís Christian Karl Schmidt Prize, which goes to an outstanding young artist whose workís "complexity" makes it difficult to market). And Marten Mertens sold Robert Bartaís Dauerbrenner sculpture for €10,000. Both galleries were once artist-run spaces on the ever-expanding young art hub of Brunnenstrasse.
The glut of parties and events -- celebrating Mike Kelleyís opening at Jablonka, Terence Koh and Bruce LaBruceís skin-fest at Peres Projects, publications Texte zur Kunst and 032 magazine at Brunnenstrasseís underground-hip Kim bar, the Neue Nationalgalerieís prize for young art going to Ceal Floyer, the typical tete-a-tetes at riverside restaurant Grill Royal -- have kept Berlinís art world in a palpable state of physical and mental hangover the past couple of weeks. The end of the fair(s) was greeted with relief. But Berlinís second-round shows are slated to begin soon. Stay tuned.
Berlinís busting out all over
Several new art galleries have opened as well, designed to take advantage of the influx of collectors and the general upbeat vibe. On Sept. 13, the megahyped Berlin outpost of Haunch of Venison opened on a bleak strip not far from the cityís new Hauptbahnhof train station and the Hamburger Bahnhof Contemporary Art Center with a collaborative show by the Berlin-based electronica act Schneider TM and the fictional act Lustfaust, an invention of 28-year-old British artist Jamie Shovlin [see Artnet News, Sept. 13, 2007].
The performance was more than a little reminiscent of Spinal Tap: One musician appeared in a diaper and pig mask, and the band trashed the stage at the end of the show. The wrecked instruments are preserved for a future Lustfaust exhibition, of course.
Next up at the 5,000-square-foot power gallery is Berlin Buddha by the Chinese artist Zhang Huan, an amazing 14-foot-tall sculpture of the Buddha made of 7.5 tons of incense ash that may or may not disintegrate by the time the show comes down in early December (ephemerality is part of the project). According to gallery director Jürg Judin (formerly head of the Zurich branch), this Haunch of Venison wonít have a sales team but will be used for conceptual and long-term projects, which will change about four times a year.More openings
Not far away from Haunch on Invalidenstrasse, Alexander Duve and Birte Kleemann (an assistant at Eigen + Art until recently) launched duvekleeman, which opened with streetwise photographer Ali Kepenekís first solo show on Sept. 27, 2007.
And extending the geographical reach of young Berlin dealers even further, recent arrival Aaron Moulton (a veteran of Gagosian Gallery in New York and until recently the English-language editor of Flash Art in Milan) has launched Feinkost in a storefront not far from the no-manís-land left behind by the Berlin Wall. The gallery has two separate spaces, and is currently featuring the renowned Bulgarian artist Luchezar Boyadjievís "5 Views to Mecca." Upcoming is a group show called "The Art World," designed to reveal "how the social and economic structures in this profession are constructed." It includes works by Christian Jankowski, Charles Gute and Pablo Helguera, along with more from Boyadjiev. This one we gotta see.
Back on the other side of town, the area near Checkpoint Charlie has upped its blue-chip density with a pack of new arrivals. One is Spesshardt + Klein, opened on Sept. 28 by Annette von Spesshardt (whose co-op Echolot ended its run about a year ago) and Stuttgart collector Peter W. Klein. The 300-square-meter space was once a bank and still has a "safe room" that is now reserved for special projects. Currently on view are collaborations and solo pieces by Matthew Burbridge and Jaro Straub.
Around the corner is Swedish dealer Claes Nordenhakeís new real-estate coup: an entire building on Lindenstrasse near where the Berlinís once-anarchic Kreuzberg neighborhood meets Berlin-Mitte. In the sprawling complex are the Berlin branch of Galerie Nordenhake and seven other galleries, including new spaces for Berlin dealers Niels Borsch Jensen and Volker Diehl (the latter is also keeping his old location) and satellite spaces for the 40-year-old Düsseldorf gallery Konrad Fisher and Gebrüder Lehmann from Dresden. Then thereís Magazin, a new gallery run by Monika Branicka, Arve Opdahl from Norway and Gregor Podnar from Ljubljana.
The building, which once housed an airline and department store but then stood empty for years, was revamped by the hot architectural duo Gonzalez-Haase (both Pierre Jorge Gonzalez and Judith Haase are Richard Gluckman alums and have designed some of the sleekest upscale retail stores in Berlin). "At the beginning in Berlin, times were really bad, especially financially," says Nordenhake, who opened his original space on Zimmerstrasse in 2000. "Germany was almost nonexistent as a market. But now I have the feeling that things have changed, especially in the past year."
And -- pant, pant -- still another minihub is cropping up nearby, with dealer Aurel Scheibler, already a fixture in West Berlin, moving into an additional monstrous space with seven-meter-tall ceilings on Charlottenstrasse. In the same building is a gallery called September that is run by art journalist Oliver Koerner von Gustorf and Frank Müller. A third gallery joins the party soon: after a 14-year break, veteran Stuttgart dealer Ralph Wernicke (and his partner Amel Bourouina) are opening a space called C2C which will feature new painting and conceptual art as well as "old masters" from the Ď60s and Ď70s.
In Berlin, Nordenhake says, dealers can find spaces that would be unaffordable in other European cities -- but whatís missing is a strong secondary market. Yet thereís hope that Berlin can be, and wants to be, an international city. Will dealing hit maximum density this year, especially with all the international galleries moving in? Whether the commercial art market in Berlin hits its stride remains to be seen, but one thingís for sure: Thereís no dearth of opportunities for those wanting either browse or buy.Leipzig spins out
The Leipzig Schoolís heady heyday may be fading but the Saxon city is giving Berlin a run for its money as a gallery magnet. The Baumwollspinnerei, a center of artistsí studios and, increasingly, galleries in a renovated cotton mill complex, hosted its biannual open house and gallery walk on Sept. 15-16, 2007. Though 12 galleries took part, the old mill still seems homey, relatively intimate and strongly influenced by the local Akademieís signature figurative focus.
Standouts included Tobias Lehnerís intricate large-format paintings at Kleindienst, Angelina Gualdoniís utopian images at Dogenhaus and Mark Hamiltonís sleek neon at b2-Galerie. And then thereís Martin Eder at Eigen + Art Leipzig with his usual babes, kitties and kitsch. "Thatís Martin Eder, thatís his format, you can see it and heís good at it," says Leipzig local hero Judy Lybke, arguably the driving force behind the cityís renaissance. Dominikus Müller of Artnet.de compares Ederís new work to John Currinís, but praises the show for working well in Eigenís huge Leipzig space, which opened in April 2005.
Less sprawling than Berlin, Leipzig is also attracting a good number of international satellites that are blowing some fresh wind into the scene. Brooklynís Pierogi settled here in April last year (itís currently showing funky architectural constructions by Lutz-Rainer Müller & Jan Freuchen). New arrivals include Chicagoís Kavi Gupta and Londonís Fred, which has opened a full outpost after running a project space in the city for the past year. On view at Fred is Melanie Manchotís video Shave, an almost meditative trip over the body of a hirsute naked man whose hair is slowly removed. Mmmm. Just in time for winter.
KIMBERLY BRADLEY is a critic and journalist based in Berlin.