"Change" may serve as the mantra of a certain U.S. politician but it also does duty for Berlin’s art world, what with gallery spaces playing musical chairs, fairs swapping old directors for new and the like. Yet one thing here is solid and growing: Gallery Weekend, the ultimate coordinated group opening that takes place every spring. This time around, Gallery Weekend took place May 2-4, 2008. Droves of collectors appeared, hosted by the 34 galleries which insiders say each paid €8,000 for the privilege of being included in the event, run by former Frankfurt Art Fair director Michael Neff.
Gallery Weekend was launched in 2005, when only 20 galleries took part, and quickly became a kind of springtime art fest, serving to lure moneyed out-of-towners into a city that’s notoriously short on high-end art buyers. In some ways, Gallery Weekend doesn’t seem that different from a normal Friday or Saturday night, especially those with several simultaneous openings. Nevertheless, a happening that once had the feel of a local walkabout has turned into an international affair in the last few years, complete with Blahnik-shod ladies and even chauffeured cars (neither of which is a common sight in Berlin).
A few sanctioned special events were also held, including tours of the personal collections of seven local dealers, a cocktail reception at the posh Hotel de Rome and a fancy dinner at the Berlin Convention Center.
Art at "Gallery Weekend"
But about the actual art: Highlights, all still on view, include Japanese star photographer Nobuyoshi Araki’s bound female nudes at Jablonka Galerie. The 100 black-and-white photographs from the artist’s "Kinbaku Series" (the word refers to a method of tying knots, and the shots were taken over the course of 30 years) range from pornographic to provocative, submissive or even tender. Araki’s celebrity status assures that the models -- often in acrobatic poses -- come to him for sittings, and he claims to do the intricate rope-tying himself.
At a press conference, the spritely, snarky photog quipped through a translator that "attractive women need to be tied down" (okay, he also said "women are truth" and "tying up women becomes an embrace") and asked the press corps to pose for a group picture -- unbound and clothed.
At Arndt + Partner, the Vienna-based collaborative duo Markus Muntean and Adi Rosenblum (he is Austrian-born, she Israeli) fills the gallery’s two floors with figurative paintings of youthful lassitude, installed on walls painted in warm colors that offset the small-format single portraits downstairs, and larger group scenes above. Each image is surrounded by a white border and captioned with a cryptic handwritten statement -- like in a comic book, but without any apparent connection to what’s depicted. Their compositions riff on nearly every classical movement in painting, but the modern images of urban decay and vacuous youths evoke, say, a 1990s Calvin Klein ad. Somehow, all the disillusioned youth reminded me of AES+F’s warring youth in the film Last Riot in the Russian pavilion at the 2007 Venice Biennale.
On a far more minimalist and cerebral note, Icelandic weather artist Olafur Eliasson’s five-minute film at Neugerriemschneider plays with perception: brightly colored geometric figures, projected from 24 source-four spotlights, flow across a large white oval, centered with a black dot, and then disappear. Like Jasper Johns’ complementary-colored American flag, the colors and figures generate afterimages on a viewer’s retinas, an effect that is mesmerizing if not slightly disorienting after a couple of rounds through the loop.
Not officially part of Gallery Weekend but still drawing 3,500 people was the kickoff of yet another new gallery hublet directly behind the Hamburger Bahnhof Museum of Contemporary Art. The Hallen am Wasser ("Halls on the Water") venture, initiated by dealers Friedrick Loock, Kristian Jarmuschek and Harald Frisch, sits in a desolate cobblestoned industrial area, the buildings bedecked with a slanted façade that looks like large strips of grayish duct tape spanned on an exterior frame.
The row of connected, converted warehouses holds no less than six spacious galleries: the aforementioned entrepreneurs have each claimed a hall, and the roster also includes Danish gallery Andersen_S (which has mounted a head-spinningly large group show including works by Danish artist Kirstine Roepsdorf and Tal R, who is also on view at CFA). Also impressive is Munich-born Julian Rosefeldt’s four-channel video Ship of Fools at Arndt+Partner’s new 4,000-square-meter project space. The videos, shot at Potsdam’s Sacrow Castle, seem at first like a modern meditation on Caspar David Friedrich -- a lone man wanders through a lush swamp, another lone man watches a boat slowly glide into a bay -- but the sound and sight of barking German shepherds dominates the space and reveals the artists’ commentary on modern German history.
And India-based Bodhi Art’s first European subsidiary is exhibiting an intriguing group show curated by Shaheen Merali, who has orchestrated major exhibitions at Berlin’s House of World Cultures over the past five years and is now artistic director of Bodhi’s five spaces -- the others are in India, New York and Singapore. With large labels and explanatory text on the walls, it feels a bit institutional, but some works here, especially Subodh Gupta’s Faith Matters -- metal cylinders moving along a sushi conveyor belt in a kind of miniature cityscape -- make us wonder whether the next big thing after China will come from the Indian subcontinent.
In terms of Bodhi Art’s presence in Berlin, "it’s the first gallery outside the realm of the European canon," says the thoughtful Merali, who’s working on developing an overall curatorial vision for the gallery group and welcomes any and all to come see. "Art should be about producing knowledge. And the more recipients there are, the more successful we are."
Even nearby Leipzig took advantage of the influx of outside viewers for its annual gallery walk in the Spinnerei (an old cotton mill gone art complex) on May 1. One highlight was sculptor Stella Hamberg’s long-awaited solo exhibition, "liebe Hölle" (Dear Hell), at Eigen+Art’s Leipzig space. The 33-year-old has taken on a challenging new material, and the effects are stunning: the rough-hewn, dynamic bodies of her oversize "Berzerker" bronzes (some weigh 1,600 pounds and are well over six feet tall) are mythologically powerful, yet their faces exude the peaceful smoothness that Hamberg followers will recognize from her earlier works in polyurethane and ceramic. The show is up until August and is worth a look.
Also definitely worth a visit is the ominous grey edifice in the heart of Berlin-Mitte: the Boros Collection, a new private museum opened by übercollector Christian Boros. Boros hosted an exclusive fete in his mysterious war bunker during the Berlin Biennale in early April, and has now soft-launched the public tours that will begin in earnest on June 7. The shiny-pated advertising mogul, who claims he "collects works he doesn’t understand," purchased the gargantuan structure in 2003 and spent five years and an undisclosed but allegedly very large sum of money to turn it into a kind of private museum containing exemplary contemporary art in 32,000 square feet of exhibition space.
Originally planned by Albert Speer and built by the Nazi regime in 1942 to provide air-raid shelter for 2,000 people in 120 low-ceilinged rooms, the building has a long, checkered history. After the war it served as a Soviet secret service prison; under communism its thick walls stored tropical fruits like bananas and oranges. After the Berlin Wall fell, it was an S+M and techno club before sitting empty for about ten years.
Now the concrete walls frame works by Eliasson (including his Room for All Colors) and Rirkrit Tiravanija, a whole room filled with Sarah Lucas works, sculptures by Tobias Rehberger, and a wall work by Katja Strunz that stretches from the second to the fifth floor. A Santiago Serra work required that architect Jens Casper (of the hip Realarchitektur firm) break through the three-meter-thick walls to create 80 rooms with sight lines that allow looks from multiple vantage points. Some ceilings are now 13 meters high; many of the works are also site-specific.
While the exterior is still has a creepy Third Reich look, its authenticity is a far cry from collector Heiner Bastian’s slick David Chipperfield-designed building a few blocks away, which opened in fall 2007. Writes artnet.de’s Dominikus Müller, "This isn’t an airy ‘art villa,’ but a current monument. . . and something makes it obvious that contemporary art history is being written less and less by museums and art historians but rather by private exhibition houses and collectors."
KIMBERLY BRADLEY is a translator and writer working in New York and Berlin.