Three Excitements in an Overall Likeable Berlin Art Week

Three Excitements in an Overall Likeable Berlin Art Week

“Is there any controversy going on?” a Canadian art critic asked me on her way to Berlin. "Na, not really", I said. And indeed, the whole Berlin Art Week turned out to be a nice event. Everything was pleasant, and everybody was acting so agreeable. Even the elevator didn’t get stuck on its way to the 15th floor for the opening party at the Weekend Club. At the ABC Art Fair people were enjoying themselves, pointing out to me this and that art piece being worthwhile seeing. The art fair itself didn’t exhaust as art fairs are supposed to do. I mean, there was even space available for one to look around. The sun was shining when I arrived at the preview on Thursday. I ate a Bratwurst outside in the shades, preparing for the worst. I swallowed it with a nice cup of tea offered for free by the Javier Peres artist Marinella Senatore. But the Bratwurst turned out to be the only thing that was hard to digest at the ABC Art Fair. 

Rirkrit Tiravanija’s table tennis at ABC Art Fair

All in all, my ABC tour was comparable to Rirkrit Tiravanija’s installation of table tennis: lightweight and fast. It started off with Johann König’s stars Alicja Kwade and Jorinde Voigt shining at the entrance in the color gold. I didn’t even get angry this time. It’s a generation thing, I thought benevolently, this use of highly valuable material peppered with some philosophical content. It might be gold, but it will not last. Further on, I liked the minimalism of Luca Frei at Barbara Wien, but I was not so sure if I liked it because I like all things minimal in life. But I can say as a fact that Dorit Margreiter at Charim Galerie is making good, solid work that takes on a beautiful form. And I had to blink my eyes at Tanja Wagner, where Grit Richter offered an unusual color palette of brown and orange. I didn’t know what to make of the installation, but I liked it, and now, looking at the picture that I took, I start liking it even more. It’s so wrong, it’s good. At Konrad Fischer Galerie I checked out Peter Buggenhout, the partner of my favorite Belgian artist Berlinde de Bruyckere. “Did Buggenhout fish his art work out of Bruges’ canals?” my companion asked me. Good question...

Grit Richter at Tanja Wagner 

Dorit Margreiter at Charim Galerie

Peter Buggenhout at Konrad Fischer Galerie

I had little time to spend at the art fair because I signed up for an exclusive Niche tour through Berlin, which meant that I spent most of the time relaxing in the leather seats of a black bus. I even managed to smuggle a piece of delicious pizza inside, together with a Fritz coke, which I had to drink after I’d seen artist Britta Thie drink one at the project space insitu. Insitu was the highlight of the tour (which included Grim Museum, Deutsche Kunsthalle, KW). Insitu is all over the place at the moment. Everybody is talking about it, thinking about it - if you haven’t done so yet, you should start doing it now. And Britta Thie is the upcoming artist that you should keep an eye on. She’s better than her teacher Hito Steyerl, my friend told me. My friend is right (we'll talk more about Hito Steyerl in a sec). I can also say that Britta Thie in person has this great style going on, and that's how I ended up drinking Fritz coke, it was the closest I could get.  

Britta Thie (drinking Fritz Coke) and Gilles Neiens talking about the show Vic at insitu

I left the bus before we reached KW and after I checked out Deutsche Bank KunstHalle. I thought it was a horrible show. It’s called Xenopolis and it’s about how we’re all strangers. Right, the exhibition started in the entrance hall with a picture of person hidden by a hoodie, and that’s how in the end we’re all strangers.... some more than others, of course. The wall text next to it explained that Parisian curator Simon Njami “fundamentally changed our perception of contemporary African art”. Ha! There was no African artist in the show. Theo Eshetu is British, as far as I know, and not Ethiopian, although the West likes to include him as such in the shows. Mwangi Hutter is a collective living in Berlin. This whole show about “strangers” is based on the philosophy of Roland Barthes - very original, it could also have been Foucault, or Adorno, of course. But it would have been much better if it had been Karl Valentin, who wrote in 1940 this great sketch about the stranger: “Fremd ist der Fremde nur in der Fremde.”

During the Berlin Art Week, there were a few moments when I got really excited. The first time was on Wednesday night. I had started at Capitain Petzel (Peter Piller, nice), then moved on to Hito Steyerl’s show at KOW.  Surrounded by her students, Hito Steyerl was flashing a pink jacket. There was a photographer clicking away around her. It had a certain celebrity quality to it. But let’s talk about the work: I didn’t get her video, using an aesthetics that is ugly to me and featuring a story that makes no sense. I do like her talks that were also shown in the exhibition. In her talks Hito Steyerl makes great sense, delivering new thoughts that most academics are unable to come up with. But it seems as if she thinks that it’s okay for her talks to make sense, but that the art should be senseless, because that’s somehow the intrinsic quality of art: it has no sense, it doesn’t have to make sense, it’s free from making sense. My advice for Hito Steyerl would be to turn her mind about this. 

Hito Steyerl at KOW

I got excited right after leaving Hito Steyerl’s show. It was at Eigen + Art Lab, in an awesome show titled Digitale Demenz (artificial intelligence) curated by Thibaut de Ruyter. De Ruyter told me he has been thinking about this show for a year and a half, and it shows. His curation fits well the idea of a laboratory (Eigen + Art Lab) where breakthroughs often come about when something goes wrong. In general, isn’t the most interesting moment in life when you get lost, when you loose track, when you break a pattern? But what if not a human, but a computer makes a mistake? It can turn against mankind, as we saw in 1996 when Deep Blue, the chess-playing computer devised by IBM, won against Garry Kasparov. Deep blue is also the color that De Ruyter choose for the walls of his exhibit. The curator clearly has a penchant for the early computer freaks of the 1980s (Chris Marker), combined with an affection for conspiracy theories (Erik Bünger) and a leaning towards the apocalypse (iMediengruppe Bitnik) . 

Chris Marker, Dialector 6, 1985-88
at Digitale Demenz (artificial intelligence), Eigen + Art Lab

Erik Bünger, The Girl Who Never Was, 2013 at Eigen + Art Lab

De Ruyter knows also the quality of self-humor. Check out the website made by artist Brendan Howell, changing the curator’s press text into different versions of (non)sense every thirty seconds. Self-humor brings me to my second moment of excitement, which happened on Friday at nGbK. There I talked with Anna Bromley and Michael Fresca about the show Redemption Jokes, which they curated together with Suza Husse, Teena Lange and Jana Sotzko. We got so much into talking that I didn’t have any time left to see the art. I will go back on Sunday for the presentation of their JOKEBOOK. But I was already excited about the carpet, which crawled upon the walls and cuts a path through the exhibition as if it’s an office -  this unusual place for joking, and at the same time a place so much in need of a joke. Besides humour, also eroticism can be an unusual strategy of subversion. That's how my third and last excitement happened on Saturday at Carlier Gebauer. Laure Provost’s video Into All That Is There is highly erotic and I would like to say feminist. It made me think of Audre Lorde’s essay “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power”, stating that “the erotic is the nurturer or nursemaid of all our deepest knowledge.” So, humour and eroticism. Both work to undermine that most dreadful of German words: the Vernunft. 

Anna Bromley and Michael Fresca sitting on the carpet at nGbK