Gallery Weekend is kind of like an extended Nuit Blanche, with art spaces all over Berlin opening new exhibitions for an ever-rotating public. The opening night can be a non-stop marathon. Fortunately, I began my pilgrimage in the densely packed gallery neighbourhood of Kreuzberg 61 (the Western part) where I found a veritable harvest of exhibitions.
My first stop was the former St. Agnes church on Alexandrinnenstraße, now functioning as a “new and uncommon premises for art,” run by established Berlin gallerist Johann König. The building is a brutalist tour-de-force amidst a neighbourhood bursting with iconic architectural masterpieces, from John Hejduk‘s Kreuzberg Tower to Daniel Liebeskind‘s Jewish Museum. I had never noticed St. Agnes before and I relished the opportunity to take in the building’s interior, an aesthetic bonus to the works by Michael Sailstorfer exhibited inside.
A screen was hanging above the altar area of the church, where Sailstorfer’s Antiherbst played on loop. The film is a documentation of an installation he did for the Emscherkunst 2013 exhibition near Duisburg. Over several weeks, Sailstorfer and his team gathered fallen yellow leaves from a tree, dyed them green again and re-attached them to the tree with zip-ties. I did a studio visit with the artist last autumn, so it was exciting to see this known work on the big screen, alongside his newer piece – exhibited for the first time in Germany – Reibungsverlust am Arbeitsplatz [Friction Losses at the Workplace] (2014). Sailstorfer’s work couldn’t have found a better home: the laborious, grand gestures of his practice melding seamlessly with the stark concrete interior.
On the walk to my next planned destination, carlier | gebauer, I passed a crowd of people outside a triple gallery complex on Lindenstraße: Galerie Gebr. Lehmann, Konrad Fischer Galerie, and Galerie Nordenhake. These traditional white cube spaces were decked with equally traditional shows: playful collages by Susanne Altmann, Baconesque abstract paintings by Magnus Plessen, and a series of spray-painted, grainy, optical illusion canvases by Paul Fägerskiöld, respectively. I passed quickly through these shows, feeling the whole atmosphere a bit elitist. It seemed to emulate the kind of cosmopolitan art world clique I generally tend to avoid. These kinds of commercial shows often seem to be performing the semiotics of an exhibition, yet without any self-irony.
Eventually I made it to carlier | gebauer, cursing the “establishment” the whole way there. The group show Memory Palaces was a refreshing relief. Mostly featuring a series of installations said to be “mental visualizations of familiar places,” the show consisted of sound, sculpture, film and site-specific works by 12 artists. My favourite piece was the video installation Party Island Aquarium by Neil Beloufa. The film was set on a kitschy resort island, with exaggerated soap opera lighting and a Baywatch-style cast dressed in retro beachwear. Every sound in the video – a cocktail being shaken, a drink being sipped through a straw – was amplified to create a kind of all-encompassing sensual experience. Phallic fruits and carefully arranged camera angles gave the whole thing a comically erotic feel, like a really bad porno. It reminded me of some of the more surreal shots in Jan Švankmajer‘s film Conspirators of Pleasure.
After a couple glasses of wine, I ventured out in search of the after-party and passed by Alexander Ochs Galleries Berlin | Beijing. The solo exhibition SHIN-HANG PROLOG by Sven Drühl proved a pleasant surprise. Drühl’s large-scale paintings were juxtaposed with colour woodcuts from the Japanese New Print Movement (Shin-Hanga) of the 1910s and 20s. The paintings expanded details from the woodcuts, reproducing trees and landscapes in oil paint, lacquer and silicon.
Simultaneously, in a risky move on the eve of a drunken Gallery Weekend, the floor was scattered with a series of vases by Korean ceramicist Young-Jae Lee, seeming to quote elements of Ai Weiwei‘s current show at Martin-Gropius-Bau. The serenity of this last show, as the night concluded early around 9pm, provided an ideal atmosphere for reflecting on the manifold works I’d seen in such a short time period and small geographical radius.
GALLERY WEEKEND BERLIN
Exhibition: May 2 – May 4, 2014
Opening: Friday, May 2; 6-9pm