Spritz, Kitsch and Whiskey Sour: Between Artists, Between Drinks…

by Despina Stokou // June 23, 2011

…about 54th Venice Biennale, Tracey Emin’s Show in Hayward Gallery London, and the Based In Berlin show.

“Imagine you finally get invited to the Venice Biennale and you end up in this mess, in the upper left corner no less…”

That’s what I thought, when seeing the installation in the Italian pavilion. A (mostly) painting cluster of over 250 works suggested by an equal number of curators, writers, philosophers…Ironically that was also the only extensive representation of “traditional” painting you would find in Venice, together with the three Tintoretto in the main pavilion. Two traps painting often falls in: renaissance and kitsch. These were nevertheless the two most popular conversation themes during receptions: Sgarbi between art people in disgust, Tintoretto between party lites in awe.

I visited Tracey Emin’s show in Hayward Gallery in London with a “classical painter” friend of mine. She flinched when I asked her to take my picture in front of the epical (for me) applique blanket “Pyscho Slut”. She patiently braved out the 3–4 video works, luckily commercial short, giving only a small comment:
“What is it with girls and the wild west?”
By the time the endless series of Schielesque cunt drawings fell upon us she lost her nerve.
“This is shit. Do you enjoy that?”

“What is it with curators and painting?”
“Have not met a curator that respects himself, who does not hate painting.”
“Is it because painting doesn’t really need curating?”
“For some reason they keep it separate, there is installation, conceptual, performance, video art and then there is painting. If there is a major show with painting then it is only painting- abc is going to be About Painting.”
“Yeah let’s see about that, Aaron Moulton’s show in Autocenter was also called A Painting Show, and exceptionally good as it was, had almost as much paintings as female artists and that was not much…”
“That was an excellent based in Berlin show by the way and without all the fuss and money”
“Painting is not considered edgy enough”
“Oh fuck edgy!”
“… it is conventional, mainstream…”
“You mean commercial. I think it is just spite.”
“I don’t care much about painting.”
“I don’t see why three cars on a platform are more relevant, I keep having the feeling I have seen all this before.”
“Especially after Japan…”
“Hey I liked that! They were cheap copies you know, from China.”
“Ah could you tell?”
“No, I just read about it.”

In a very interesting article about Venice Hanno Rauterberg / ZeitOnline talks about the so called “sprezzatura” the art of making things appearing light, easy, a studied carelessness. This is something I, as many, consider the essence of art making. The most recent and successful example that comes to mind is Martin Creed’s show in Johnen Galerie Berlin (on until June 25, 2011), a painting show by the way.

I left Emin’s show also feeling extremely elevated. We had just spend half hour strolling through the show, talking how she is from Cyprus but the Turkish part, how she actually has a moustache, how beautiful she looks in some pictures and how monstrous in others, what a good figure she still has in what seems to be a recent photo of her naked holding the British flag and how the British flag is maybe the only national flag you can hold and still be sexy. I had to burst out laughing when I read in neon letters My Cunt is Wet with Fear, my friend shook her head. We discussed the preservation possibilities of 10 to 20 year-old used tampons (on display). She mused over the baby clothes and shoes, I watched the video about the abortion. We were practically gossiping. I admire Emin for her studied up-your-faceness, I just wish she was as detailed about her way to success and money as she is about her sex life. Power is What You Want. Openly talking about the pursuit of money and power in the art world is of course the equivalent of talking about used tampons in the rest of the world.

Interview magazine party is scula grande, sestiere di san polo 2454. Text me if you hear of cyp party
Gotta run. Orlan is at iceland
Eating dinner same place I met you. Will come get you at the gardini then go to ice together
U there now?
At Peggy’s grave
Can u get us in?
We don’t bother
In guggenheim but not at lunch
Come to Austria – tiny Wiener, cold beer
Would stay in dry land if I were u
Free food and drink but posh and lame
Das good?
Where the Fuck is James Franco?
Bauer we need a sougar dady to pay our drinks. Piazza Margherita Pizza 2 euro?
Hey I haven’t met her yet, will keep you posted. Where u at?
Say you are Kirstine Roepstorff
Where is the boat thing living again?
This is an exclusive party with free drink food.very difficult to get cards. Are u sure?
Hey sweety I have tickets for dutch due. Cool hey were going to be there around 6ish so maybe catch u later? Def want to see u!
In arsenalle.will be back at 3 for danish pavilion. Meet there?
Hey P, just run into A and she gave me ur number cool that u re here too-do you think u can get an extra ticket for Guggenheim tonight?
Not so good-drinks finito-only red wine
Now canadian. Boring hell. Heading first american then scottland.
Hey H-Swiss thing seems not to be, sitting i front of paradiso with some beers, let me know when u know the address for interview party.

This thought seems to be echoing all over Berlin right now. “Why are you not in this show?” A friend asked me while strolling through Monbijou Park. I said I don’t know. There are some lists you don’t expect to be in, like The World’s 50 Wealthier Men or Most Flexible Yoga Teachers and some lists you just don’t want to be left out of like: the 80 Most Promising Young Artists in Berlin or the 10 Most Successful and The Best Hair In Your High School Graduating Class.
Somebody told me more than two thirds of the artists participating in Venice live in Berlin. Looking around the artists in the Based-In-Berlin show I had the feeling most of them were represented by a not based in Berlin Galerie (or none). That would make sense to me too, as most Berlin galleries work with German and / or more established artists, both of which were not really represented in this show.
One of the first articles posted about the show in facebook (Gisella Williams / NY Times), commented how the Berlin scene is very scattered. People went argh-booo-no-way in their comments about it. I wonder why.

GUY: Oh I am so happy. My lover is coming to Basel. Just talked to my young lover on the phone, he is coming to the Dinner in Basel, i am so excited It is a very exclusive dinner with 70 people…
GIRL: Fun!! Here is my friend…
GUY: Oh nice to meet you! I work for a gallery, we have offices in London and Berlin. We have 5 artists in the show.
GIRLS: 5, Wow…
GUY: There is a spanking performance in Arsenale, 24 hours
OTHER GIRL: Oh I love spanking!
GUY: Did you see anything good today?
OTHER GIRL: Oh nothing, I just became a mother and I have to sleep all day.

“What do they mean fold your hands behind your neck and lean forward to your knees when you hear ‘brace brace’?”
“They want you not to panic, protect your neck…”
“How can I protect my neck there is no space. If I lean forward I will hit my head in the front seat and faint.”

When I first came to Berlin I often compared it to Odysseus Island of the Lotus Eaters, a place so easy going and beautiful that everybody forgets where they came from and stay forever. Now I sometimes have the feeling I live in Groundhog Day with Bill Murray. I am not sure I want to still live here when Forgotten Bar the Movie comes out.

“I read this article in Art Agenda from Michele Faguet about Based In Berlin, she makes a very good point. The project spaces invited to take part, have to show works in spaces often smaller then their own, with a worse infrastructure. All of them had to do their own publicity, Autocenter even printed a floor plan, which was otherwise missing. And one asks, correctly, why go through it in the first place?”
“Off spaces are extremely well organized these days, show good artists, big names, well curated shows. And they get the public- or they get their public, their artists friends. What they don’t get is the press, what they don’t get is the big curator names, what they don’t get is the market.”
“Everybody goes on and on about the off scene in Berlin, but I don’t think anybody is actually visiting it, sometimes I have the feeling journalists just get their information from other journalists, not the real world.”
“I think the off scene in Berlin has grown to a kind of stalemate, they have gotten too professionalized, too involved in their own sphere and too long lived. I don’t think this leads somewhere, a project space cannot be an equivalent for the career you don’t have, or can it?“
“Maybe they will manage to create their own market.”
“It’s not the shows, it is the parties that matter.”
“We should skip the shows, concentrate on the parties, not sure I can stomach another St. Petersburg display.”
“I read in this article in the Zeit the director of Blain Southern did not even know what based in berlin is, she lives in a completely different city, I admit I was jealous.”
“Nobody gives a fuck about the off scene in Berlin. These people could live anywhere. They just live here because it is cool.”
“Yeah but it is cool because of the off scene.”
“Living in Berlin is easy, its lovely actually! Leaving Berlin and make a name in the world is the tricky part.”

Writer Info

Despina Stokou is an artist, writer and curator based in Berlin. She is additionally the editor of bpigs.com, a guide for off-spaces in Berlin and writes the weekly blog, Pigs Tips. Recent projects include the Curators Battle Aaron Moulton vs Carson Chan, Speed Portfolio Viewing, My Life Bar Bar– show with artists working in bars, Dirty Dozen a series of six alter ego shows and Madonna Psycho Slut – an only women show. Stokou is represented by Krobath Galerie Wien / Berlin.

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