Article by Sarah Gretsch // Apr. 30, 2013
Gallery Weekend Berlin came and went, and with it the pushing through crowds, the vague art historical references in attempts to impress your not so artsy friends, and debating whether or not to pick up that hundredth press release. But its concept remains: one weekend when galleries plan to have their biggest, most diverse crowd, and thus bring their very best of contemporary art.
This art represent artists from all different places and cultures working with a range of concepts and materials. Such a range asks its audience to appreciate fiberglass faces produced in Warner Brothers studios next to light bulbs dipped in assorted liquids, challenging not only its audience’s tastes or reception, but forcing a reaction, to attempt to answer why we take the time to stand in its presence and what we can learn.
The frenzy is now behind us, but the art remains. A tour of six distinct galleries presents a snapshot of the diversity of these galleries, the artists they present, and the artworks contained within.
Engineer turned art student, Jerszy Seyour, builds conceptual environments from everyday objects, combining found materials and original artistic creations. For his current show “The Universe Wants To Play” at Galerie Crone the space becomes a physical impression mimicking the brain. A video piece of parallel worlds acts as an introduction with a setting of an everyday world of people entering and exiting the S-bahn, of reading papers and casting their eyes away from recognition of anything out of the ordinary. This plays side by side with a fictional world of boys in color-coded sweatshirts searching for the Holy Grail, a drama told with no sound other than the hypnotic pounding of a drum that shakes the room. This mingling of two realities, everyday versus fantasy, the reality and the subconscious––like our brain––takes form in the main gallery space. A jumble of pieces that reflect the subconscious includes a gigantic boulder blocking the entrance, a frog hopping from land to water in a cage, hallucinogenic cacti and a guitar that reverberates sound throughout the space while all the while your feet sink unsteadily into sand. Each object is a quick impulse, a surge in the brain’s activity. An absurd moment of unrelated thoughts, like that painfully inappropriate moment when in the middle of a terrible yelling fight with the one you love, your brain wonders what you’ll wear tonight while recalling a split second memory of your sixth birthday party.
Moving away from the conceptual into the elemental sculptures of Alice Aycock, the works at Thomas Schulte represent one of the artist’s first exhibitions after years in public art. An American who gained notoriety with movement art in the 1970s along with artists like Anthony McCall, Aycock was a rare woman for the time. Yet her pieces show no sign of intimidation. Mostly large-scale, public pieces, the ones currently on display in Berlin present a rare intimacy, a sense of greater freedom and exploration. One of the works at Thomas Schulte could only be created with a 3D printer, going beyond the limits of human abilities. Similarly, the fluid shapes of her sculptures often reflect this border between the physical and the intangible, with pieces that meld the visual presence of the artist’s hand and the abstraction of such intangible concepts like wind and mathematical formulas.
Anna K.E. baked a cheesy Georgian bread for her shows opening at Galerie Barbara Thumm, leaving the remnants behind to stay until the end of the show. Prints, interactive, and video art all share the same space as separate ideas from one artist. As a base for such ideas, Ann K.E. creates architectural elements of wood, Plexiglas, aluminum, creating barriers, frames, open spaces, and surprising relationships. On the wall hangs a print from her series “Profound Approach, Easy Outcome”, in which she poses in imitation in front of old master works or iconic modernist paintings. Across the room is a video of the artist’s feet, occupying the entire screen, racing across in ballerina point shoes, precariously making her way through a warehouse of obstacles. The sound of the shoes cracking, actually breaking under the pressure, shatters the beauty normally associated with the persona and act of ballet. The end brings this point to a dramatic, rather hilarious close, when the feet stop, twist with discomfort, and pee begins to flow steadily, dripping, splashing, soaking into the pink shoes and quickly turning them yellow.
Showing the artist’s works for the first time in Berlin, Capitain Petzel presents the late blooming success of Maria Lassnig. Born in 1919, she creates paintings at ninety four years old that are easily confused for a younger generations, for their neon colors and energetic brush strokes that form effortless figures across the canvas. She lives in Austria now, lived in Paris in the 50s, then later New York. She lived through all of these periods in history, the birth of conceptual art, and teaching herself to make small animation films, yet somehow oil paint stuck. Lassnig’s paintings provoke an immediate emotional response, whether from their honesty or obscurity. There is a sense of not being filtered through a theory or psychology, that the technique and practice alone informs the hand’s gestures, brushing paint on canvas. They can seem confused––a couple stand, their sides to the viewer, facing each other with a growing depth between them, but they share canvas space with a frowning bulldog; an alien figure floats over a man who may be raping a woman in a park––but others feel terribly sad, a feeling of loss, a grim hilarity and an intimate understanding of the human form.
VALIE EXPORT––the artistic persona created by the woman whose answer to a capitalist society was to brand herself––played a decisive role in 1970s feminist action, performance, and conceptual art. Her works emphasize physical contact and its implications, especially within gender roles. Greeted by archival elements under glass cases, images from previous works, exhibitions, projects and performances, visitors of Galerie ŻAK | BRANICKA gravitate immediately toward a group of light bulbs hanging from the ceiling and rhythmically lowered into cylinders filled with water, milk, or old oil. This slow joining and repelling contrasts with the next room; filled with dozens of televisions turned on their sides. The normally vertical up and down motion of a threadless sewing machine becomes a horizontal repetition desperately running to no end. The next room shows a video work, in which feet shot from below walk on a glass surface, skin folding, wrinkling, toe muscles contracting, veins and joints cringing.
Michel Francois’ works at Calier/ Gebauer tend to carry a sense of his last exhibitions, recycling concepts from the results of his creations and the relationships they form with each other. Yet within each exhibit, every object feels like a case-in-point, somehow isolated and begging an intimate reaction from its viewer. His mix of found objects with others void of classification or explanation imply notions of time, waiting, delay, inactivity. This exhibition titled “Pieces of Evidence” draws inspiration from photographs taken at the Justice Palace in Brussels: a place filled with objects that cannot be touched, that have a specific place in history, but that look so banal, so everyday that only contextual knowledge can transform them. An object characterizes a deed, a moment and story in time. In a way, this resonates with the notion of the white cube and of the artist as witness to historical moments. Curated by the the artist, the works dot the space, pieces are placed in perfect relation to one another. Every piece except two were created in 2013, and range from soap and burnt woods to a light strung across the wall dripped over with white paint––the remnants splattered underneath suggesting the artists’ presence in the space. Clothes in a corner squished into a kind of linear pattern, the softness becoming oddly geometrical, rigid. Action and reaction is an ice block that melts, water flowing under a heavy stone block placed next to it. A nervous impatience is the passivity created by magnets holding together two pieces of metal. Each piece maintains a moment of the outside world, of something familiar and tangible, but placed in this context of interactions, there is wonderment, strangeness, and pangs of emotion.
Sarah Gretsch is living in Germany since January 2012. Originally from the United States, where she pursued her Bachelor’s in Art history, she is now continuing her studies in Berlin.