This Gallery Weekend I was joined by a group of visiting friends who had recently watched the movie Victoria. My carefully curated Kreuzberg art tour quickly degenerated into a I-spy of possible scene locations from the film, which was shot in one continuous take in about a 5km radius around Kreuzberg; the very same one we happened to be navigating that night. Our mission to visit 10 galleries in three hours took on an unexpected dramatic weight with the added pursuit of this cinematic simulacra, as they checked off memorable scenes: the gated entrance to the (literal) underground club next to Galerie Barbara Thumm; the cafe where the film’s heroine Victoria worked on Friedrichstraße, across the street from Daniel Marzona; the housing complex where the shoot-out took place, kitty-corner to the Lindenstraße gallery conglomerate. The exhibitions became punctuations—respites, even— in a bizarre alternate reality spurred on by the movie (a testament to its lasting impression).
We began our tour at König Galerie in the former St. Agnes church. Since its renovation and grand opening last Gallery Weekend, the space has been a favourite in the Berlin art scene, offering a steady line-up of excellent solo exhibitions in an iconic Brutalist building that can draw visitors on its own. This year the alcove and upper floor presented works by Claudia Comte and Annette Kelm, respectively. As usual, the ground floor housed a selection of König’s wide range of represented artists, from Jorinde Voigt to Michael Sailstorfer.
Directly adjacent the entrance, Claudia Comte’s site-specific installation Catch the Tail by the Tiger performed a hypnotic magnetism on visitors, with moiré patterns drawing us in. The exhibition design was part of the artist’s holistic vision, wherein her hand crafted, sensually curved and smoothed wooden sculptures were nestled at intervals. The small winding labyrinth Comte created made use of the high-ceilinged alcove to accentuate vertical lines, leaving a modest knee-height of space at the bottom to enhance the voyeuristic side of the immersive piece.
The top floor comprised an exhibition of photographic still-lives by Annette Kelm. A fitting visit for May Day this year, Kelm’s three-part series Monney (2015) featured a textual arrangement made of dollar bills, linking language and money as symbolic social currencies. The other images contained objects of little worth, meant to highlight the disparity between currency and its arbitrarily assigned value. The fire escape door at the back of the exhibition space led to the Gartenschau, a special addition of sculptural works strewn across the gallery lawn, including a mirrored piece by Jeppe Hein and oversized, bronze-cast cucumbers by Erwin Wurm.
Around the corner on Lindenstraße, a substantial crowd had amassed in front of two gallery complexes, each consisting of several exhibition spaces. Among the highlights, Ethiopian, New York-based artist Julie Mehretu‘s latest solo show Epigraph, Damascus at Niels Borch Jensen was an exciting revelation. Mehretu is well-known for her densely layered abstract paintings and line drawings, often using bright colour to reproduce mind-maps of familiar urban geographies. In this black-and-white series she turned her eye to the Syrian capital, a congruous choice for a show in Berlin this year, when record-high numbers of refugees are seeking to settle in Germany. Though the paintings are abstract, the layers divulge countless different meanings, with what appear to be Arabic etchings overtop near-indecipherable architectural plans.
In an alleyway off of Markgrafenstraße, Galerie Barbara Thumm presented an oasis of island iconography by Cuban artist Diango Hernández. Tropical fruits were speared on wall lighting fixtures, and sand filled the usual gallery benches. Hernández employs architectural vernacular from Havana in the exhibition furniture, while the placid, blue wave paintings lining the walls exude an easy living philosophy. Yet Hernández’s exhibition is not apolitical: his references to the Cuban capital are wrought with comparisons to its US neighbour, and the seemingly serene setting contains allusions to the many faces Cuba presents to the world, as a simultaneous beach vacation hotspot and a politically volatile, revolutionary power.
Our final destination on the tour was Daniel Marzona to see Olaf Holzapfel‘s lauded solo exhibition Der perfekte Weg. Holzapfel’s show seamlessly integrates material fibers with the natural landscapes in which they originate. Straw, chaguar and cactus fibers are employed in what appear to be texturized aerial portraits of farmland and other regional topographies. The use of native plants in the very fabric of Holzapfel’s work gives it an archival quality, acting as a kind of tangible witness to the changing landscape of our natural environments, from Brandenburg to Buenos Aires.