Article by Berlin Art Link // Tuesday, May 1, 2018
As luck would have it, this year’s Gallery Weekend tour took place in a small 500-metre radius around my apartment in Kreuzberg. With my sleeping baby strapped to my chest, I set out on Thursday night to the opening of the experimental architecture exhibition ‘Floating Utopias’ at nGbK on Oranienstraße. At first, the huge crowd filling the courtyard of the gallery appeared as a threat to my baby’s slumber, but it turned out her first big art opening was a success: she roused only briefly when a soft inflatable tube grazed her head during the performance ‘Pneu Show’ by Dutch artist Theo Botschuijver, a former member of the Eventstructure Research Group (ERG).
The participatory performance, which took place for the first time in Bern in 1968, set the tone for the exhibition as a whole: inflatable structures presented as utopian strategies for imagining alternative communities. The ‘Pneu Show’ centred on the premise that releasing this snake-like, air-filled sculpture into the crowd would enact a series of organic movements and negotiations amongst participants, to keep the structure afloat above us or to let it fall to the ground. The action served as a metaphor for community-building as a whole, taking its cue from the “Californian ideology” of the 1960s espoused by other represented artists, such as architecture collective Ant Farm, and manifested in communes and off-grid living strategies the world over. Taking a didactic and historical approach, the exhibition laid bare a trend stemming from these early examples of inflatable objects, leading up to contemporary art-architecture interventions by Berlin-based artists Tomas Saraceno and Ahmet Ögut.
On Friday night, the more intensive tour began with visits to 8 exhibition openings in Kreuzberg galleries. Beginning at the crisply-curated solo shows of Monika Baer at Galerie Barbara Weiss and Yu Honglei at Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler on Kohlfurterstraße, the tour continued to the double gallery complex on Prinzessinenstraße. The usually bright rooms of KLEMM’S were darkened this year for Sven Johne‘s video installation ‘Dear Vladimir Putin’. In it, retired civil engineer Peter Bittel of Dresden prepares a speech to Vladimir Putin, to be delivered in Russian live from his home computer. The audio of his speech is punctuated by close up sounds of Bittel preparing himself physically: shaving, lathering soap in the shower. We get an intimate view of an aging East German man’s fastidious grooming routine, overlaid with political commentary oscillating between historical reflection and contemporary criticism. The video is complemented by a series of posters, ‘Heroes of Labor’, depicting portraits of neoliberal capitalist life coaches and their cheesy motivational catchphrases, spot-lit on a stark black wall.
Next door at Soy Capitan, the tone changes dramatically to a disarmingly funny and tongue-in-cheek (or, tongue-on-pedestal, as the case may be) reflection on the human vs. animal kingdom in Camilla Steinum’s ‘Craving Caring Clumsy Connection’. A series of cut-out wood structures, reminiscent of a beautifully carved children’s playground, depict animals—mostly dogs—in compromising positions and states of connection. The double-tongue sculptures rendered in ‘Vulnerable Lingual’ also reveal connections, touching on language as a slippery form of communication, never fully arriving at its intended meaning.
Following on the theme of ornate tapestries and carpentry, Patrizio Di Massimo’s solo exhibition ‘Inside Me’ at ChertLüdde on Ritterstraße explores duality—specifically, the connection between a man and a woman (the artist and his wife)—through a series of paintings and suggestive boudoir motif installations. The front room is dominated by two human-sized tassels, making the bawdy, burlesque aesthetic of the show ever more apparent. Upstairs, in a small loft room in the gallery, Di Massimo’s 2013 cushion installation—for which the exhibition is titled—contains a surprising hidden performer, whose limbs protrude here and there from amid the pile of pink-hued, bedroom pillows.
Finally, the Kreuzberg tour wound up in one of the galleries that always pulls in a mass audience, by virtue of its unusual architecture and roster of established artists: König’s St. Agnes location. This year’s showing did not disappoint, as sculptor Claudia Comte took over the nave of the former church with her impressive forest of works ‘When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth’. Dozens of massive spruce tree trunks are suspended from the ceiling, each containing a unique wood, marble or bronze sculpture. Comte’s idiosyncratic family of bunnies, snakes and cacti are complemented by more foreboding objects—cans and plastic bottles—which, cushioned within the natural material of the tree, remind us of the pitfalls of the Anthropocene.
Downstairs in the chapel, a small exhibition of Belgian artist Evelyne Axell offers a sneak preview of her larger show at König’s Dessauerstraße location. The artist, who died prematurely in 1972 at the age of 37, recently attained a cult status with her pop art depictions of strong women. Her synthetic resin silhouettes were a highlight of this year’s Gallery Weekend offerings, uncovering a protofeminist potential in pop art’s largely male-dominated canon.
From ‘Floating Utopias’ to Axell’s ‘Venus, Leda & Mona Lisa’, a certain preoccupation with alternative living, generated in the 1960s and resurfacing in relevance today, was woven throughout the Kreuzberg openings during this year’s Gallery Weekend.
Claudia Comte: ‘When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth’
Exhibition: Apr. 27 – Jun. 22, 2018
Evelyne Axell: ‘Venus, Leda & Mona Lisa’
Exhibition: Apr. 27 – May 25, 2018
St. Agnes, Alexandrinenstraße 118–121, 10969 Berlin, click here for map