by Eva Szwarc // May 3, 2023
Gallery Weekend is off to a damp start this year. It’s Friday evening in Mitte and the streetlights are shining off the wet asphalt. One bedraggled tourist power-walks past, sighing to her boyfriend, who is struggling to keep up: “this is not Spring. I want my money back!” To an optimist, it’s only drizzling, really. And there are optimists aplenty on Lindenstraße, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for a street full of galleries, of which the busiest are likely the ones dishing out free wine.
Among the highlights is neugerriemschneider, which is exhibiting a collection of paintings by Andreas Erikkson. In the first room, abstract paintings contain light, springtime palettes. They seem to me like excavations or side profiles of nature. ‘Solfläck’ (2022), for example, brings to mind a cliffside with browns of exposed rock, greens and yellows where plant and fauna have recolonised, and a snippet of sea hinted by aquamarine blue. With a mixture of acrylic and oil, the works are textured and possess a (forgive me, artist) felt-tip quality that is thoroughly enjoyable to look at. The series here is in stark contrast to the last room, in which we are plunged into an altogether darker world inhabited by murky green, dried-blood red and muddy blue. I write the word “foreboding” in my notebook but am not sure that feels right. The paintings evoke another season or time of day or mood, welcoming us to pay attention to the magic of changing landscapes and our relationship to them.
At the very other end of Linienstraße, Dittrich & Schlechtriem presents ‘Anxiety of Subimago’ by Andrej Dúbravský. On an L-shape of the gallery walls downstairs, a cacophony of painted images on loose canvas are layered and pinned. They include frogspawn, bumblebees, two men embracing, a bunch of fruit with faces, caterpillars and a newborn—or unborn—kitten attached by umbilical cord. It seems discordantly personal, tied up with nature and cycles of life. The term ‘subimago’ refers to the stage at which an insect can fly but is not yet mature. In this way, the work reads as a visual meditation on the growing pains and the multitudes of self we acquire in that stretch between birth and death. On the floor lie scrunched-up canvases—an invitation into Dúbravský’s process of selection and discarding, a playing out of the choice between what is exposed and what is concealed.
Following Friday evening’s openings, the buzz continues across a sunnier weekend throughout Mitte. Occupying the entire gallery space at Sprüth Magers on Oranienburgerstraße is ‘Duotopia,’ a major exhibition of Chinese artist Cao Fei. First stepping inside, I am greeted by the video work ‘Meta-mentary’ (2022), in which passersby and strangers are asked questions about the Metaverse: “Would you buy a house in the Metaverse?” “If you were in the Metaverse, would you still fall in love with him?” “Do you think you would like to fly in the Metaverse?”
The responses—which range from enthusiastic to utterly sardonic—encapsulate the wide spectrum of our relationship, or lack thereof, to virtual worlds. In the next room, a Metaverse mermaid (half-bionic woman, half-octopus) floats on a large, oblong screen in ‘Oz’ (2022). She floats dreamily and serene above the clouds as if in a trance, suspended. The video allows a quiet moment—as quiet as the busy space can be, at least—to reflect on our own appraisal of a life spent in the Metaverse.
A few streets away on Torstraße, EIGEN + ART Lab hosts a joint exhibition of emerging artists Emil Urbanek and Elsa Rouy. In Urbanek’s portraits of smudged graphite and pale palette a sense of nostalgia is communicated. The dream-like paintings remind me of old photographs or moments in memory, transcribed in soft grey, peachy pinks and light blue. In contrast, Rouy’s figurative paintings are graphic: sexualised elements like full lips, pert nipples and grinning white teeth are combined with grotesque distortions of anatomy. In ‘I want to name our pains’ (2023) three figures lie or crouch in a wonderful composition. The limp body at the front appears like a puppet, as though dropped unceremoniously on the floor only moments before. Their bloodied feet and the dark curtain-like backdrop appear both biblical and theatrical. As I look at these figures, a little uncomfortably, I wish them to attain some autonomy, to rise up from the glistening mannequin stillness and subjection they assume.
On Saturday evening, St. Elisabeth Church presents ‘Yahon Chang: Floating Poetry, Meandering Mindscape,’ curated by Manu Park. Chang, a leading Taiwanese calligrapher, draws a full crowd, which spills into a U-shape around a huge, blank canvas stretched out across the church floor. The artist moves conscientiously over it, with swift and graceful movements. Each footstep is considered, and it is truly a pleasure to watch his process. In the middle of white space, Chang begins with great swathes of ink, aided by a briefly upturned bucket of ink. Towards the canvas edges Chang exchanges brushes, trailing thinner lines of ink in the vague shape of faces and hands. Two assistants take flank along the edges of the canvas, ready to refill buckets with ink and water or fetch a damp towel for the artist. The performance is beautifully accompanied by Adele Bitter on violoncello and Holger Groschopp on piano, who play compositions by Isang Yun. I consider how Chang’s performance would be impacted by an improvised accompaniment. The musicians reach crescendoes when the artist is refilling a bucket, or softened lulls when energetic dashes are being thrust at the canvas, which feels a touch incongruous.
As a performance, however, it’s a symbolic crescendo to the weekend’s programme of exhibition openings and events. In a district populated by many appointment-only galleries, Mitte opens itself up, and the rewards in doing so are manifold (free wine aside). From the multiple universes explored by Fei to the ever-shifting landscapes extracted by Erikkson, we absorb a variety of worldviews. At the end of this year’s Gallery Weekend, in this corner of the city, my own worldview feels definitively more expanded.
Andreas Eriksson: ‘Year in, Year out’
Exhibition: Apr. 29-May 27, 2023
Linienstraße 155, 10115 Berlin, click here for map
Dittrich & Schlechtriem
Andrej Dúbravský: ‘Anxiety of Subimago’
Exhibition: Apr. 26–July 1, 2023
Linienstraße 23, 10178 Berlin, click here for map
Cao Fei: ‘Duotopia’
Exhibition: Apr. 28–Aug. 19, 2023
Oranienburger Straße 18, 10178 Berlin, click here for map
EIGEN + ART Lab
Elsa Rouy, Emil Urbanek: ‘Elsa & Emil’
Exhibition: Apr. 20–June 3, 2023
Torstraße 220, 10115 Berlin, click here for map
Yahon Chang: ‘Floating Poetry, Meandering Mindscape’
Performance: Saturday, Apr. 29; 6-7pm
Invalidenstraße 3, 10115 Berlin, click here for map