Gallery Weekend 2023: The Schöneberg Walkabout

by Gillian N. Osborne // May 3, 2023

The simple magic of Gallery Weekend lies in its synchronisation of exhibition openings and its wide invitation for public participation. It’s a chance to lap up a host of new work in one swoop, moving from gallery to gallery, following the throng of people through the open doors, preferably covering a larger area over the course of a couple of hours. The second magical thing about Gallery Weekend is observing the crowds on opening night. Each gallery attracts its own recognisable crowd with its own distinct aesthetic. It’s fascinating to see this physical convergence of people whose look usually marks them out from the crowd. I was reminded of a swarm of bees, where suddenly the dispersed individual parts become one organism.

Most exhibitions will be open for another month. You could, for example, easily cover a tidy strip of Schöneberg in a couple of hours. A good starting point would be Noah Klink at the southernmost point, walking up to check out Heidi on Kurfurstenstraße before dipping into the concentration of galleries on Pohl- and Potsdamerstraße. From there it’s a short walk to Schöneberger Ufer and the final three galleries of the belt.

Hito Steyerl: ‘Animal Spirits,’ 2022, single channel HD video, live computer simulation, sensor devices, glass spheres, organic materials, duration: 24 min; simulation duration variable; dimensions variable, exhibition view: Hito Steyerl, ‘Contemporary Cave Art,’ Esther Schipper, Berlin, 2023 // Courtesy the artist, Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York, and Esther Schipper, Berlin/Paris/Seoul, © The artist / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2023, Photo © Andrea Rossetti

Highlights of this route are undoubtedly the blockbuster shows on Potsdamer Straße. At Esther Schipper, Hito Steyerl’s film installation ‘Contemporary Cave Art’ from 2022 has been adapted to the gallery space. The space is dark and hung with glass orbs filled with tropical plants, each lit from within with a purple haze, creating an eerie, futuristic feeling. Five tall, double-sided screens form an open enclosure in the middle of the room. The film itself pulls a host of current references together, from the economic theory of John Maynard Keynes to the recent controversy over the protection of wolves in Europe, narrating an absurd attempt to create a reality show where artists learn to be shepherds in the Spanish mountains. The piece questions the very notion of authenticity and the foundations on which it rests—which might be history, tradition, place, land or even appearance in the block chain. It lays bare the hypocrisy involved in any claim to authenticity, revealing the exclusionary and conflictual nature of the concept itself. This should make us think not only about our relationship to social media and its icons, but on a deeper level about the complexity of any political conflict where a claim to originality or authenticity is at stake.

Lydia Pettit: ‘Mercy,’ 2022, oil on canvas 200 x 170 cm // Photo by Elliott Mickleburgh, copyright the artist, courtesy of Galerie Judin, Berlin

At Galerie Judin, Lydia Pettit’s paintings hit hard in their directness. Entitled ‘In Your Anger, I See Fear,’ the exhibition consists mainly of large-scale, magnified self-portraits that directly challenge us in their calm, defiant gaze, drawing attention to areas of fat and flesh, or the propensity of the artist’s female body to bleed. At the centre of the exhibition a white, mutilated model of the artist’s body lies on the floor. In a film projected on the wall behind it, we see Pettit attacking the lifeless but nevertheless life-like model, sitting astride the figure and stabbing it repeatedly with a kitchen knife, while black, oil-like blood splatters from the corpse. Her aggression seems unbounded as she stabs again and again into the maimed chest. It’s a shocking reference not only to femicide but also to self-harm. In showing us one woman’s propensity for aggression, these works question the idea that women are really as meek and accommodating as society expects them to be. They ask whether the anger that arises when women refuse to conform to social expectations of meekness, cleanliness, or thinness doesn’t in fact stem from a fear of women’s power. And further, whether women participate in curbing their own power when they internalise this aggression and turn it against themselves. This isn’t a new idea, but Pettit’s technical skill and the size of these works provoke an emotional response that hammers it home.

Lydia Pettit: ‘You Watched Me Burn,’ 2023, oil on canvas 200 x 170 cm // Photo by Elliott Mickleburgh, copyright the artist, courtesy of Galerie Judin, Berlin

Of the smaller galleries along this route, Björn Dahlem’s show at Guido W. Baudach is particularly worth a visit. Here, kitsch ceramic birds perch on clean geometric wooden frames, glass trees grow out of wall-mounted plinths and pickled tongues form the ends of what seem to be raw, rough wooden handrails. These weird, dream-like structures seem to traverse generations to create a magical landscape in which objects speak to one another and have meanings we don’t yet understand.

Björn Dahlem: ‘Black Hole (Heidegger Schwarzschild),’ 2019, wood, lacquer, steel, aluminum, acrylic glass, cuckoo clock, lava stone, 65 x 65 x 50 cm // Courtesy the artist and Galerie Guido W. Baudach, Berlin, photo by Achim Kukulies, copyright Björn Dahlem

The general sense from this corner of Berlin is that we are seeing a new questioning and probing of social concepts in a way that allows for their complexity to unfold over time as the works are digested. There is far less of the kind of activist work of recent years that relies on the simple documentation of facts to shock and command attention, as commendable as that aim might be. This is a welcome change, allowing as it does for a deeper interaction between artist, work and viewer. By problematising social concepts, laying them out in all their fragility and complexity, these works open the way for a new relationship to those concepts and new meanings. An optimist might hope that these subtle signs prophesy a longer-term shift.

Exhibition Info

Esther Schipper

Hito Steyerl: ‘Contemporary Cave Art’
Exhibition: Apr. 28-May 25, 2023
estherschipper.com
Potsdamer Straße 81E, 10785 Berlin, click here for map

Galerie Judin

Lydia Pettit: ‘In Your Anger, I See Fear’
Exhibition: Apr. 28–July 8, 2023
galeriejudin.com
Potsdamer Straße 83, 10785 Berlin, click here for map

Galerie Guido W. Baudach

Björn Dahlem: ‘Something Secret about the Universe (I always wanted to tell you)’
Exhibition: Apr. 28–June 10, 2023
guidowbaudach.com
Pohlstraße 67, 10785 Berlin, click here for map

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