Four Gems from Berlin’s Sprawling Gallery Weekend

by Matthew Leifheit on May 7, 2013 · 1 comment Reviews

(Image courtesy of Matthew Leifheit)

From the number of Berliners in galleries last weekend, you would think they were handing out free bratwurst.
Instead, they’d come for art, which fills every crevasse and hole in the city during Berlin Gallery Weekend. It’s similar to Gallery Week in New York, in that it brings big-name artists in for shows at major galleries and institutions. But thanks to cheap rents, you’ll just as often stumble across a show in a back alley, an empty shipping container, or somebody’s apartment.

But despite the vibrant crowds and huge turnout, galleries tended to favor work that was dryly conceptual or based on systems, and it often left me feeling a little cold. I’ve narrowed my picks from the weekend down to four shows that had a lot of soul.

Ken Okiishi’s spinning euro at Mathew Gallery (Image courtesy of Matthew Leifheit)

Love is Still Colder than Capital, Nicolas Ceccaldi, Than Hussein Clark, Vernon Price, Ken Okiishi, Megan Francis Sullivan, April 25th – June 1st
Mathew Galerie, Schaperstrasse 12  10719 Berlin

The group show “Love is Still Colder than Capital” is a spinoff of this year’s “Love is Colder than Capital” at Kunsthaus Bregenz, a major exhibition which included works by Cindy Sherman and Keith Haring. Interestingly, it’s restaged here by emerging artists, and again looks at ways emotion is commodified. This seemed like a comment on the blue chippy-ness of the artists in the original. Ken Okiishi’s spinning coinage (above) was included in the first show, and its slow rotation echoed the works inside this new version. There was a trend of repetition or recursion in the show, which made sense, as this was the second one.
It was easy to see the connection between love and commodity in these pieces, particularly in a set of delicate watercolor copies of Roe Ethridge photos by Megan Francis Sullivan. Since Ethridge makes no separation between his art and his commercial work, it seems appropriate to take these photos one step further by making them into paintings.

“Tender is The North, The Alvar Alto Sleep Over” by Villa Design Group (Image courtesy of Matthew Leifheit)

The show continued into the bar next door, with a bloody-sexual performance,“Tender is The North, The Alvar Alto Sleep Over” by Villa Design Group (which Than Hussein Clark, whose installation is in the main show, is a member of). An actor took the stage bleeding from a bandaged head wound. Surrounded by burning rococo moldings and projected footage of flaming Scandinavian furniture, she torched her notes as she read them, ranting on aesthetics and destruction. A row of beautiful young people slowly disrobed in front of her while two men in spa attire chanted in unison from stage right, “our walls were empty until we could afford masterpieces.” It was weirdly exciting to watch, and all the aggressive language made it clear that there was something at stake for the authors. Repeated dialogue about blowing up different rooms of the house told me they despised architectural functionalism, but the overall message evaded me. This may have been due in part to the performers’ heavy German accents.

“Love is Still Colder than Capital” appealed to me because it brought younger, less represented artists working in similar ways to those in a major museum exhibition to light. It’s possible that each show saw the other as the capitalist version. The press release includes a statement from the original exhibition’s curator Yilmaz Dziewior. Although enthusiastic about the new show, he basically declines the invitation to write a statement for a private gallery in light of his position as a museum curator, saying “Concerning the possibility of writing a press release for Mathew… capital is whispering in my ears: NO.”

AA Bronson: Untitled (voodoo doll) #2 (with Reima Hirvonen), 2013, AA's Pucci underwear (cotton knit), used sock, cotton thread, tobacco, human hair, rabbit fur, ball point pen, 22 x 17 cm (Image courtesy of Nature Morte)

The Botanica: Michael Bühler-Rose and AA Bronson. April 27th – June 1st
Nature Morte Berlin, Weydingerstr. 6
Berlin 10178

This show was visual candy, with lots of images of flames and naked men painted bright colors. The smell of exotic woods burning and a garden of deadly herbs in the windows completed the voodoo vibe. It made me think about golden Byzantine mosaics and other flashy ways religions have used visual imagery in the past.

But rather than commenting on religion, this show celebrates the relationship between art and spiritualism. Buhler-Rose, an artist and Brahmin Priest, presented a white altar that billowed smoke in the wake of a ceremony to purify the gallery space. “Evil Eye Removal Kits” could be purchased for just €25. They contained materials for a ritual to eradicate bad vibes, and an instruction card signed by Buhler-Rose. Bronson’s contributions included allegorical backlit photos made on Fire Island and two loveable voodoo dolls with stuffed erections.

I will admit to being biased because I know the work of these artists well, but this show had an inclusiveness that made me feel like a part of the ritual. I feel pretty spiritual about art viewing and art making, so this resonates with me.

Avery Singer, Install shot

The Artists: Avery Singer. April 26th – June 22nd
Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler Galerie, Karl–Liebknecht–Straße 29, 4th floor

There was something about the setting of this gallery- it was behind an unmarked door down a long, spooky hallway on the fourth floor of a big office building. Generic and colorless computery updates of purist still lives, by recent Cooper Union graduate Avery Singer, look completely at home in this bizarre space. Composing her images in 3-D rendering software,  Singer uses masks on canvas and an airbrush, which creates a naturalistic effect, while clearly depicting digital forms.

Genre scenes looked strangely cleaned up, though a goofy kind of humor ran through both the situations on view and the way they were depicted. “Saturday Night” shows a starkly-lit spaghetti pile of cubes wearing an artist hat, next to a bottle wine. The gray self-seriousness mimics the drudgery of making such images. This saved the paintings from being too dry. It was nice to see the impeccable technical skill of this artist not lead to boring, technical-looking work. Instead, exacting craft provided a clean slate for the abstractions to look like they were taking place between physical objects.

Image from "Insomnia: Assorted, Illuminated, Fixed." Sprüth Magers Berlin. Image courtesy of Matthew Leifheit.

Insomnia: Assorted, Iluminated, Fixed: Joseph Kosuth. April 27th – June 22nd
Sprüth Magers Berlin, Oranienburger Straße 18,
D-10178 Berlin

Berlin is so saturated with art that on the way home I just happened to wander into a triple show of Richard Artschwager, George Condo and Joseph Kosuth– which may give you an idea of the scale of Gallery Weekend Berlin. Although these shows were not anything particularly new or adventurous and I had trouble seeing the logic in putting these three artists together, it was certainly BIG. I was happy to have stumbled in because I never get tired of watching people look at Kosuth’s neon text pieces. Small children, dogs on leashes, uber-cool arty Berliners and crusty hippies wandered through the gallery, slowly pondering, all bathed in neon glow. The kids particularly seemed to like this show. It was really pleasant that I could walk off the street and end up at  Sprüth Magers, giving the impression of the total accessibility of every type of art in Berlin this weekend. The lack of separation between art and life here certainly changed my experience- by disintegrating the institutional framework, all the art was on on a similar plane. It almost began to make sense to me that Kosuth and Condo be put together, because everyone was together here. I stared into the neon and wondered, “What does this mean?”

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