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Berlin Art Week: An International Affair
by Max Nesterak

Taken as a whole, Berlin Art Week – a week of art fairs, exhibition openings, special projects, and art events, now in its second year – is both self-referential and outward looking. Its large exhibitions, together, weave a narrative of art emerging from Berlin, affecting and being affected by constant multicultural discourse. This year, the implicit international scope comes to the fore with a critical awareness of Berlin's position as a major international hub for cross-cultural and cross-practice artistic exchange.

Indeed, it seems exhibition descriptions would not be accepted unless they contained some variation of the phrase “around the world.” DOKU.ARTS has planned twenty-two documentaries from seventeen countries with a focus on North Africa and the Middle East. Haus der Kulturen der Welt looks at the interconnectedness of European and African histories and the process of decolonization in its exhibition After Year Zero, Geographies of Collaboration (year zero being 1945, the end of the Nazi regime, not the other year zero). And The Unanswered Question. Iskele 2 at the Neuer Berliner Kunstverein (n.b.k.) uses Turkey as a starting point to open up a conversation about transnational cultural dialogue.

Exotika 2013 takes up the theme of globalization most pointedly. A cooperation between Galerie M and Kunstverein Tiergarten | Galerie Nord, Exotika 2013 aims not just to show, but to actively grapple with the longstanding Western conception of the exotic other. Through film, installation, painting, sculpture, and photography, the exhibition asks viewers to consider their understandings of people from "far away lands" in the context of globalization (which is hard not to do in a city like Berlin). Sixteen artists from seven countries offer poignant observations of mass tourism, global consumerism, and cultural hegemony. In keeping with its aim to face these issues head on, Exotika 2013 is accompanied by numerous performances, workshops, lectures, and a programmed intervention of public space.

Katrin Plavčak, Die Ideen der Frauen (The Ideas of Women), 2013, acyrlic and oil on cotton, 155 X 185 cm, © Katrin Plavčak; Courtesy Galerie Mezzanin, Wien; on view with Painting Forever!, 2013.

Another big highlight this year is Painting Forever!, a cooperative exhibition among the Berlinische Galerie, the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle, KW Institute for Contemporary Art, and the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. A project initiated by the Berlin Senate, each institution offers a unique look at the incredibly varied history and use of one of the most fundamental mediums of visual art in Berlin. Naturally, such an undertaking is too ambitious to present a complete narrative, but Painting Forever! presents unique perspectives from extraordinarily different artistic and curatorial doctrines, highlighting both the medium’s fragmentation and unification across centuries and disciplines. Though Berlin-centric, its reach is undoubtedly international. For example, KW will exhibit seventy painters who work or have worked in Berlin; these include Iranian-German artist Nader Ahriman, Japanese-Swiss artist Leiko Ikemura, and American-born artist Matthew Antezzo. While highlighting Berlin’s contribution to painting, it also underscores the world’s contribution to Berlin’s arts.

For a look inwards, outwards, backwards, and forwards, the Hamburger Bahnhof is staging architect and curator Friedrich von Borries’s model for Die Berliner Weltverbesserungsmaschine (Berlin’s World Improvement Machine). It won’t be found only in the Hamburger Bahnhof however. Von Borries has marked some seventy objects across sixteen museums that he believes have contributed to Berlin’s aim to improve the world through its work in art and science. In the same world-improvement vein, the Hamburger Bahnhof is putting on a stunning exhibition Das Ende des 20. Jahrhunderts ... es kommt noch besser ... (the end of the 20th century ... it gets better ... ) that brings over twenty artists in critical conversation with each other about the failed goals of the 20th century, our hopes for the future, and what they reveal about our current position.

lem Altin, Whispering Hands, 2013; Courtesy die Künstlerin und CIRCUS, Berlin / Abb.: Foto: Annika Hauke © courtesy die Künstlerin und CIRCUS, Berlin; on view in Das Ende des 20. Jahrhunderts ... es kommt noch besser ..., 2013, Hamburger Bahnhof.

Running at the same time as Berlin Art Week is another one of Berlin’s fall art institutions: Preview Berlin, which promises a look at new names and fresh ideas. Now in its ninth year, Preview, along with the slightly younger abc - art berlin contemporary, is the spot to find Berlin's top galleries showing alongside an impressive roster of international contemporary galleries. At Preview, German, mostly Berlin-based galleries abound – among them Jarmuschek + Partner, Berlin; Hunchentoot Galerie, Berlin; invaliden1 Galerie, Berlin – along with a smattering of galleries from France, the Netherlands, Poland, Australia, the US, and elsewhere. Probably most interesting this year is Preview's FOCUS ACADEMY, where new graduates of the German art academies are invited to exhibit – a great place to spot new talent.

For the über-contemporary art lover, abc is the best bet, however, with its more conceptual bent and exciting emerging galleries. Frequent readers of ArtSlant will recognize many names on the roster this year: from Berlin's Mehdi Chouakri, DUVE Berlin, neugerriemschneider, and Peres Projects; to Toronto's Daniel Faria Gallery; London's Lisson Gallery; Kavi Gupta (Berlin, Chicago); San Francisco's Ratio 3; and oh so many more. And with many galleries opting for the solo format, abc is quickly becoming the choicest Berlin art fair.

Boasting the title of Berlin’s now oldest art fair, in its tenth year, the funky Berliner Liste fair showcases emerging artists and galleries from around the world. This year the formidable curator and art critic Dr. Peter Funken hand selected some 131 exhibitors from thirty countries to exhibit their artists in one of Berlin’s most iconic industrial complexes, Kraftwerk Berlin. Among the exhibitors are ARTCURATOR.RU from Moscow, Temporary Gallery Berlin, Studio 26 Gallery from New York City, and Smart Ship Gallery from Tokyo. This year Berliner Liste is placing greater emphasis on photography, giving it its own section; one emerging photographer to look out for is Franziska Strauss, recently taken on by Berlin’s Egbert Baqué Contemporary Art. In 2011, Strauss was awarded the Reinhart-Wolf-Award and is quickly gaining more attention with a recent exhibition at the Neue Sächsische Galerie. Through illustrating dance, her work explores fundamental human experiences of fear, excitement, greed, and determination.


Franziska Strauss, Vert #10, 2012, Inkjet-Print on Museo Silver Rag on Alu-Dibond, 120 x 80 cm, 6 copies; Courtesy of the artist


With these huge art events running concurrently this week, September in Berlin is nothing short of chaos. Such a varied line-up feels overwhelming, even strained and disconnected, and yet also promises the chance at finding unity in seemingly disparate works. Such is Berlin.


Max Nesterak 



[Image on top: Err(Guundur Guundsson), Ohne Titel (Goya), 1980, Werkraum Godula Buchholz / Abb.: Courtesy Werkraum Godula Buchholz; Foto: Wolfram Ruoff © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2013; on view in Das Ende des 20. Jahrhunderts ... es kommt noch besser ..., 2013, Hamburger Bahnhof.]

Posted by Max Nesterak on 9/15/13

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