This past Friday marked the opening of the 13th edition of Berlin Gallery Weekend. Established in 2005, Gallery Weekend started as a private initiative by Berlin galleries to encourage collectors to visit the German capital, which despite being known for its vibrant art scene often lags behind other cities in sales. The format has proven such a success that it’s inspired copycat events everywhere from Barcelona to Beijing.
Forty seven galleries took part in the official Gallery Weekend program this year, with many more commercial and non-profit spaces coordinating their openings to take advantage of the crowds, making it an excellent opportunity to spot emerging artists and rediscover old favorites. Here are eight solo exhibitions worth making the trip to Berlin for.
Ambivalent Ladder (Castle of Graz), 2017
Price upon request
For her first solo exhibition at Gillmeier Rech, German artist Jasmin Werner has filled the space with intricate architectural models of stairways. While not exact replicas, these charming objects are based on the entrances to existing buildings, like the Laurentian Library in Florence and the Great Ziggurat of Ur in Iraq, for instance. By focusing on these beacons of learning and personal growth, Werner seems to suggest that contemporary business-speak phrases like "climbing the ladder to success" may have their origin in the aspirational architecture of times past. Appropriately enough, Werner herself is ascending the ladder; after recently graduating from the highly regarded Städelschule in Frankfurt she first came to the attention of Verena Gillmeier and Claudia Rech when another emerging artist on their books, Lindsay Lawson, curated her in a group show at the gallery. Gillmeier says of the young artist, “None of these stairs are solid. They’re fragile and floating, yet directional—and that’s what we like about Jasmin's work”.
Enjoyable relationship, 2017
The weird and wonderful sculptures of Guan Xiao look as if they may have grown out of whatever passes for "nature" in a post-apocalyptic world. In Enjoyable relationship, for example, wheel rims hang from what could be viewed as a mangled tree stump if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s painted florescent pink. Often lauded as a so-called 'Post Internet' artist (supported by her recent inclusion in the DIS-curated Berlin Biennale), Guan is said to be influenced by the readily available display of products and images online. Gaudy colors pervade the exhibition, "Living Sci-Fi, under the red stars," lending the exhibition an uncanny atmosphere where objects appear both out of this world and, due to the use of generic consumer products, completely familiar.
Installation view, "Welcome to LuYang Hell"
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Shanghainese-born Lu Yang first came to the attention of Western audiences when she represented China at the Venice Biennale in 2015. But despite this high accolade she remains radically democratic in her attitude towards art (she makes all of her videos available to view for free on Vimeo.) Her exhibition "Welcome to Luyang Hell" is by far the most bombastic on offer during Gallery Weekend and is not for the fainthearted. It starts out friendly enough, with one of Société’s two spaces taken over by a huge inflatable kite of a man’s head, complete with tentacle-like dreadlocks. We are even treated to a video of said kite in action, those same dreadlocks now blowing crazily in the wind. On the other side of the corridor though, sits the video installation Crime and Punishment (2016), which shows animated humanoids being tortured in hell, while a "helpful" voiceover tells us that "Pain is a perceptual process." Disturbing as the work is, Lu’s vision of what could happen after a life of wanton sin is hard to turn away from.
Installation view, ‘Light Ballet’, 2017
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With Otto Piene’s death in 2014 Germany lost one of its most visionary post-war avant-garde artists. Piene was a founding member of the group ZERO, which downplayed the role of the artist’s hand to create art that was purely about the work's materials. As such, he devoted much of his life to exploring the possibilities of working with light and movement. "Light Ballet" gathers together seven objects that combine rotating electric lights, motors, and screens punctuated by small holes to create a chorography with light in the darkened gallery space at Sprüth Magers. After the opening, images of the installation were all over Instagram, but there really is no substitute for the experience of standing alone watching the pulsating light dance across the room, hearing nothing but the gentle humming of motors.
Take Over, 2017
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"Take over" is the inaugural exhibition of Esther Schipper’s monster new space in West Berlin and Anri Sala’s first solo show with the gallery. For his eponymous video installation, Sala builds on central themes of his decades-long practice including the relationship between music, narrative, architecture, and film. Two films showing the closely cropped movements of a pianist’s hands are projected onto either side of a free standing wall, while angled glass panels offer a ghostly mirroring of the central action. The screens show the pianist performing La Marseillaise (1792), a song closely tied to the French Revolution, and L’Internationale (1971), whose lyrics borrowed the tune of La Marseillaise until 1888 when original music was composed and it became the de facto anthem of the Socialist movement. By playing these songs simultaneously and literally back-to-back, Sala invites the viewer to consider their tangled histories and their shared associations with “Revolution, restoration, socialism, resistance and patriotism.”
Ramona, Kollwitzstrasse, 1982
In contrast to the young, hip crowd that Between Bridges attracts (the space is organized by the photographer Wolfgang Tillmans), many of the exhibitions staged in this not-for-profit focus on more mature positions. Although 78-year-old Helga Paris been exhibited both in Germany and internationally she still isn't a household name, even in Berlin where she has lived for most of her life. Hopefully the 18 silver gelatin prints on display here will come as a revelation to anyone who wasn’t previously aware of her work. Many images are portraits of individuals, such as Romona, Kollwitzstrasse (1982) in which a young girl stares into the camera against the backdrop of a crumbling building façade. Whether a posed wedding photograph, or snapshot of a dog in the street, these deeply personal photographs are unpretentiously displayed in standardized frames and held in place with transparent photo corners. The simplicity of this presentation allows the viewer direct access to this bygone period of German history.
Endnote, tooth (Silver), 2017
The abstract quality of many of Ian Kiaer’s wall pieces and sculptures could be unengaging for some, but with a bit of background reading, the influence of semi-hidden references in these largely silent works become just enough to latch onto. The British artist has been active since the early-2000s and has had plenty of time to spin a complex web of possible associations around his works. The title Endnote, tooth, for example, refers to an unrealized architectural proposal by Frederick Kiesler based on the idea of a tooth-shaped building, which aimed to unite “the aspects of living, working and leisure whilst fully integrating the structure into its natural environment.” With that sliver of information the exhibition opens up a fraction and it’s possible to infer that these objects, although seemingly casually arranged, are in fact as precise as painstakingly drawn architectural plans.
Installation view "DICHTER," 2017
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Dara Friedman is internationally acclaimed for her unconventional, non-narrative works that employ techniques from structuralist filmmaking. After a long weekend traipsing from gallery to gallery, the directness of her four-channel video projection at Supportico Lopez offers a tranquil pause. For the piece Friedman held an open audition in Berlin and invited actors to bring in a poem that was meaningful for them. The resulting monologues are played next to each other in a checkerboard fashion, timed so that sometimes the actors have center stage and in other moments they are shouting over each other to be heard. Unless you speak four languages, not all of the poems are decipherable, but the passion with which they’re read crosses any potential language divides.