Monday, October 26, 2009

More from Berlin, 2009

A visit to Berlin is not defined by art fairs alone. Though I was introduced to one new and interesting gallery, Feinkost, at Art Forum, Berlin was its usual dependable self in providing a variety of satisfying experiences away from the fairs.

I guess it's no surprise that I had not been to Galerie Feinkost before. The gallery is in a converted convenience store directly across from a northern border of the Berlin Wall quite a distance from any of the standard gallery districts. But their Art Forum booth was one of the true successes for me this year. They showcased two artists, Ignacio Uriarte and Arcangelo Sassolino, to exceptional effect.

Mr. Sassolino makes sculptures that have at their core some kind of mechanical or engineering component. These mechanical components are used to destructive ends, usually interfering with the environment in which they're placed. Noisy and dangerous, I found the work completely engaging. The work at Art Forum was relatively mild for this artist consisting of a 9 bar air cylinder connected via a computer to a small plastic water bottle. The computer directed the cylinder to alternately inflate or deflate the bottle. When inflated it was somehow perfect and unharmed. When deflated, it was always a different, disastrous deformation of itself. One could not imagine how it would re-inflate to its former self. Inflation and deflation was a deafening crackle of plastic.

The gallery invited me to a concurrent exhibition at the only-in-Berlin exhibition space Micamoca:

There I found a more typical example of Mr. Sassolino's in that it existed solely to destroy it's surrounded space:

Detail of it's clawing effect:

The Sassolino work I didn't see was A huge wall of cor-ten steel held in place by a massive magnet. At rare intervals, a computer would tell the magnet to fail allowing the steel wall to fall a few inches to the floor. Over time, the wall would pound deeper and deeper into the floor; a testament to the inexorable march of time and mass.

Ignacio Uriarte was the other artist Feinkost was showing at Art Forum. Mr. Uriarte exploits office materials for his practice. Other artists have plumbed this territory before -- pens, typed pieces, faxes, etc -- but Mr Uriarte explores new corners of the office both with his diverse materials and single-minded practice. I was impressed again and again what this artist achieved with extremely simple materials. At the fair, I was caught by a Sandback-like display made only from folded paper:


I bought a typewriter piece that used only the left and right hand quotation marks. If you weren't told how it was made, the mark-making technique of the piece would be a mystery.

This artist also works with office paper, office software, and printer ink among many other media. Take a look.

I always go to Daimler-Chrysler Contemporary when I'm in Berlin. the shows there are always smart and concise. Thios visit didn't disappoint. Continuing with the them of fabulous work acieved with spare or simple materials, I loved Georg Herold's untitled piece using particle board bookshelves and cinderblock bricks. While not as explicitly destructive as the Sassolino pieces, I was mesmerized by how the piece seemed to balance on the point of failure. There was incredible tension in such a static work:

I made a first time visit to the About Change Collection on Museum Island. They had a text heavy group show that was sure to appeal to me. My favorite was a Gonzalez-Torres-like piece by Vincenzo Latronico in which the public is invited to take away parts of the work. Unlike Gonzalez-Torres, in which each piece in the paper pile is identical, each piece of paper in Mr. Latronico's work are unique. Each page you take with you deletes that page from an awesomley varied whole. I quote from the About Change website:

The Italian Vincenzo Latronico explores the various ways of interpreting and composing a text. Beginning with eight text sequences, each comprising five parts, the young author has written down all the possible combinations thereof, yielding a total of 32,768 short stories, or 32,768 variations of a love story—each independent of the other, and utterly unique.
Latronico’s debut novel Ginnastica e Rivoluzione was released in 2008 by the Italian publishers Bompiani. For Next time, perhaps (2009), he drew inspiration from the French author Raymond Queneau (1903–76), who in 1961 published One Hundred Thousand Billion Stories, an experimental ensemble of ten sonnets. Queneau constructed the book so that the fourteen lines of each sonnet can be individually turned over, and consequently combined with the lines of the other sonnets. Thus, potentially, this thin booklet of 14 sonnets contains “one hundred thousand billion poems.”
Whereas Queneau’s one hundred thousand billion combinations and various poems could never be actually seen in its entirety, Vincenzo Latronico sought to render visible the sheer volume of his 32,768 love stories. Each story was printed on a single page, resulting in a total of 32,768 pages which—each containing its own love story—are now stacked in the About Change, Collection . Visitors are also invited to take a page, as a variation of the piece Next time, perhaps. The English version of the work Magari la prossima volta (2009) is now on view for the first time outside Italy, and has been adapted especially by Vincenzo Latronico for the About Change, Collection.

So, despite wan or meager offerings at the fair, Berlin remains a vibrant and eclectic place to see art. Count me in for Gallery Weekend next May.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Dispatch from the Berlin art fairs

First, apologies for such a long break since my last post. There has been plenty to write about, but I just haven't seemed to find the time. Sorry. There will be plenty of posts in the coming weeks.

As I have for the past 3 years, I went to Berlin for their collection of Fall art fairs. The main event is the Art Forum at the Messe Halle with the usual attendant satellite fairs Berliner Liste, Kunstsalon, and Preview augmented this year by newcomer, Art Berlin Contemporary.

Berlin is famous for its contemporary art scene and artist rich landscape. In past years, this has resulted in a collection of art fairs that rewarded the patient fair-goer with artists and artwork not to be found in the more homogenized fairs of Basel and New York. It seems that this pleasure is reaching the end of some natural cycle. Art Forum was as staid and conservative as many of its sister fairs have become, perhaps in reaction to a tighter market and perhaps just because taste is turning in some ineluctable way. On the other other hand, the satellite fairs are just becoming bad. Where Liste, Kunstsalon, and Preview were once highly uneven yet rewarding experiences, they have morphed into embarrassing collections of I-don't-know-what. Maybe it is my taste that has morphed, but it seems to me that, for example, the Kunstsalon in which I first saw the work of Thorsten Brinkmann has been MIA for some time now.

But I swore when I first starting writing this blog that I would focus on the positive. Of all the fairs, the only one with a frsh perspective and more than a handful of engaging work was the Art Berlin Contemporary (ABC). The full name of the fair was ABC DEF (Defining Emerging Future) which asked of its exhibitors to limit their display to one artist's work which could fit on a standard folding table. In addition, each work should be a model or maquette for a public art work.

This is not exactly a new idea, but it's a new manifestation of the art-fair-as-curated-space idea. Volta Fair's New York incarnation the last year mandated single artist booths and is an example of the trend. While some gallery owners groused about the limitations of only having a table to work with, I, for one, loved the clarity of purpose and attendant power of focus. Certainly there were failures and miscues, but I think this kind of creative fair structure will be the wave of the future. The art-fair-as-supermarket model seems to be having hip and knee pain as it struggles with both size and age. ABC seemed lean and fresh and it's best examples were a delight.

Galerie Krinzinger
from Austria showed Werner Reiterer's "Draft for an Altar". It consisted of a halo-shaped ring of neon, a cell phone, and note that read, "back in 5 min, God". I was sold just from that, but I chuckled with evil pleasure when the cell phone would ring for no one in particular every few minutes.

Galerie Albrecht was showing Dennis Oppenheim's "Proposal for a Building Complex". Probably best seen from above:

Galerie Nordenhake had a more challenging display by artist Johan Thurfjell. "Eight Dreams and the places dreamt about" featured a fairly conventional forest diorama complete with cabin, lake, boat launch, etc with colored pins marking certain spots. On the wall, color coded to the pins, were eight "dreams" which allegedly happened in the places described in the diorama. I was taken by the supposed specificity of the work which seemed to show all of its hand, but obviously everything about this work is subject to speculation and interpretation. Apologies for the not-so-great small pictures:

Dominik Lejman was the choice for Berlin's Zak-Branicka Galerie. As one would expect from this clever artist, his video was calculated to display around the mandated table, not on it. This cheeky detail would not have mustered a passing comment at a normal fair. At this one it was high cheek.

As I mentioned above, I see the art fair model that we have lived with for the last few years to be open to change if not actually under attack. Fairs with a unifying theme or raison d'etre seem much more lively and worthwhile than a huge building crammed with as much art as it can hold. Even more timely in my view is to abandon the fair entirely in favor of gallery oriented events that having been gaining favor around the world. For example, Gallery Weekend Berlin has been a go-to weekend for some years now. I went in 2008 and found it to be an extraordinary way to be introduced to the artistic life of a city. Dozens of galleries had new show, museums times their programs for the weekend, and collections and studios opened their doors. This is just like the ancillary activity during a fair except that by going to the galleries themselves, one is introduced to a much more comprehensive view of that gallery's program (or better, the work of an artist in whom you are interested). New York has tried this on for size in the recent 57th St Gallery Night and the upcoming New Yorker Passport to the Arts. While both are smaller in scale and scope to the Berlin weekend, I can easily see the trend moving in that direction. At least for me, I would rather visit the city and an actual gallery rather than an antiseptic convention center ill-suited to show art.