Sunday, November 9, 2008

Berlin -- November '08, Part 3

As I said in the previous post, attendance was mixed at the satellite fairs. But I don't know what to conclude from that. Berlin satellites have always been a little hit or miss. There is no clear "best" fair, and often what was good one year is not good the following year and vice versa. With the exception of Preview, all of the fairs were in a different venue than the previous years. Again, this is not so unusual; I have seen these fairs move each year as a matter of course. I suspect that with the rapidly shifting renovation and building scene in this city, it's hard to find a consistent alternative space. This suits me just fine. I get to see all sorts of out-of-the-way Berlin spots which feeds my taste for finding out-of-the-way artists.

The level of art at the satellites was perhaps a bit lower than usual. Again, that's fine by me as I go to the Berlin fairs to see work that wouldn't ordinarily cross my path. Part of that contract is that I will see tons of crap work in search of the elusive jewel. I found Thorsten Brinkmann at the first Kunstsalon I went to. When I first walked into the fair, I thought I had stumbled into a 1rst year art school show. But on further exploration, that fair was full of intriguing work, and Thorsten was at the top of the list. So, I try to be patient and just have my eyes open for the most communicative and intellectually satisfying work.

This year I guess Berliner Liste was the queen bee. It had the most consistent level, high attendance, and was in a remarkable building on KuDamm.

Wilde-Gallery from Berlin had a show of street and grafitti artists. Usually I could not care less about this genre. All the buzz about Banksy aside, the work just isn't speaking my language. But Wilde had some spraypaint work by an artist who calls himsel EVOL (love backwards) who creates photo realistic architectural studies using spraypaint and stencils on cardboard. While I have a few questions about the archival nature of found cardboard, there's no question the color and texture of the material is perfect for the work. In the following piece you can see the precision of the concept:

followed by a detail and raking view which shows the texture and "right"ness of the material:

The found cardboard is sometimes written on, stamped, bent, logo-ed; it all lends to the sense of the street which it portrays. I was seduced. A few more examples:

The artist's website, which is none too helpful, is as follows:

Galeria Piekary from Poznan, Poland, has been coming to Liste with high quality booths for some years now. Readers of this blog will know that I'm a big and ever growing fan of current Polish art. Piekary doesn't disappoint with multiple works by Leszek Knaflewski. His multimedia piece, "Crossroads vs Roundabouts", had a central installation made up of a wall full of convincing automatic weapon copies. It was menacing and thought provoking before and after you learned that they were toys. His work seems to explore power and authority often as how it relates to the church. I have seen sculpture, installations and photography. Someone to watch along with Altheimer, Sosnowska, and Kieslowski in this artistically rich country.

A new gallery for me was Ego Gallery from Barcelona. They had the work of Victoria Campillo on display. This mid-career artist has been exploring how various readily available cultural tropes, symbols, or semiotics can stand in for and represent the work of contemporary artists. Some attempts are more successful than others, but at her best she's witty and smart. The work on view had a model in a polo shirt which was gradiated along a Pantone color scale. The color of the shirt was keyed to the iconic food that Ms Campillo used to identify each artis: Beuys was yellow polo/butter(fat), Hermann Nitsch was a piece of blood sausage with a red shirt. Examples are here:

Prof. Maria Vedder must be doing something right at her Klasse Medienkunst at the UDK in Berlin. The booth for this program consistently displays engaging, smart, visually exciting work from a variety of students. If I were collecting video, this place would be as much on my radar as Columbia is on the radar of painting collectors. There's no way for me to show the video work here, but they did have an installation in the lobby that played with the antique idea of a photobooth. My buddy, artist Ron Rocco, was the willing model to demonstrate the device:

Kunstsalon was pretty dim for me this year. Exceptions were Astrid Schneider and MFK Gallery Berlin.

Astrid Schneider is unrepresented as far as I can tell and has no website. If anyone wants to be in touch, let me know. I have an email address. She seems to be a photographic/installation artist. Her work frequently combines photos and mirrors. In the piece I saw here, a photo of a camera was spliced between slices of a mirroe and supended in the room. As you moved in front of it, you brain made up for what was missing in the photo or the reflection, the same way we "see" what is behind a picket fence. Depending on which part you were focusing on, you saw a complete photo or a complete reflection. I enjoyed the investigation into the nature of seeing and the way the piece played with space. Somehow it both dominated and disappeared into the space. In the close-up you can just make out my reflection taking the picture of the piece. One really needs movement to capture the soul of this work.

Andreas Fux dominated the MFK Gallery display, though the other 2 artists including Jenny Kocerka were also strong. Parental advisories prevent me from showing you any of Mr. Fux work. The work comes from a tradition that includes Mapplethorpe and Witkin but it's unlike either of those two artists. It has a commercial veneer, but very humanely and sensitively documents the extreme tatoo and body piercing community. Pictures showing a submissive punctured by dozens of 6 inch needles into some kind of ritualistic pattern were hard to look at but impossible to forget. Ultimately, I suspect Mr. Fux' work is more about his models that about his perspective, but it's work I would never see in the US and is definitely worth seeing. It's an addition as I say to the canon of work by Mapplethorpe, Witkin, Opie, et al. that shows an underground, fetishistic scene with compassion and beauty.

Preview fair was in the only fair in the same space as last year: an unused hangar at the now retired Tempelhof airport. What a great place for an art fair! The spirit of the place is completely satisfying. Last year, the fair earned high marks from me on the artistic front, but alas, not this year. A few highlights:
Mixed Greens gallery from NYC was showing pen and ink language based work by Joan Linder. These were hand copied resumés, sometimes many, many pages long, of female artists who had had children at some point in their career. Her stated point was to examine how being a woman changes the nature of a career as an artist. My take was that it was a potent comment on how the market only values resumés and status. We don't even look at the work anymore, we just look at what the artist has done and where they've shown. Very much in the same spirit as Vik Muniz' show 2 months ago at Sikkemma, it was solid, beautiful, bitter work.
Galerie Metro, also from Berlin, was showing Markus Leitsch. I don't have much to say about his human form that had been shrink-wrapped in fur as a throw rug. When I saw it, I like it so I thought I would share it with you.

Bridge fair was by far the weakest. It was in an unfortunate space that required a sherpa to navigate and climb. Collectiva Gallery from Berlin was showing another interesting Polish artist, Łukasz Gronowski. In this series, he photographs mundane, quotidian landscapes though one could sometimes miss that there is a figure or two in the picture kneeling or standing with hands clasped behind their head. Sometimes there is one figure, sometimes more. The implied narrative is open; are these people under arrest? stretching? alien? submitting to power? We don't know, but I like the questions it asks. I would be interested to see more of this artist as he develops.

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