To use a very versatile phrase, “It’s that time of year again.” In this case, we mean: it’s art fair-season in Berlin. With the 15th anniversary of the somewhat-confusingly-named Art Forum Berlin (originally named “European Art Forum Berlin”) art fair upon us this week, we are embarking upon yet another generally exhausting “big art weekends.” This one, particularly, is a real soul-suck.
110 galleries from 20 countries will present their works/wares. For the last 5 years, there had been an additional curated (and themed) exhibition running along with the fair, adjacent to the 2 main halls of booths; however this year, that seems to not to be the case, and thankfully so. For the most part, it’s hard to switch gears from the browsing mode in the main halls to real’art-looking — to give the art a fair glance, especially after someone worked so hard on a presentation with a four-day lifespan. Instead of an exhibition, a new way of introducing smaller, younger galleries and artists to Berliners and visitors from afar to the Art Forum Berlin (AFB) world has been devised. It borrows an idea from the small, one-day 7×2 fair (now renamed SUNDAY), in which, at the tail-end of Gallery Weekend Berlin, seven galleries banded together to produce a somewhat off-the-cuff mini-art fair. In turn, they each invited their own counterpart gallery to exhibit and interact with in the same space (at the original 7×2, the space given was one of 7 lobbies of a high-rise on Strausberger Platz.) 7×2/SUNDAY is a fresh take on the collaboration and quid-pro-quo style used by young galleries and artists just to survive, and AFB is right to follow their lead. AFB calls this sector “focus” and sets the galleries up in the center of each hall, giving them a more equal cut of the audience. However, one does wonder, is all this space available because of a lack of participating galleries? Or something else? Esther Schipper, Galerie Neu, and Klosterfelde are sharing one booth, and these aren’t small-potatoes galleries.
Another change worth noting about AFB 2010 is that it has initiated a sort of Art Basel “Statements“-like program, allowing exhibiting galleries to produce solo presentations instead of group ones, if they choose. 17 galleries are presenting these solo projects this year, with artists like Keren Cytter, Douglas Gordon, and Ralf Ziervogel showing. Both of these changes seem refreshing, and give the eye a chance to relax and focus on the work of one (or two) artists before being bombarded once again by overstocked booths waiting around each corner. However, these slight additions to the program do little to really spice up the Art Forum Berlin for the general public. Unless you’ve got the budget to buy something, it’s not a good place to go to actually see art for art’s sake, despite its convenient all-in-one package.
If we want to think of the art fairs as family-units, which we do, the siblings (or children, perhaps?) of the AFB are Preview Berlin, Berliner Kunstsalon, Berliner Liste and apparently something called Stroke.03, but this is news to me. Each fair attracts a large number of younger and more international galleries who present, of course, younger and more international artists. These fairs are generally quite nomadic when it comes to locations, often scattered about the city and often quite far from AFB’s Messegelände (fairgrounds) in the west of Berlin. Preview is again at the now-decommissioned Tempelhof Airport, Kunstsalon is located this year in a huge former slaughterhouse, and Liste is at another disparate location somewhere in Mitte. Unfortunately, but as you would expect, these sub-fairs do more to dilute the pool of worthwhile art flooding Berlin than add to it, though Preview, just one rung below Art Forum Berlin, attracts some decent, promising galleries.
To continue with the family vibe, the “cousin” of these fairs, Art Berlin Contemporary, or abc , is now not only concurrent with the rest of the fairs, but also situated quite close to the AFB. This year, it is located on the same fairgrounds (that host not only art fairs, but various trade fairs on toys, boats, tourism, make up, minerals, fruit, and, of course, Venus). Initiated in 2008 by the folks that brought us Gallery Weekend Berlin, abc is a “new format between exhibition and gallery event, in response to shifts within the discourse of contemporary exhibition practice as well as out of a desire to experiment and innovate.” As such, abc has traditionally lacked (or foregone, rather) the booths of a traditional art fair. Film historian Marc Glöde has curated the exhibition this year, and subtitled it “lights camera action,” already disrupting the possibly-too-clever subtitling scheme began last year with Art Berlin Contemporary: Drafts Establishing Future (“abc:def“). Surely, someone could have come up with a good “ghi” subtitle for 2010, no? Green-screen Homage Intermission? Giving Hopeful Insight? Guaranteed Healthy Intelligence… Regardless, the program for abc 2010 is indeed film and video heavy, as the name implies. With all the viewing rooms set up for various films and videos, the abc feels more like a video-room shanty-town than a cohesive exhibition, and after a incredibly video-heavy Berlin Biennial not four months ago, it’s a bit much. The past two iterations allowed quite a bit more dialogue between the artworks on display, a good many of them site-specific and made especially for abc, which made for a decent presentation. Hopefully next year, that feeling will be back.
Naturally, nearly all the Berlin galleries involved in either (or both) AFB or abc have exhibitions opening at their galleries this week, and nearly every other gallery in town has jumped on that bandwagon as well, bringing about an over-saturation of art events sure to exhaust everyone involved. Despite the urge to stay in bed all weekend, there seems to be more than a few worthwhile events to check out… but, there’s an app for that.