Archive | September, 2017

Elephant in Berlin: Art Week Diary

17 Sep

To Berlin for a whistle-stop Art Week tour.

We begin with the press conference to launch the Art Berlin art fair. To access it we make our way past a flash mob of fashionable youth into a post-industrial complex that would have made a suitable subject for Bernd and Hilla Becher. The introductory addresses are all made in German. I catch the odd word—“Vielen Dank”, “Gordon Matta-Clark”—but my schoolboy German really isn’t up to the task (it’s a long time since I was last a schoolboy). Happily fair director Maike Cruse comes over to provide non-German-speaking onlookers with a bit of context. Berlin, she says, is the “city of the artist” and is traditionally less market-driven than other big art cities. But there’s a growing body of German collectors and the revamped fair—a collaboration between ABC and Koelnmesse—has set out to present a more varied selection of galleries and artists this year. And that’s precisely what the organizers have achieved, with over a hundred international exhibitors. Perhaps Berlin is becoming more “market-driven”?


Work by Katja Novitskova at the Sammlung Boros, Berlin

Next we head to the Positions art fair, which neatly illustrates the noted scientific phenomenon—which only those with a sophisticated grasp of string theory will really comprehend—that art fairs never manifest singly. On the way I become distracted by an email that pings into my phone. Thank god they’ve reduced overseas phone charges, I reflect. I no longer have to wait for the next wifi stop-off to pick up infuriating messages; now I can receive them constantly! I miss the Positions press conference as a result but it doesn’t matter because that’s in German too. I wander dutifully round the fair. It’s OK. More stuff in a big shed.

Airports are a controversial subject in Berlin, where the much-trumpeted new Brandenburg air hub remains mysteriously unopened six years after its first announced launch date. But Berlin Art Week at least has a use for a former airport, Tempelhof, where one of the enormous hangars is hosting choreographer Boris Charmatz’s eight-hour performance piece A Dancer’s Day. When we arrive Charmatz is conducting a workshop in slightly manic terpsichorean self-expression with Joe and Josephine Public, and the Publics are responding with alarming alacrity to his incitements to let it all out. Elephant is invited to join in but, as we all know, elephants are easily embarrassed and can’t really dance—too heavy-footed. Not that Charmatz, who is debuting his new 10000 Gestures piece, is a traditionalist in dance matters.

Afterwards spectator-participants are encouraged to lounge on blankets in Déjeuner à l’herbe fashion while a dancer, as naked as the day he was born, though rather more ripped than on arrival day, disports himself among them. This isn’t a random outbreak of naturist nuttiness, it’s a performance of Tino Sehgal’s Picnic and (Untitled) (2000). The nudie dancer runs the gamut, balletically speaking: en pointe, attitude derrière, fouetté en tournant en dehors. And he talks. And shields and slaps his penis. It’s surreal and liberating, oppressive and boring, discomfiting and gladdening. The children present don’t seem to take much notice.

About thirty minutes into the performance (or is it thirty hours?), a neighbour whispers that the dancer cupping his cock actually is Tino Sehgal. Elephant is watching Tino Sehgal play with his willy!

And then that neighbour is corrected by another neighbour, who says: Don’t be silly, of course the naked dancer isn’t Tino Sehgal—because Tino is standing there! And she points in a different direction to a (fully clothed) man who is also watching the performance. Does that make it all meta? And if so, does it matter?

Day two (unremarked, a night has passed) begins with a visit to Mind the Space_ spacewithoutspace and two prizewinning project initiatives of no fixed abode. We meet Zona Dynamic and the cargocult collective, who stand before us in their (largely) found attire as vivid as a pack of Tarot cards. Cargocult have just performed a piece in front of Primark in Alexanderplatz; as they say themselves, they’re more Deutsche Punk than Deutsche Bank in attitude.

More moneyed, but hardly less resonant, are the Julia Stoschek and Boros Collections of contemporary art. Both are located on what was the eastern side of the fallen Wall. The former occupies a building that served as the Czech Cultural Centre in the Cold War era. The latter, meanwhile, is housed in a converted air-raid bunker that was used as a storage depot for Cuban bananas prior to reunification, when it became a techno nightclub.

Finally it’s off to the northern suburb of Pankow for the launch of Beg, Steal and Borrow, a brand-new “Elephant Book” by Robert Shore. Bob’s a clown but the event is a modest success—largely because it’s hosted by the Galerie Andreas Schmidt, which also happens to be launching a new show, Perfect/Imperfect, with works by Mariken Wessels and Jo Longhurst, and a big wall of Penelope Umbrico sunsets. What more appropriate (and appropriated) way could there be to end the day, and the stay?


Three Observations: Frieze Art Fair 2014

3 Sep

1) It’s hard to make a standout subversive gesture at Frieze when absolutely everyone in the room – and it’s a jolly big room – is trying to subvert expectations while at the same time pocketing a vast amount of dosh. Even those guys standing facing one another with their heads covered by a single length of fabric – what could be more subversive than that, performance-art aficionados? – turn out to be right spenny. But I think the creator of booth P2 (Mélanie Matranga) has managed it all the same. The set-up resembles a small café – in fact, it IS a café, where you’re encouraged to sit and clip your toenails, recharge your smartphone and generally kick back with a coffee. You’re also encouraged to watch an online video but never mind about that. The subversive bit is that no one is serving or selling the coffee – you take your drink and leave a donation in an honesty jar. I was so moved by the quiet utopianism of this gesture in the midst of such a furiously busy temple of commerce that I began to whistle ‘Imagine’. After which I briefly wanted to kill myself because I hate that hippie crap. Still, I would be interested to see some of the other galleries adopting a similar strategy next year. How much would you drop in the honesty jar for that Carsten Höller dice, eh? (And then how long would it take you to roll it home?)

2) I really like what Goshka Macuga has done with Angela Merkel at the Kate MacGarry stand. You can sit on the German chancellor if you’re that way inclined – she’s been turned into a rather forbidding-looking chair. I don’t know whether it qualifies as subversive but it’s definitely naughty.


Angela Merkel chair by Goshka Macuga, Kate MacGarry gallery, Frieze

3) Among the millions of satellite events in #FriezeWeek is PAD, an extremely high-end art and design fair in Berkeley Square. You can tell how upscale it is by the attention the exhibitors pay to the flooring – the stands at Frieze are all very carefully dressed from the feet up, but who’s taken the trouble to lay MARBLE for their customers to stand on? At PAD I hardly dared enter some of the booths for fear of sullying the cream shagpile. The top subversive moment to be had in this most unsubversive of environments, where the last thing anyone wants to do is épater les bourgeois, is when you suddenly come upon one of the very large trees that interrupt the exhibition space. It’s nice to know that they didn’t chop them down to make more room for high-rental stands when they were constructing the building. That’s caring capitalism for you. (There’s an extremely amusing story concerning Le Corbusier and a tree at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs in 1925 but I really couldn’t be bothered to tell it here. How subversive of me.)

Originally posted