What better way to start the new year then by strolling through the art loaded Potsdamer Straße! Gallery Quest had the pleasure to organise a private and open tour in January in this very strange street, where the red light district meets te art scene.
We started our art exploration in Future Gallery, one of my favourite galleries in the Potse (and in Berlin for that matter). Not only because they represent several Dutch artists, but foremost because there is always some weird (excusez moi le mot) shit going on there.
At the moment, the group exhibition Draped is on view (until Feb 17), with works by Spanish artist Rubén Grilo (1981), the Greek Spiros Hadjidjanos (1978), German artist Nicolas Pelzer (1982) and Dutch (Bam! There it is!) artist Femke Herregraven (1982).
As the title suggests, there is fabric, or the movement of fabric involved, either literally (Grilo, Herregraven), in a 3D-printed shape (Hadjidjanos) or in a computer print (Pelzer). This is interesting, because what strikes me is that a lot of artists from the digital native generation are turning back to traditional materials. They are for example painting with actual paint again (imagine…), instead of the digital paintbrush in Photoshop.
Draped also shows an interest in combining histories. Grilo points to the history of the jeans, as a pants for the working class in his series Pattern Free: ripped from Zara. He reproduces the ‘used look’, you know the one where you buy a brand new jeans with the holes already in it.
It is such a strange phenomenon. This mass produced object has been given the appearance of a personal history (“..and then I climbed this bad ass rock and I fell off. It was madness, I tell you. And thats how I got this hole in my jeans “).
In the digital world this kind of work (or adventure) traces do not exist.
Grilo turns the production proces around and reuses different elements from the jeans to make a new print, this time one that hints to the personal. The bleaching marks create fingers and the stitching looks like the lines in a hand. It is the most personal and individual print you can make.
Herregraven shows us the parachute from a little satellite which has the print of a photo from the Danakil Depression in Ethiopia. This must be one of the weirdest places on earth. It is said to be the hottest place, with temperatures between 50-55 C during the day. It is also the lowest place on earth, with more than 100 meters below sea level. It lies on a point where 3 tectonic plates come together, which leads to volcano eruptions and metals bubbling to the surface and eroding in amazing colours. Also there is a vast salt plain, where the local people, the Afar, have been mining the salt for ages. Once the salt was even used as a currency.
Nowadays, little satellites (with parachutes just like the one lying on the floor of the gallery space) cross the valley to detect how full (or empty) the salt containers are. The information this geological spionage produces, is subsequently used for speculating on the stock market on the price of salt. The fuller the containers, the lower the price will be. With this work, called Payload Ashes, Herregraven connects these two totally different worlds, the salt mining on the one hand, cutting the salt out by hand and high capitalism on the other. They couldn’t be further apart.
After this load of hardcore contemporary art, we head for some photography at Loock gallery. In the front, giant peaches emerge from the dark on two triptychs. They are made by Japanese artist Miwa Yanagi (1967), together with 3 assistants. The way they are made, is as pure photography as you can get: her assistants illuminated the peach trees from all sides (photography: drawing or writing with light) while Yanagi made the photo with a wide shutter that she left open for one minute. Because the light comes from all directions, it has the effect of a light box, where the light comes from behind. You know like we see most of our images; on a screen.
The peach trees in the photo stand in the Fukushima district, where in 2011 a major nuclear disaster took place. Although the ground there is proclaimed clean, farmers still have a hard time selling their products.
The series is called The goddess and the god under the peach tree and references to the Japanese state religion Shintoism. This is a religion of nature, where for example a tree or a mountain can be worshipped. The peach is a symbol for women in general and the mother goddess Izanami in particular, who died while giving birth to the God of Fire and Iron. Is the world better of with fire and iron arriving in the world, making facilities like the one in Fukushima possible?
In the back of the gallery, we find a small and intimate exhibition by the most important photographer from the former GRD Manfred Paul (1942), called Nature Morte 1983-1985. It comprises of a selection of courtyards form his Nordost (North-East) series and on the adjacent wall little still lives.
When Paul moved from the country to Berlin in the sixties, he felt closed in by this ugly, grey, damaged city with all its restrictions. He started photographing Prenzlauerberg, the neighbourhood where he lived, trying to capture his mood. Although it was forbidden to photograph the wall, in his pictures lots of walls can be seen. He uses the architecture as a metaphor, and started portraying the inner courtyards that are so typical for Berlin. They are like closed of little worlds.
It must have been a strange sight at the time. This person photographing your courtyard with his big plate camera. It happened a lot that someone asked him who he was and what he was doing there (in a time where everything en everyone was being watched, not a strange question). After some explaining, he sometimes got invited inside for a cup of coffee. There he found beautiful portraits of daily life, like this half eten grapefruit.
The two series where never exhibited in the GRD, his work was far to individual for that.
Our third stop is the exhibition Wärme, by the young German artist Anna Virnich (1984) which is on view in Arratia Beer. Like Draped, this exhibition also features textile. Virnich is what you could call a fabric-addict. She collects pieces of cloth, used and new, like it were stamps. With them, she builds a story on the canvas.
From a distance, they look like big abstract paintings. Where paint is used to cover the canvas and clothes to cover the skin, she uses fabric in multiple layers for her compositions. Through the fabric, history’s are brought together. To whom did this piece of satin belong? Where did it went, what anecdotes are attached to it?
Smell also plays an important role in her work and is a second carrier of the story. You know, when a certain smell hits you and triggers a memory. It is like when you enter for example an herb shop and all the different flavours transport you and make you feel as if you where in a different part of the world. Virnich adds perfume, sweat and also chemicals to to fabrics induce associations and sows, tags and sticks them on the canvas, forcing them together.
This is even more the case in the series Leather (2017), where two calf skins are sown together and then stretched on a frame. The title of the exhibition, Wärme, also hints to this series. Skin on skin. Although these body’s no longer produce heat.
In the next gallery it is time for some heavy painting! To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the gallery in Berlin, Galeria Plan B, shows works by one of its founders: Adrian Ghenie (1977). This Romanian gallery started out in Cluj in 2005 as a place where artists could meet and discuss the terrible state of contemporary art in Romania (hence the name of the gallery: as an artist you should always have a plan b) over a beer. Slowly a program developed and Romanian contemporary art gained more and more interest and recognition. Since Ghenie represented his country on the 2015 Venice Biennale, the prices for his work went crazy.
His paintings look like the whole modern art history of the west is put into a pressure cooker which then exploded. I see Bacon, Picasso, Surrealistic swung and in the way he uses his paint a hint of Rembrandt and a touch of Van Gogh… and then totally different. Ghenie grew up in a small village in the northern part of Romania and the only books with art he could find where in the local antique shop. So once his brother got a book about Dutch painters in the Hermitage, he jumped on it and never let go. It makes his paintings weirdly fascinating. There moods looks like a David Lynch movie.
Next door, in Galerie Judin, which is housed in a huge space, where the German newspaper the Tagesspiegel used to be printed, the exhibition continues. Although the Ghenie not only has his own gallery but is also represented by one. It is a great opportunity to see what space does with a painting.
Here, another selection of his works is on view in an exhibition called The Graces. Where the paintings in Galerie Plan B had a more personal story behind them, here we see more connections with (art) history.
In Galerie Tanya Leighton we meet our oldest artist from today, the German Marianne Wex (1937). On view is her multi panel installation Let’s take back our space, which dates from the seventies. ‘Why is an installation from the seventies being shown in a gallery for contemporary art?’ I hear you ask. It is an interesting phenomenon that is happening more and more, mostly art by ‘forgotten’ women artists.
We find the answer at the first panel after entering the gallery. We see two rows of photos, on top one with pictures of men on the beach and below with women. The message? Men take up more space with their bodies then women do. Rings a bell?
I don’t know what you did last summer, but I learned a new word. In the metro in Spain, a new sign appeared, which prohibited man to take up more than one seat when the sat with their legs wide apart. Manspreading was born.
And did you see the 2012 TED-talk by Amy Cuddy about power posing? Although there have been questions about her research methods, I have to admit, standing with your arms in the air like you just won the marathon does feel great.
I guess the seventies have more parallels with our time. Society had changed dramatically with the incorporation of the telephone and tv in daily life (as with mobiles and the internet now). There were of course the first waves of feminism, which we are seeing again now (#metoo, mansplaining). And the androgyny that artists like David Bowie and Mick Jagger showed can be linked tot the cis-gender discussions happening today.
Wex, originally a painter, started getting interested in body postures and body language when she taught at the art academy in Hamburg. She started taking pictures in the streets and collecting images from magazines, news papers, etc. This resulted in a huge archive, with over 500o images which she organised by posture.
It is like a big ethnographical portrait of city life in Hamburg in the seventies. But one main thing stood out in almost all the images she collected: man take up more space then women. They spread their legs (manspreading!) and their arms and they do this whilst standing, sitting or laying down.
She discovered two very interesting things. On the one hand, she compared the images with statues from art history and noticed that Maria was manspreading, with baby Jezus in her lap, as well! Postures that are considered as typically male or female, only started to appear that way in art from the 17th/18th century on.
The other major thing is, that kids don’t strike a pose. There is no difference in postures between girls and boys before puberty. That means, dum dum dum, they are socially learned.
The portraits in the gallery’s second space across the street are also very confronting. For men, wrinkles fall into the category ’the more the better’. They provide men with the label of a thinker, an intellectual, a patriarch. Man don’t smile, they look straight into the camera. Women however slightly tilt their heads. Their skins are as smooth as the peaches by Miwa Yanagi, no wrinkle in sight. Women have to look innocent, like baby’s or small children, with blushed cheeks (rouge) big innocent eyes (mascara) and peachy skins.
It is actually great news. No more make up, no more expensive creams and go rock your wrinkles!