In the first tours of the new year, we explored the gallery’s around Rosa Luxemburg Platz, where a mini gallery cluster is going on. 4 (and recently 5) gallery’s surround the square, which also has an interesting history by itself. Here you find the Volksbühne (with the recent Chris Dercon debacle), the Räuberrad in the middle and the art work on the ground, made by the German concept artist Hans Haacke (1936) with quotes by Rosa Luxemburg from her speeches, letters and personal writings.
Our first stop is BQ Gallery, where works by the German philosopher (!) Marcus Steinweg (1971) are on view. “What is a philosopher doing in an art gallery?”, one might wonder. Steinweg is not your ordinary thinker. First of all, he is a very respected and established philosopher, although he doesn’t have a degree in his field. That’s almost like blasphemy here in Germany. He did start to study it once, but felt that, although there was much to learn, he wasn’t allowed to think for himself. So he transferred, and studied art instead.
Steinweg believes that art and philosophy have much in common. They both try to be critical about the world and the reality(s) we humans have created. Philosophy does this by organizing the world in concepts, which, so he noted, has a link with concept art that does the same thing. In the exhibition we can also see works by other artists, mostly friends of Steinweg. By showing their work he also emphases what he calls the friendship between art and philosophy.
In the exhibition we find several canvases, large and small, on which so called thought bubbles (which contain a complex idea), thought snakes (a smaller, more oversee-able thought) and diagrams can be seen. They can be totally overwhelming, especially the bigger canvases with lots of thought bubbles or diagrams. Where to start reading? And do we have to read it all? Luckily Steinweg writes that : “The diagrams are intended to be as clear as possible but they do not pretend a clarity that does not exist”.
This is a sigh of relief for us viewers, we do not have to get it all! It would be an impossible task anyway. The idea is more that you walk past the canvases and pick out some texts or words that interest you or speak to you.
After this intense start, we can relax in Kimmerich gallery next door, were we find a more conventional exhibition with works by three American painters. The relatively young and interesting looking Alex Becerra (1989) presents two paintings, both with a type of woman figures. He makes a kind on non-art: rough surface, raw lines, lots of paint and sometimes offensive titles.
In his early days he got inspired by German artists from the eighties and nineties like Martin Kippenberger (1953-1997) or Jörg Immendorff (1945-2007). They presented a certain kind of “ugliness” he found really attractive. The same goes for the drawings he saw in the tattoo-like magazine Teen Angels, where inmates could publish amateur drawings of their girlfriends. This combination, together with his Mexican heritage resulted in hundreds of drawings which later transformed into paintings.
In an interview with Berlin-based gallerist and art dealer Marta Gnyp, Becerra says that a friend of his once called him a “painter-painter”. This referred to the fact that he actually used paint, something that not everyone from his generation (the digital natives) does and apparently was deemed something special.
The collage-like canvases by David Leggett (1980) present his own personal view on contemporary (black) popular culture. His work is more political and draws our attention to the contemporary consumer society which, and this is a hot topic, can still be loaded with hidden racism (think of Uncle Ben’s rice).
Although technically no painting, William J. O’Brien‘s (1975) felt-word-work reminds us a bit of Steinweg’s diagrams. They feel like intuitive poetry where the next word came from the one before, neatly cut out in a personal textile typography.
Painting (with actual paint, mind you!) is on the rise under young artists and can be seen again in our next stop at gallery Nagel- Draxler. American artist and political activist Christine Wang (1985) shares her political and personal views in each 4 sets of paintings, which I guess you either like or you don’t.
They are painted after photo’s and both have a a big graffiti like text written all across the image. Although the text seems to be in the foreground, it interestingly enough is painted first. Imagine a white canvas with a sort of head line, or may be a thought written in big letters. Then she tapes over the text and starts painting the image. In the beginning, text and image are separated. When the painting is finished, she removes the tape and the thought becomes visible again. It screams all over the image.
The title of the exhibition “Actions speak louder than fonts” refers to her activism and to these quotes she painted. Wang feels kind of guilty, being an artist, because it doesn’t change anything. The works and texts function like confessions. Like the painting with the cover that originated from the Hamburger Morgenpost, featuring Donald Trump with the text “Bitte nicht den Horror-Clown”. Her text, first secretly lying underneath the image, but now the confession she couldn’t contain any longer, screams at us: “I didn’t vote”.
On the left side of the gallery space we see her personal confessions, which also speak directly to the viewer.”I can buy any cake I want”, reminds us of the contemporary body culture, as does “Running shoes are worth it!!!!”, which made me think where in all the gods names mine would be. And what was again the last time I went running? Can’t remember… I do swim though. Look what she did? I got distracted.
Nagel- Draxler also have a sort of project space across the street, called the Kabinett. There, the confusing exhibition “Lamps” by German artist Joseph Zehrer (1954) is on view. This conceptual artist made installations, sculptures, paintings, drawings, and… lamps. Are they light installations? Or am I being to arty here and are they just what the title say they are? I guess it is up to you.
They are plexiglass rods, mounted on a base. This is where the light originates, it travels through the rod. Some of them are painted, some of them engraved. Together they form a sort of light forest, especially after dark.
Almost next door is the very interesting gallery Delmes & Zander, which specializes in so called outsider art. This is a kind of art that is not made as art, not made for a public, never meant for the market, and mostly discovered after the artist died.
Outsider art has become more and more popular in the recent decades, I guess it started being known by the larger public after the discovery of the hundreds of drawings made by Henry Darger (1892-1973), found after his death in his apartment, featuring a fascinating fantasy world he called “The Story of the Vivian Girls”. Since 1993 there is the Outsider Art Fair in New York and for example the Hamburger Bahnhof organized an exhibition series featuring outsider artist called “Secret Universe“.
In this exhibition, called One/Other, a selection of works by different artists is brought together that focus on (self) portraiture and the notion that the portrait itself says a lot about the one who has produced it.
For example the story about Marget and her lover Günter, captured in the book “Margret: Chronicle of an affair- May 1969 to December 1970“. He was her boss and 25 years older. Both where married and they had an affair for a year and a half which Günter documented into painstaking detail. Found in the attic of a house, was this briefcase which contained over 200 photo’s of Margret in different poses, dressed and undressed, his diary, notes, bills of hotels and restaurants where they stayed together, locks of her (pubic) hair, pill strips, even finger nail clippings. He wrote down when they arrived, how long the love making lasted, who orgasmed first, what they did after, how long the diner lasted, etc.
Now the photo’s are exhibited in a gallery. And that raises a lot of fascinating questions. Who decides that it is art and why? Are we allowed to look at them or are they private? Günther and Margret cannot give us any answers, both are deceased and left no children behind. We are now voyeurs who not only get an inside look in the late sixties, early seventies but also into the private lives of perfect strangers and the obsessive urge of Günter to document it all.
Although I do not know how Günther’s last years were, he didn’t get rid of the suitcase. If he really did not wanted any one to see, he could have destroyed it. What makes it ok I guess, so let’s be bold, to call it art. In my opinion it is not only the quantity, because this obsessive collection goes way beyond a hobby. The photo’s alone don’t cut it, it is also the story that matters. Combined they make an irresistible cocktail. This exhibition really bursts with stories like Margret’s. It is a true adventure to dive into them. So don’t ever miss this gallery if you are in the neighborhood, because you are probably going to discover something fascinating there.
Is there a market for these works? Apparently it is very sought after by artists and seen as truly inspirational. For example the “Type 42 (Anonymous)“series, which have been a fascination by american artist Cindy Sherman (1954). About 950 (!) Polaroids that where discovered in 2012, portraying about EVERY tv and film star of the sixties and the seventies. Shot from the (movie) screen we see mostly actresses from Star Trek, Charlie’s Angels, The Avengers, etc. This person (is it a man, a woman? It is unknown, hence the title of the series) must have had a lot of time on their hands to capture this amount of stars. A little book came out about the series with a foreword by Sherman.
Hidden on the fourth floor of a huge office building, we find our end point, gallery Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler where we finish of with some ultra contemporary art. Amadeo Kraupa-Tuskany and Nadine Zeidler have a keen eye and their stable is filled with everything that is hipster and happening at the moment. Together with Peres Projects, Société, Duve and Future Gallery they form the back bone of the hardcore contemporary art landscape in Berlin.
The exhibition “Rites de Passages” shows works by all the stars of today that have recently passed their rite of ascension. For example the art collective Slavs and Tatars who where nominated for the Preis der Nationalgalerie in 2015. Or the Arabic art collective GCC, the artists Katja Novitskova (Estland, 1984) and Anna Uddenberg (Sweden,1982) , who were all featured in the last Berlin Biennale, curated by the very slick art collective DIS.
Together they show what controversially has been called post-internet art. This is a title pasted onto a generation who doesn’t think about having the internet in their lives as something special. It is just there. It is a given, because it always was that way. The “post” in post-internet is meant more for us “old people” to get over ourselves and stop talking about a world without smart phones, you know, in the time that the dinosaurs where still alive. Those days are long gone baby 🙂
This tour took place on Friday February 20th in English for Slow Travel Berlin,
on Saturday February 21th in Dutch and on Wednesday February 25th for a private group in German.