The last weekend of April featured one of the main events in Berlin for galleries: Gallery Weekend! An excellent time for a gallery tour in one of the oldest gallery clusters of the new post wall Berlin.
Our meeting point is just outside the gate at Linienstraße 119, where a rather big sign announces that beyond the bars not only residents can be found. The former boiler room in this courtyard houses Galerie Neu and on view are large wooden wall sculptures by Norwegian/German artist Yngve Holen (1982).
They look like the blades of soms sort of windturbine. The title of the exhibition, ‘ Rose Painting’, brings in mind rose windows in churches. They are not painted, the bare wood, cross laminated timber, is visible.
The artist got his inspiration of car rims, 3 different kinds to be exact, all from SUV-type cars. According to Holen, rims are the only decorative items left on the outside of a car. This is what the artist does, he picks a detail, isolates it and creates a now context and meaning. In this case he scanned the rims with a 3D scanner, enlarged them to two meters in diameter, after which they were cut out with a laser.
Rims are considered luxury items and a status symbol. Seeing them in this cheap but sturdy wooden material (that is normally used for outside construction and a common building material) is quite a contrast and at the same time comments the status of the SUV as one of the most polluting (and most dangerous) cars that drive around.
Our next stop is the the beautiful building of the former Jewish girls’ school, that houses several galleries, a bar and a restaurant. We visit a special exhibition by the savour of the building and owner of the gallery on the third floor, Michael Fuchs. For Gallery Weekend, he opened up his spectacular rooftop terrace, which used to be the schoolgarden. ‘Rooftop- Playground’ shows a selection of sculptures that simultaneously can be used for climbing, sliding and swinging.
Also on the third floor is the Salon Berlin, a dependance of the private Museum Frieder Burda in Baden-Baden. The goal of the space is to bring the works from the private collection into dialoge with works by contemporary artists. Under the title ‘Back to nature?’, the curator of the Salon is researching what it means for artists in a digital age to represent nature.
The result is a rather phenomenal mini exhibition which features many interesting and happening Berlin-based artists and a great cross cut of European art of the moment.
For example French artist Camille Henrot (1978), who is presented with one work out of the serie ‘Eleven animals that mate for life’ from 2016. In bright pastelli colours, we see two albatrosses (Henrot also made one with wolves, swans and gibbons), in loose sketchy lines on the canvas.
The whole series can be found online (like love nowadays) under te same title, on the Mother Nature Network. One of the tags under the article is ‘Valentines Day’ and shows how people keep projecting human emotions onto the animal world.
The title sounds like a bucket lists, like “10 thing you have to do before 30′, or 12 places you have to visit.
It is actually not a painting. The albatrosses are immortalised in chalk, in a fresco. This old technique is based on painting in the wet chalk. It is not an easy proces, one has to work really quick and you can’t afford to make mistakes. If done correctly a fresco panting would stay beautiful for centuries, like the Scrovegni chapel in Padua, painted by Giotto.
In the next room, French artist Laure Prouvost (1978), shows the video ‘Swallow’, which is based on her stay in Italy. After winning the Max Mara award, she was granted a residency in Italy. After getting of the plane and feeling the sunshine on her skin, she wondered how she could translate this sensory feeling into a digital medium. The result is a accumulation of sensory input. Bare feet walking on the grass, juicy fruits being bitten in, or ice cream being licked. Hearing a heart beat, breathing, water splashing. Seeing the flickering of the sun. You can almost imagine yourself there.
In the last room, a more dark painting by Tim Eitel (1971), called ‘Boat‘, from 2004 could be found. It is a confusing painting, where we see two people on the back, in a rowing boat, rowing towards… what actually? Is it a wall, an open space?
It is a kind of slow painting, you have to take some time to understand what it is you are looking at. The scene is silent. Although movement is depicted, it looks still.
Eitel sees his work as conceptual. They originate form several photo’s. In the end the painting has nothing to do with the pictures. Eitel wants to capture a certain atmosphere, a certain idea.
These kind of subtleties are often to be found in Eitels work, which we can confirm in our next stop, Galerie Eigen +Art, where his latest work is. The title ‘ Vie Imaginaire’ refers to a book from 1896 by Marcel Schwob, which you could call biographical fiction. The book contains 22 stories, biographies of famous people from the past, where he filled in the gaps or grey areas with fantasy stories, like a romance that never existed, an encounter that never happend, etc
Eitel uses this book to confront us with everything we project onto a picture. The first painting is a self portrait, but what does that really say about the portrayed? You cannot capture an entire personality on the canvas. By forcing you to look closer, to look slowly, he maneges to bring his world closer to your world.
Our last visit is the high end gallery Sprüth Magers, which I usually skip because of the unfriendliness of the staff. This time, I gave in, because on view was an older work by North-American artist Kara Walker (1969), called ‘Fall Frum Grace, Miss Pipi’s Blue Tale (2011). You might know her from her black cut outs, that refer to old book illustrations. In their original form, they usually depict innocent scenes, like a girl on a swing with a rabbit at her feet. Walker uses the same technique with not so innocent subject matter; like a young black man being hanged,
In a few cases, the artist used this technique to make a video, of which we see an example here. The story is about Miss Pipi, a southern damsel, that is arroused by a black slave. They have a sexual encounter but are found out. This doesn’t end well for the young slave.
The film is funny, scary, erotic and very violent. Walker used the stereotypical racist facial expressions one can find in old (history) books. Although she has been making work with these theme since the end of the nineties, her work is still relevant as is shown in a censorship of her work in 2012 in the Newark Public Library. Apparently the work shocked some of the employees en therefor was covered with a cloth.
Walker responded that it has more to do with your own gaze then with her work. Like James Baldwin (1924- 1987) already said: “What white people have to do, is try to find out in their own hearts why it was necessary to have a nigger in the first place. Because I am not a nigger. I’m a man. But if you think I am a nigger, it means you need it. The question you gotta ask yourself, the white population has to ask itself (…) is why was it necessary to have a Negro in the first place. If I’m not the nigger here, and if you invented him, you the white people invented him, then you have to find out why. The future of the country depends on that.”