The abc art berlin contemporary in its ninth edition affords the Berlin art scene the opportunity to celebrate itself under the umbrella of the Berlin Art Week. A multifaceted program is meant to attract art lovers and collectors to the German capital.
For this purpose leading galleries and institutions have combined forces, amongst others the Hamburger Bahnhof, private collections such as the one of Julia Stoschek and the “me Collectos Room” of Thomas Olbricht or the Deutsch Bank KunstHalle. In numerous solo and group exhibitions, as well as a gallery night, art lovers have the chance to get in close contact with the Berlin art production. The core of the Berlin art autumn is the abc art berlin contemporary again which was founded in 2008 as an alliance of Berlin galleries with the goal to secure the importance of the art place Berlin after the failure of the Art Forum and to catch up with the international art market. The protagonists of the art scene, artists, curators, gallerists and collectors generate revenue in the capital, during the art autumn in 2015 around 100.000 visitors were counted.
To pool resources is absolutely essential as well, as Berlin as a production place of contemporary art belongs to the underclass of the international art market, that’s why it is subsidized by the senate of economics with a marketing budget. Berlin has never had a culture of collecting art like the West German art capitals Cologne or Duesseldorf and international collectors who are jetting between the Art Basel Miami Beach and the Frieze London need to be motivated to visit the German capital.
According to this the situation of many Berlin galleries is pretty bleak, currently the market is undergoing a painful shake-out, even among established galleries there are first victims. The booming years with around 400 galleries about five years ago are far away today, many international galleries have closed their branches in Berlin again, recently the Berlin gallery scene experienced further losses with Croy Nielsen, Veneklasen Werner, Michael Zink and the Gebrueder Lehmann who retreated to Dresden again, some well-established names were forced to give up their commitment in Berlin.
The abc art berlin contemporary is facing hard times. The myth of Berlin as capital of art is about to fade away.
But also from an artist’s perspective the production place Berlin is turning into a quite normal metropolis. The gold rush fever of the nineties is over, when rents at cheap rates and huge studio spaces in industrial fallow areas attracted hosts of artists to move to Berlin. The gentrification is in full swing, studios have grown scarce and the rents are gradually becoming prohibitive for artists. Berlin is still thriving on its coolness factor and offers broad well functioning networks to gain a foothold in the art scene, but the situation is becoming worse and more bankruptcies are inevitable. The big players have anyway looked for new playgrounds long ago, in Asia a huge emerging market attracts them, amongst others with the Art Basel Hong Kong. The abc art berlin contemporary can hardly compete with this, the struggle for survival has begun.
As in the recent years the abc art berlin contemporary is located at the “Station-Berlin” again, a former post station from the Wilhelminian era. But in this year the show takes place in just one of the halls, compared with last year the number of galleries has been reduced from 105 to 62. Officially this is declared to be a sound slimming, a focus on quality, but behind the scenes there is unrest. Increasing rents, a declining number of participants, a loss of internationality and the unclear concept question the profitability of the fair and weaken the appeal of the abc art berlin contemporary. 33 of the 62 participating galleries come from Berlin, 12 from Germany, 5 from Vienna, 4 from Warsaw, and a few more from abroad, but big names are missing. The format of the abc art berlin contemporary to present only one artist per gallery has been retained also in 2016.
Overall the show offers well-tried concepts, mostly art on a professional level which is easy to digest. Anything really innovative is hard to find, striking is the fact, that there is little politically and socially committed art in a time that is shaken by international conflicts with social hot spots. Instead there is plenty of art market art which celebrates private mythologies and reiterates fragmented aspects of reality in a well-known manner in order to meet the expectations of the vanity fair.
Politically committed art is hardly in demand by collectors. Therefore the abc art berlin contemporary relies on well-tried positions.
The central object of the exhibition is the Solo-bunker by Daniel Knorr, which he had discovered in Braunschweig. The almost five tons heavy concrete colossus was used during World War II for observation by fireguards. The bunker provides an intimate space for two standing persons and is offered as “readymade” by the Vienna Galerie naechst St. Stephan.
Not Heckler & Koch, but Delmes & Zander is the armory of the abc art berlin contemporary. André Robillard caricatures the macho posturing of the American arms lobby which supplies gun nuts with automatic rifles for domestic use, by tinkering toy guns from junk that make the hearts of ego-shooters miss a beat. It represents one of the few socio-critical works of the fair.
Also an artistically designed restroom facility shouldn’t be missed at the abc art berlin contemporary. Street-art artist Kenny Scharf has created walk-in closets in the street canyons of Manhattan already in the eighties together with Keith Haring, as a “pop therapy against stress and the gloominess of the city”. The fairground booth exhibited by the Hannes Mayer gallery, called Closet, portrays a grinning shark outside, its interior unveils a garish trash universe, where the visitors of the fair can relax from all too profound exhibits.
The new clown prince of the art scene is Erwin Wurm. He garnishes dadaistic nonsense with Austrian charm. Although the spiritual complexity of his works is limited, with his nonchalant honesty he unmasks the talking in platitudes that is used by some market participants who are trying to read depth into pretty simple contemporary art in a funny way. His incarnations of pickled cucumbers and Vienna sausages jokes are offered for sale by the Berlin Koenig gallery and are a runaway success in the current at scene. In Erwin Wurm’s obese curry bus real Vienna sausages are sold to hungry fair visitors. With 600.000€ the curry bus exceeds the price of a Ferrari, thus representing the most expensive trade show exhibit of the abc art berlin contemporary.
Pieter Schoolwerth represented by Capitain Petzel gallery is working with the illusion of relief-like space constructions. Figurative and abstract planes are used like stencils to build up three-dimensional reliefs, then they are photographed and printed as a fine art print on canvas which is later on manually finished with impasto fillings of selected areas. Thus a workflow is generated that is oscillating between two- and three-dimensionality and produces new surprising results again and again.
Sprueth Magers guide the visitors into a kind of swimming pool and therefore made the walls of their booth be painted light blue. On the pictures scattered across the walls Andreas Schulze has painted abstract torsi of figures which remind of the plane machine pictures by Konrad Klapheck. These figures mean to represent a family of Teutonic grillers during their beach holiday, that’s where the title Vacanze comes from, the deeper meaning of this series of works will remain a secret of the artist.
At the booth of the Leipzig gallery Tobias Naehring Eva Grubinger has built a sculpture which is based on a African puzzle. Two big bowls are attached to a stele with heavy ropes. The goal of the game is to move the bowls to the other side, which is simply impossible. In this work Eva Grubinger plays unashamedly with sexual symbols and the relation of sexes.
One of the few galleries that sticks to the manually made good old panel painting is Michael Haas gallery. Here Dirk Lange presents his surreal imagery, with his multilayer drawing technique approaching the possibilities of painting. His figurative pictures elude any quick interpretation and due to its ambivalence allow for speculative interpretations, however, without becoming non-committal, which is a pleasant contrast to the cheap showmanship of many other exhibits.
The future of the abc art berlin contemporary is uncertain and fatally reminds of the decline of the Art Forum. Another failure the Berlin art autumn would hardly survive. If not all representatives of art pull together in Berlin, there will be only losers, also the satellite fairs Positions and the Berliner Liste would be in danger, if the abc art berlin contemporary is closed. Internationally Berlin would finally be left behind as an art place and the dying of galleries would go on.
15.09. – 18.09.16 Station-Berlin