Drop What You Are Doing and Come to Berlin, 1

Letter from Mari Shaw in Berlin

This is part 1 of four parts.

Mona Hatoum, Undercurrent (red), 2008, Cloth covered electric cable, light bulbs, dimmer device, Edition of 3 plus 1 AP, at Galerie Max Hetzler Temporary, OsramHöfe, Berlin. image provided by Galerie Max Hetzler. Comments on this work will appear in part 3 of the post.
Mona Hatoum, Undercurrent (red), 2008, Cloth covered electric cable, light bulbs, dimmer device, Edition of 3 plus 1 AP, at Galerie Max Hetzler Temporary, OsramHöfe, Berlin. image provided by Galerie Max Hetzler. Comments on this work will appear in part 3 of the post.

I emerged bleary-eyed from Tegel Airport for Berlin’s Fourth Gallery Weekend. The sun was shining and a Berlin breeze swept the city’s energy over me. It is true. Berlin pulses.

Four years ago, a group of prominent galleries in Berlin launched the Spring Season with a celebratory Gallery Weekend at the end of April/beginning of May. Berlin had already supplanted Cologne as the art capital of Germany, but art collectors were scarce in Berlin. The galleries felt it was time to attract art collectors from around the world and showcase their artists in the best possible way. The Berlin gallerists decided to feature curated single artist exhibitions in each of their galleries, rather than adopt the single location Art Fair model.

As a result, art viewing at Berlin’s Gallery Weekend differs dramatically and favorably from art viewing at Art Fairs. Looking at a single artist gallery show of multiple works, including major installations, presented with plenty of breathing room, puts to shame the experience of craning to see a jumble of art works by different artists hung cheek by jowl in a small booth in no particular order. In fact, a good slug of art fair offerings are specifically produced or selected for art fair booth-viewing and are not representative of the artist’s oeuvre.

Bigger and better than ever

This year, 34 galleries officially participated in Gallery Weekend, and literally hundreds of other galleries hung new shows and joined the excitement. Most of the galleries that participated in the first Gallery Weekend have moved to bigger spaces or added second locations.

photo, Jochen Schmidt of art by Song Dong and Zhao Xiangyuan
Song Dong and Zhao Xiangyuan, Waste Not, installation detail, of Song Dong’s family’s stored objects awaiting some future reuse, at the exhibit Reimagining Asia at the The House of World Cultures in Berlin. Photo by Jochen Schmidt. Comments on this work will appear in part 4 of the post.

Every year, the old gallery areas expand exponentially, and new areas sprout new galleries. Last year, Brunnestrasse became the home of a string of galleries in raw spaces showing talented young artists. This year spanking new gallery spaces have cropped up on all sides of Berlin Contemporary Art Museum Hamburger Banhof. Virtually every gallery in Cologne now has its major gallery in Berlin. Explained one prominent Cologne gallerist who set up shop in Berlin just about a year ago: “I had to come. One day the phone just stopped ringing in Cologne.”

A good feeling here

Part of the good feeling of Gallery Weekend–and there is a very good feeling–is the generally relaxed atmosphere in Berlin, a city of culture, not money. Participating gallerists do not exude tension since they are on their home turf and not in hock for the tens of thousands of Euros an Art Fair booth costs plus shipping, travel, hotel, and other expenses they must try to recoup in a weekend. The exhibitions stay up for weeks, not days. The less well-heeled galleries in Berlin pay nothing to show their artists in their own funky or not so funky gallery spaces during Gallery Weekend and make a great contribution to the lively art fun.

The absence of mean and hungry collectors at Gallery Weekend adds immeasurably to the good feeling. Collectors are not frantic about being the first one in the door, because there are so many doors. Besides, the galleries have their full stock on hand so there is much more to go around. Instead of one overcrowded, under stocked, make-shift restaurant to feed at, there are hundreds of welcoming reasonably priced restaurants with outdoor eating areas for visitors to stop at as they walk from one gallery to the next. Every restaurant offers a variety of world-renowned German beer to soothe the nerves and lift the spirit. The proprietors are glad to see the hungry art crowd, and the service is professional. If time is short, there are donner kabobs (Turkish pitas stuffed with slivers of beef, pork or chicken and vegetables and your choice of topping) or bratwursts available everywhere. With full bellies, art visitors walk short distances through old Berlin streets redolent with history and full of hidden hofs (courtyards). The Berlin Gallery Weekend shows stay up through the first week in June, giving those who stay on or come later the opportunity for a nice, long, uninterrupted look during Berlin’s long, light days of May. And this May the sun has been shining nonstop which is not always the case in Berlin.

Link to part 1 of this post.

Link to part 2 of this post.
Link to part 3 of this post.
Link to part 4 of this post.

–Philadelphia collector and international traveler Mari Shaw last reported for us on ARCO, the Madrid art fairs. Shaw and her husband Peter spend several months each year in Berlin.