Berlin – city of brotherly love

By Raimar Stange

After this year’s summer slump, Berlin is now moving into the Kunstherbst (or ‘autumn of art’) in three concerted steps. First, the large-scale commercial gallery exhibition abc – which many consider to be effectively an art fair – is taking place again, this time making a collective effort to include off-spaces (not-for-profit ventures) in the presentation. If that’s accomplished, the event will also have succeeded in taking the once-independent scene under its wings. Second, Berlin Art Week, during which nearly all of the city’s important exhibition spaces will have their openings, is happening at the same time, alongside some satellite art fairs, like Preview Berlin. And third, there’s the ambitious exhibition project Painting Forever! Here, each of Berlin’s four major institutions – the Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlinische Galerie, kw Institute and Deutsche Bank KunstHalle – is exhibiting a self-curated show on the subject of painting. The Berlinische Galerie offers a retrospective of Franz Ackermann (not primarily known as a painter these days, but rather for his multimedia installations). The newly established (after the closure of the Deutsche Guggenheim) Deutsche Bank KunstHalle is showing four female painters, Giovanna Sarti, Katrin Plavcak, Jeanne Mammen and Antje Majewski – an explicit reaction to the exhibition at the Neue Nationalgalerie, whose director, Udo Kittelmann, had previously announced that he would present four simultaneous shows of male painters (Martin Eder, Michael Kunze, Anselm Reyle and Thomas Scheibitz), as if painting were still a male domain. Lastly, the kw is attempting to present the entire spectrum of the Berlin painting scene with a ‘salon hang’ of some 70 works, one by each of the selected artists. The wall-filling ensemble will make it difficult to really see the art; serious curating doesn’t look like this.

This trend towards collaborative exhibition planning in the German capital has been evident for a few years. One only needs to think of the annual Gallery Weekend, four days in which all the important galleries in Berlin have their openings and celebrate one big party together. Another example of joint venturing was the controversial exhibition Based in Berlin, initiated by the Senate of Berlin in 2011, in which institutions including the KW and the Neuer Berliner Kunstverein took part. One year later, Berlin Art Week was hosted for the first time. But why is it that once-competing institutions and galleries are suddenly behaving as overly cooperative team players? The objective, it seems, is to compensate for conceptual deficits – when compared to other countries – by using concentrated mass. For example, the Berlin fair Art Forum never managed to be a really successful event. Last but not least: the Berlin Biennale has been controversially discussed in the last few editions; and the city’s institutions are suffering from an acute lack of funds: the disappointing and much criticised Martin Kippenberger retrospective at the Hamburger Bahnhof, which was entirely assembled from the museum’s own collection – and consequently none of the artist’s larger works (none of his metro stations, for example) were on view – because of its financial difficulties, is a good recent example. So Berlin’s art planners are now trying to put together an attractive package to make a visit to the city worthwhile again, not only for art connoisseurs, but also for tourists interested in art. This joint operation is all the more sensible in Berlin in that, thanks to collective marketing and organisation, it can probably also save a great deal of money.

This article was first published in the September 2013 issue.