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Preis der Nationalgalerie Für Junge Kunst

Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin, Germany

The Berlin Nationalgalerie’s Preis für Junge Kunst is self-styled as Germany’s answer to the Turner Prize, boasting a fat cash prize of €50,000 and an exhibition at the Hamburger Bahnhof. Whether any Berlin bookies could name the artists on this, the biannual prize’s fourth shortlist, however, seems highly unlikely.

Ceal Floyer gets the perceptual ball rolling with her slickly monochromatic installation Scale (2007).  A series of black speakers, horizontally ascending the wall in the far corner of the room, presents a tight sculptural conundrum: it looks like a staircase and, as the sound of footsteps emits from each speaker in turn, it sounds like a staircase.  But it’s not, it’s a sculpture – and a tricky one at that.

Next up is Jeanne Faust’s projected video, The Mansion (2004), where we see actors in a sound studio recording an elliptical dialogue. At first, two actors who seem to be playing the roles of estranged father and son, but within the neutral context of the sound studio, the image offers us no clues.  Complicity between sound and action is eluded; we are left knowing little, supposed to wonder, perhaps, about the conventions of film.

After these perceptual meditations, Damián Ortega’s installation, Nine Types of Terrain (2007), is reassuringly straightforward. Nine screens suspended at angles showed various formations of bricks in anonymous wasteland, toppling like dominos, only to magically resurrect as each loop repeated.  Accompanied by the comforting whirr of projectors and the constant clack-clack of falling stones, it suggested evolutionary cycles of civilization, architecture, or conflict.

The love-it/hate-it performance work of Tino Sehgal was the wild card here, set apart in a room within the museum’s permanent collection. This situation (2007), a complex and baffling combination of chorus recitation, slow motion movement, whooshing noises and earnest critical discussion performed by a group of men and women, was more than usually uncomfortable viewing, evincing an unresolved tension between the artist’s control and his actors’ free expression.

Though the boxes of diverse media, gender balance and a healthy internationalism were all checked (Hamburg-based Faust being the only full-blooded German amongst her Berlin-based British, Mexican and British/German competitors), it is hard to see how these four thoroughly disparate artistic ‘positions’ could be fruitfully compared and contrasted to generate the ‘lively dialogue’ the Prize’s organizers are aiming for.  Nor how the Prize can usefully reflect Germany’s (well, Berlin’s) exceptionally broad, and strangely uncompetitive, swathe of artist production.  As it turns out, the jury picked Ceal Floyer as the winner, for the ‘high formal complexity’ of her work, and for reaching ‘the next step’ of her artistic practice.

Kirsty Bell


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About this review

Published on 14/09/07
by Kirsty Bell

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