Ahead of Berlin Gallery Weekend, the Pick of the Shows to See

From a preview of Konrad Fischer’s new space, to Simon Fujiwara’s thought-provoking commentary on gender bias

BY Hili Perlson in Critic's Guides | 24 APR 18

Kara Walker, Fall Frum Grace, Miss Pipi's Blue Tale, 2011, video still. Courtesy: Sprüth Magers, Berlin/London/Los Angeles and Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York © the artist

Kara Walker – Andro Wekua – Senga Nengudi
Sprüth Magers
28 April – 8 September

If there was any doubt about how important Gallery Weekend still is for Berlin, despite its dates being squeezed between fairs in Cologne, Brussels and Frieze New York, Sprüth Magers’s trio of openings – two of which are first time shows with American artists Kara Walker and Senga Nengudi – set the record straight. In one space, the video piece Fall Frum Grace, Miss Pipi’s Blue Tale (2011) encapsulates Walker’s tackling of harrowing, ever-relevant topics. With her signature shadow puppetry, it tells of a brutal lynching of a black man after a sexual encounter with a Southern Belle. Out-of-place scenes intersect the linear narrative: a figure dancing in a top hat, a thing half-human, half-bicycle traverses the screen – the trappings of nightmares. Nengudi is showing sculptures from her famous ‘R.S.V.P.’ series, which she started in the late-’70s as a reaction to the way her body changed during pregnancy. Nylon stockings weighed down with sand or stretched on metal objects evoke mutated limbs and bulbous torsos. Meanwhile, Andro Wekua is showing a new body of paintings created around a life-size sculpture depicting a sex-less figure standing in a pool of water. Liquid runs down from slits and openings along its upper body, and a Pegasus sits on its shoulders. The figure’s improbable proportions are the result of a composite of casts of different models.

Simon Fujiwara, Joanne, 2016, film still. Commissioned by Film and Video Umbrella, The Photographers’ Gallery, London, and Ishikawa Foundation. Courtesy: the artist

Simon Fujiwara, ‘Joanne’
Galerie Wedding
21 April – 26 May

In 2011, Joanne Salley resigned from her position as an art teacher at the prestigious Harrow public school for boys after private topless pictures were discovered by a pupil, circulated among students, and finally picked up by the British tabloids, which dubbed her the ‘Topless Teacher’ – a moniker that stuck. Simon Fujiwara, who happens to be her former student, collaborated with Salley on the creation of a new branding campaign in an attempt to regain some control over her public image. The former educator – who’s also a model, actress, and a semi-professional athlete – would become ‘Joanne,’ with professional consulting by a branding agency. ‘In order to change the narrative we have to change the author,’ we hear a marketing agent’s pitch in the sleek 13-minute film Fujiwara presents at the core of the show. Perhaps the strongest trait of this work is how much viewers struggle with Fujiwara’s use of strategic visuals: the manicured athleisure campaign Joanne stars in, the perfectly styled bedhead hair in Joanne’s intimate, confessional smartphone videos – we’re clever enough to see through these marketing strategies, right? Ultimately, this is a challenging exercise in empathy: as a victim of gender-biased injustice, we have no problem getting behind Joanne. However, her über-professional attempt at changing the conversation from ‘Topless Teacher’ to ‘Charity Marathon Runner,’ rather than, say, ‘Survivor’ is not an option afforded to her by everyone. The work was created in 2016, pre-#metoo. And it is a clever and thought-provoking commentary on gender bias in our mediated everyday lives – and in our heads.

R.H. Quaytman, An Evening, Chapter 32, 2017–18, Marshall’s photo oil, silkscreen ink, gesso on wood, 94 x 153 x 3 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Galerie Buchholz, Cologne/Berlin

R.H. Quaytman, ‘An Evening, Chapter 32’
Galerie Buchholz
27 April – 2 June

The point of departure for this chapter in Quaytman’s oeuvre (the American artist always works in chapters) are two 15th-century paintings by Flemish artist Otto van Veen (1556–1629), Rubens’s teacher. Quaytman found the paintings in the depository of Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum and initiated, as well as financially supported, their restoration. The 22 works she had created around the Old Master paintings were originally exhibited at the Secession, Vienna, in 2017, and their hanging followed an angular architectural plan that took inspiration from the museum’s famous Beethoven Frieze. For the chapter’s second outing in Berlin – and Quaytman’s second show with Galerie Buchholz – a selection of the works is presented in a more traditional way, while the images of the Van Veen originals were edited out, and replaced by two landscapes. Those, in turn, are based on photographs the artists took during a research trip to Poland, when she was working simultaneously on a chapter that would be shown at documenta 14, the chapter for Vienna, and another one slated for a 2019 retrospective in Łódź, while trying to relate all three. ‘I did seven versions of that one digital photograph of a Polish landscape,’ she writes. ‘It does not have to say its name. I know it, you know it, and nothing changes, it is a backdrop like a painting is.’

Mario García Torres, ‘Not to Belong to Themselves’, 2018, installation view, neugerriemschneider, Berlin. Courtesy: © the artist and neugerriemschneider, Berlin

Mario Garcia Torres, ‘Not to belong to themselves’
28 April – 23 June

A performative speech carried out by ‘an actor and a robotic tortoise,’ according to the press material, is at the heart of this show, so it’s advised to check with the gallery for performance times. In the script, García Torres takes on two philosophical paradoxes – conceptual notions in the foundations of mathematics – and enlivens them for the layperson through an anecdotal narrative recounting life-changing moments and encounters. A video installation shown in a separate space in the gallery complements the performance. There, García Torres has appropriated found photographs of Mario Merz showing the artist dancing, captured on different occasions throughout his life, and set them to an original score by Mauricio Hernandez Davila. The composition follows another mathematical concept, the Fibonacci Sequence, and Merz’s movement are animated according to the music’s surreal progression. The show’s title, ‘Not to belong to themselves’, which could easily form the first half of an existential Haiku, is in fact taken from Bertrand Russell’s famous paradox. It indicates García Torres’s effort to reconcile the concepts of infinity and continuity inherent to the mathematical propositions with life’s biggest questions.

Rebecca Ackroyd, installation view, Independent, New York, 2018. Courtesy: the artist and Peres Projects, Berlin

Rebecca Ackroyd, ‘The Mulch’
Peres Projects
27 April  15 June

‘The Mulch’ marks Rebecca Ackroyd’s first solo exhibition in Berlin and follows Peres Projects’s presentation of the young British artist at the Independent art fair in New York in March. The show transports some of the elements debuted there into the much more generous scale of the gallery, and include a range of drawings, paintings, and sculptures made of chicken-wire, wax, and plaster. Several white sculptures depict female figures wearing motorcycle helmets covered in red melted wax, with tufts of hair showing from underneath them. They’re sitting in a position that affords the viewer a frontal view of their torsos. Their reproductive parts are missing, though, and red window-like cavities are carved there instead, as well as on their knees, like reversed protective patches. (The body as architecture is a recurring motif in Ackroyd’s work.) Another new series of sculptures titled ‘Carriers’ (2017–18), cast from closed storefront shutters, are painted to appear weathered and tagged. This view, as if from the street, creates a reversal of inside and outside. Ackroyd’s velvety drawings contrast the allusion of dereliction the sculptural works evoke. They are dense, colourful, lush, and show ambiguous and enigmatic forms, like a fantastical strain of vegetation sprouting from underneath the mulch. 

Moshe Ninio, Decor: morgen_appendix (detail), 2018, inkjet print on dibond plates, each: 2.2 x 1.2 m. Courtesy: the artist and NBA, Berlin

Moshe Ninio, ‘Patch’
28 April – 16 June

Featuring three works, the Israeli artist’s first solo show in Berlin is relatively modest at first sight, yet each of these pieces is rich with historical references, social commentary, and is the result of formal contemplations about the nature of the reproduced image. All of this is typical to Ninio’s dense approach, which is well-known in Israel and France, the two countries between which he splits his time – but less so in Germany. The video piece Morgen (2010–15) shows a black and white YouTube clip from a 1965 West-German TV show showing Israeli singer Esther Ofarim singing Morgen ist alles vorüber [It will all be over tomorrow, 1963]. At the time, she didn’t speak any German, and her studied pronunciation of the German Umlaut vowel in Vorüber gives her away. 1965 is also the year when Israel and Germany first established diplomatic relations. Back then, for the Israeli population, many of whom refused to use their German mother tongue, Ofarim’s career move to Germany was nothing short of treason. In Dauerwelle – a new work commissioned for the gallery’s tiny architectural element of a cube recessed into a wall – the singer’s pitch black Cleopatra-coif wig rotates in mid-air, preserved like a relic, endlessly hovering in space like the spectre of a violent beheading.

Konrad Fischer's new space, Neue Grüstrasse 12, Berlin. Photograph: Andrew Alberts

Carl Andre, Manfred Pernice, Lawrence Weiner
Konrad Fisher, Neue Grünstrasse 12 
26 – 29 April 

stanley brouwn
Konrad Fischer
27 April – 16 June

For three days only, from April 26–29, the gallery will open the doors to its new space, a defunct transformer station in Mitte (Neue Grünstrasse 12), before it shuts for extensive renovation, slated for completion in early 2019. (Gallery artist Manfred Pernice, who visited the site with artist and gallerist Berta Fischer, suggested that it be used for one exhibition before construction begins.) The decaying industrial structure bring to mind many of the improvised exhibition spaces that Berlin was known for in the ’90s and early 2000s. Pernice has installed works within this setting, Lawrence Weiner has created a site-specific wall work, and, as it is a tradition for the gallery to inaugurate every new space with a Carl Andre show (as the first ever exhibition at Konrad Fischer in 1967 was a solo by Andre), his sculptures will be strewn around the building’s four storeys. In its address on Lindenstrasse, meanwhile, the gallery dedicates a show to the conceptual minimalist work of Stanley Brouwn, who passed away last year. Dealing with distances, or rather measurements and memory, the show was conceived together with Brouwn’s widow, who worked with him closely throughout his life.

Other highlights around Berlin coinciding with Gallery Weekend include ‘Covered in Time and History: The Films of Ana Mendieta’ at the Martin Gropius Bau (until 22 July), featuring more than 20 of Mendieta's performance-based films that have been recently restored and digitized. At the Schinkel Pavillon (until July 29), ‘The Empty House’ is a show dedicated to artworks Louise Bourgeois created in the last two decades of her life in which the artist focused on the architectural and associative possibilities of the sack, hollowed or filled, as a form relating both to cells and to the female body. And to quell your nostalgia for the casualness and freedom of ‘Old Berlin,’ a group of artists including Jonas Burgert, John Isaacs, and Andreas Mühe among others, are hosting ‘Ngorongoro II’ at their studio complex in Weißensee, from 26 –29 April. It is a sprawling group show with a long and impressive list of artist friends, and the most social, laid-back and open-for-all event (there’s a pool!) that this busy weekend has to offer.

For more shows to see in Berlin during Berlin Gallery Weekend, head over to On View.

Main image: Simon Fujiwara, Joanne, 2016, film still. Commissioned by Film and Video Umbrella, The Photographers’ Gallery, London, and Ishikawa Foundation. Courtesy: the artist

Hili Perlson is a writer, art critic and fashion journalist based in Berlin.