BY Antje Stahl in Reviews | 01 AUG 11
Featured in
Issue 2

based in Berlin

Different locations

BY Antje Stahl in Reviews | 01 AUG 11

Cyprien Gaillard, Neon Indian, 2011

At a spot hidden next to the central exhibition building in Monbijoupark, the artist Petrit Halilaj planted beans. They were meant to grow up strings to form a little tent where one could make love encircled by leaves. But the beans did not grow. Neither tent nor lovers could be seen in the shadow of the exhibition building. Only small withered stalks projected from the earth at this site, as if trying to say: transplant me. This work probably was not the first to attracts ones attention. But it was one of the best, unintentionally providing a humorous commentary on the exhibition in all its tragedy. Its title: Astronauts Saw my Work and Started Laughing (2011).

A budget of 1.4 million euros, over 1,200 applications from artists and a press release from city hall in the words of Klaus Biesenbach, one of the exhibition advisers alongside Christine Macel und Hans-Ulrich Obrist, these were the eggs in the nest which were to be hatched by five budding curators. If one views works such as the one by Halilaj not just as a commentary but also as a metaphor for this exhibition from Angelique Campens, Fred Fischli, Jakob Schillinger, Scott Cameron Weaver and Magdalena Magiera (Managing Editor of this magazine), then one must say: with success.

In this case, the bean tent was just another word for the Kunsthalle which the mayor Klaus Wowereit had intended to build but for which there was not enough money. Instead he commissioned a temporary site from the architecture collective Raumlabor and announced an achievement exhibition of young art from Berlin. A mistake. As in the case of Haliaj the same motto applies: where there is no tent, no lovers are waiting. This ignited a debate, many people suspected a connection between cultural sponsorship and election campaigning; the term achievement exhibition rightly came in for harsh criticism. Just over 2,500 Berliners signed the official letter Haben und Brauchen (Have and Need) and demanded that public money not be abused for the purposes of a singular exhibition spectacle. Berlins existing, and as a general rule under-financed, exhibition programme must be promoted on a sustained basis. The curators also added their voice to the criticism and shifted the exhibition to Berlins existing institutions: KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Neuer Berliner Kunstverein, Hamburger Bahnhof Museum für Gegenwart and Berlinische Galerie. They declared an empty Atelierhaus in Monbijoupark from the 1950s, and now scheduled for demolition, as the central exhibition site. Finally, the exhibition was called based in Berlin and what it means for curators and 80 artists to live and work in Berlin could be experienced directly at the site in Monbijoupark.

Wowereit once characterized Berlin as poor but sexy, and this is precisely what it looked like in Scharouns Atelierhaus: scruffy, dirty and temporary the mayor’s marketing of the city reflected the accidental character of the exhibition. Artists such as Jay Chung and Q Takeki Maeda had to make themselves at home in this poverty, for example, with portraits of politicians who have competed with Wowereit for political posts over the past decades and lost a portrait of the mayor ex negativo and a look at the losers that every competition exhibition automatically produces (Untitled, 2011). This could be seen as a critical contribution to the exhibition, or just as easily could have provided a new election campaign slogan: poor, sexy and critical?

Simon Fujiwara, Phallusies (An Arabian Mystery), Detail, 2010

This is something Mandla Reuter presumably did not want to be, and he consequently disassembled the façade of the Atelierhaus for Nothing to See Nothing to Hide (2011)  a title that involuntarily accompanied the exhibition tour, away from the park and the NBK (where Reuter exhibited the remains of the façade and the windows) and into the Hamburger Bahnhof. Here the museum presentation bordered on perfection. A whole wall, for example, was intended to commemorate the Forgotten Bar Project. Unfortunately this altar, composed of both forgotten and donated works, had nothing in common with the stuffy constriction and charming chaos of the bar where a different exhibition could be seen almost every evening between 2007 and 2011. Finally, right at the back, the artist Akim responded to the original title of the exhibition with a video documenting graffiti artists at work. Leistungsschau (High Performance Exhibition, 2011) one could almost hear the video whisper: please do take a look outside in the street, the subway stations and back courtyards.

And in fact, outside in the urban space, other achievements were waiting: Cyprien Gaillards Neon Indian (2011) for example, waited in ambush on a prefabricated high-rise on Alexanderplatz, also scheduled for demolition; the work recalled the oppression of the Native Americans which the neon figure seems to mock as a smiling mascot. Presumably none of the artists represented here wanted to end up as a mascot, so consequently many of them offered direct or indirect resistance to being assimilated by a policy of false investment and misguided city marketing, and confronted this policy with its effects: flight and destruction. In principle, this response does them credit. However, it was precisely the artists who did not allow themselves to be led too far astray by the high performance exhibition who showed where the potential of an exhibition such as based in Berlin is to be found: in the promotion of exhibition projects and in the allocation of suitable exhibition spaces to those young artists who know how to use them. In the Berlinische Galerie, for example, Simon Fujiwara gave a wonderful solo presentation and work: Phallusies (An Arabian Mystery) (2010), leads visitors through dimly lit rooms and on a journey through an archive where they could finally spend some time amongst the fictional and historical material and in the presence of a huge phallus perhaps even make love.
Translated by Colin Shepherd